Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The success of the Indian Gaming Industry

I write this on a lazy Sunday morning while I’m cooking lunch for my wife. Yeah – it’s a man’s world they said. I have a rum and coke in one hand and I’m listening to Big Bad Bill by Van Halen while David Lee Roth was still singing for them. I’m also trying to figure out why onions and tomatoes don’t get along when they are thrown in the cooker at the same time. How times have changed!

This morning I started up my 360 and did my dutiful checking online to see what’s new. I see Frogger has just been re-released as an arcade game on XBOX Live Arcade. It’s now available at 720p and is displayed in a whopping 16:9 wide screen ratio. I found myself playing a game that I played more than 20 years ago. How times have changed!

I also have the IGDA Indian chapter open in a browser and I’m reading what seems to be such an eclectic mix of views. You see developers getting utopian in their exchanges with how graphics should actually work. You see game designers talking about inspiration for their work. You see project managers and producers trying to convince the world that they actually mean well. You see the budding student that wants to become an ace programmer by just asking questions or talking l33t. You see recruiters putting up posts for employment underestimating how savvy or educated today’s employee is. What an amazing mix. What’s so outstanding about this is the fact that there is a certain amount of order within the chaos that sometimes ensues. In my opinion, it’s called discovery.

How long does it take to learn math? How long does it take to learn how to cycle? How long did it take you to figure out that you cannot walk on the sand in Half Life 2? Discovery – It’s a wonderful experience. More so, when the results are so extremely rewarding.

Let me explain:

Fact: India Games released Yoddha in 2002. Was it good? Maybe not - but the discovery there was how to finish developing a game. Granted, it was a rather short game, but it still had a beginning and an end which indicates that it did get completed. India Games has now gone onto being the most successful game development companies within India with an almost global presence in Mobile game development; a true testament to their pioneering efforts.

Fact: Game Masti released Chakravyuh in 2002. Was it good? That's not important - but it was officially India's first full feature game spanning ten whole levels. That alone was almost biblical in impact. Thinking about a game is tough, making a demo is tougher, and finishing a game is nothing short of Olympian in nature. I know, I finished making a version of Pong and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. This effort had just signalled the arrival of full fledged game development in India. Before this, people were just testing the waters.

Fact: Lumenphon released Bhagat Singh. Was it good? Maybe not – but it was the second game released in India. I remember how excited I was at the fact that India had now developed two games. They may not have been the most polished or the most advanced, but they were two whole games nonetheless.

Fact: Dhruva Interactive won a deal to create art assets for Mission Impossible. Was the game good? Maybe not – but it established and confirmed the bandwidth that led up to the biggest game development outsourcing company in India who ever since has worked on Mission: Impossible 2, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Geoff Grammond’s Grand Prix 4, and the critically acclaimed TOCA Pro Race Driver series. Not too mention they worked on the incredible Forza Motorsport.

Fact: Kawabonka creates an online gaming community site that allows PvP multiplayer gaming leveraging the advent of high speed internet connectivity and it blows up into being the most successful online gaming community in India.

Fact: Milestone Interactive gets approved to by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe to develop a PS2 game. Was it a major accomplishment? No – but the amount of people that the effort had touched was huge. That single handedly was worth it – and that’s discovery, right there.

Fact: Paradox squeezes the A5 Conitec Engine to the max and releases BattleDust. Was it good? – Maybe not the greatest, but it was a beat ‘em up, it was similar yet different in nature and it was complete. Once again, hats off to the team at Paradox for going completely above and beyond.

Let’s not forget Lakshaya Digital and their patented GPO (Games Process Outsourcing) strategy, Raptor Entertainment’s proprietary RTS engine, Gameloft opening up shop in Hyderabad, ATI, Microsoft and now the cerebral explosion of casual game development in India.

How things have changed; and all this in just about five years!

I don’t know about you but I think that’s a pretty impressive portfolio for a country that had its highest selling game sell a measly 25,000 + copies. Even more impressive, considering how attractive the “brain drain” methodology has been for talented employees who might have left the country in search of more established and educated lands.

What am I trying to say here? Things change. People change. Countries change and heck, I’ve seen Doordarshan change. While we have certain folks on one hand pretty much dictating how the Indian game development will never improve, I see an extremely bright future for all of us. I see a visible, clear learning curve; I see maturity evolving; I see another five years for us to learn and discover how we can effectively contribute to an industry that we feel so passionately about. After all – Discovery leads to innovation. Innovation leads to leadership. Leadership leads to success.

I applaud everyone that has contributed so far in their own little way as it has unknowingly created a seemingly self aware and sentient industry. Thanks to their efforts, India has reached a position where it can now begin to turn discovery into invention.

Until next time…

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lessons from Casual Games

How often do game designers look to casual games for inspiration for design ideas? It's amazing how a simple arcade game can throw up valuable insights.

Take the wonderfully chaotic, whimsical Insaniquarium. You can get it here. A must-play for anyone involved in game development, and for lovers of gaming in general. It's a delightful little game that demonstrates the effectiveness of two core design values – simplicity and context-sensitive control.

The objective of Insaniquarium is simple – you need to buy little fish, feed them until they become big fish, after which they drop money. By collecting enough money, you can save up and buy pieces of egg – complete the egg and you complete a level. Sound simplistic? Somehow, almost impossibly, the designers manage to throw in food upgrades, carnivores that feed on little fish and drop diamonds, evil, scary aliens that attack the fish, weapons upgrades, oysters, swordfish, and more. By the third level, your screen is a psychedelic, swirling mix of fast moving, brightly coloured objects, to the backdrop of cutesy-pie music and classic arcade woo-bop-bing-bop sounds.

And what controls must you master to play this game that includes strategy, action, resource management and an economic model? Just the simple mouse click. That's it.

Click anywhere on the aquarium, and you drop food for the fishies. Click on an alien, and you shoot it. Click on treasure, and you collect it. Click on buttons to buy upgrades and more fish. It's deliciously simple, and insanely addictive.

The power of context sensitive control. By using this elegant solution, the designers have managed to reduce a reasonably complex set of activities the gamer must perform into a single control – the left click. This makes the game beautifully accessible – no need to figure out / remember a control set – just jump in and play. What a blast!

More power to games like this.