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Gaming rAges on in SA (Pt 2): Developers get their game on

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Amid the explosion of free mobile games worldwide, South African developers are going for a commercial ride on their own games, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in part 2 of a 3-part series on gaming in SA.

An innovative war game set in Vietnam. A puzzle game that composes original music as one connects the dots. A creepy cabin with clues to be solved. A fantasy game involving an alchemist and an inventor.

These are a few examples that reveal a vast variety of themes, topics and interests driving the South African game development scene. No one is getting rich yet, but some of the game-makers are attracting serious attention globally.

Every Single Soldier may not sound like the name of a serious software development house, but then neither does one expect a former banker to be making games. Johan Nagel, who spent 25 years in banking, rising to a senior position, eventually decided to pursue his passion full-time – but with a twist.

“I did board war-gaming for three decades, specialising in the 2nd World and the Napoleonic Wars, but it became the same build-up of forces, crossing borders, and destroying the enemy. How many simulations can you have of D-Day?

“I looked for something different, and had a real interest in post-World War II battles, so I decided to start a company called Every Single Soldier and create a counter-insurgency game. Vietnam-65 is a turn-based strategy game, but it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the local population, so it has very different mechanics.”

The game has proved a hit in the United States, which has generated about 80 per cent of its 20 000 unit sales, amid positive reviews of its fresh approach from across the globe. The game sells for $9.99 on the Steam gaming platform and the iPad App Store.

The publisher, London-based Slitherine, has already bought Nagel’s sequel, Afghanistan-11, and he is working on two further military simulation games. While five people worked on Vietnam, he has an outsourced team of nine completing the new game. He feels strongly about treating game development as a business.

“What’s missing in this industry is a businesslike approach. It’s more like a bunch of hobbyists tinkering around, and they never close a game. I’m aiming at producing four games a year. I’ve identified four studios in South Africa that are classy enough to produce decent games, and I’m popping one game into each studio.”

He is not shy about sharing the studio names, either, in case others want to follow his route: 24 Bit Games, Celestial, Retro Epic, and Render Heads.

“What Johan is doing is really great because it brings a lot of business sense to gaming community,” says veteran developer Travis Bulford. One of the grand old men of South African gaming, he was responsible for the original hit game from this country, Toxic Bunny, which sold 150 000 units in the 1990s. A high-definition version released in 2012 added another 10 000 sales.

“I ran out of steam and got married, so my focus changed. It was a game aimed at 10-13-year-olds and there’s no way to target 10-13 in the digital market.

I had to find a different way to do this.”

Bulford is about to become prolific again. His company Celestial Games is working on a psychological thriller called Montez and a horror game called Muti, while trying to raise funds for a Zulu War strategy game. Its next big thing, however, is “a bit of a cheeky game” called Battle Arena Drones (BAD), which embraces the clichés of the first-person shooter genre, but with attitude. Each drone is customisable, and each character lends capabilities to a team, forcing team play.

By the time the game was previewed at the rAge festival in Johannesburg in October, 400 beta testers had been signed up, with Bulford aiming at a thousand players to test the game.

“We need to test various technologies, graphic cards, processors, and Windows installations, for example. We also have a large drop-off, so a thousand becomes a lot less for final testing. Because it’s PvP (Player versus Player), we need more players to balance, find exploits and close holes. (prospective testers can sign up by emailing info@celestial-games.com, or visit battlearenadrones.com).”

BAD will enter full beta testing in the first quarter of 2016, with a “soft launch” four months later on the Steam platform and for PCs – with a Mac game a possibility.

“It’s a free-to-play game, you never have to spend a cent, but the drone appearances are cycled and, if want to play any drone any time, you have to unlock it, and that costs currency. So do decals and paint jobs to make them look different. There’s no pay-to-win scenario, but you pay to control the experience better – and to brag!”

Meanwhile, Bulford keeps going by running a commercial business, Data Stone, which offers enterprise and mobile development. It has also produced an insurance system for capturing policies on Android devices, connecting to insurance companies’ back-end systems, and a project for the UNHCR called Refugees United, to help refugees find their lost families.

Clearly, it’s not all fun and game. But then, it’s not all hard work either, says John Nagel: “I’m trying to build it up to be a full day job. Four games will keep me busy. I came from a hectic job in the banks, and I’m enjoying this and feeling guilty because I’m enjoying it so much.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

Use the page links below to continue reading about Tan’s visions.

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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