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Local gaming heroes rAge on

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The annual rAge gaming expo was a feast of the latest in global gaming, but the growing presence of local developers was a significant phenomenon, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

On the expo floor, Thor battles Loki, Wonder Woman and Alice in Wonderland swoop to the rescue, and the crowds cheer. And that’s not even on the myriad video screens where gamers battle for survival in dozens of fictional universes.

The annual rAge gaming expo has breathed new life into technology fairs in South Africa, attracting thousands of serious and occasional gamers, along with wannabe superhoes in the form of costumed characters mingling with the crowds.

The headline attention goes to the big new games for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo consoles. The opportunity to play games that still can’t be bought online or in stores is irresistible to the gamer. The history-based hardcore Assassin’s Creed Unity and the gentle spin on third-person shooters given to Splatoon – a compelling paint-shooting game for the Nintendo Wii U – are two sides of the same coin: ever-more spectacular games that appeal to all segments of the gaming market.

There is a downside to the noise and spectacle, though. It drowns out the emergence of a small but healthy local game developer community.

According to a survey by the Make Games Soutb Africa association, 32 game development companies are active in South Africa. While their impact on the economy is invisible – they employ 240 people between them, and generate only R30-million in annual revenue – their potential is immense. Half of the companies are young start-ups, created in the last two years.

“The industry is still tiny, but with the early access release of Broforce by Free Lives and Vicera Clean-up Detail by Rune Storm Games, we’re expecting a 130% increase in the value of the industry for the 2014 financial year,” says Make Games SA chairperson Nick Hall. “We’re hoping that these success stories will give local entrepreneurs the confidence to enter the industry.”

Entrepreneurs like Steven Tu, co-founder of Twoplus Games. He’s just quit an advertising career of eight years to go full-time into game development. At rAge’s Home_Coded stand, his company demoed two games, an “anxiety-inducing” one-key zombie game called Dead Run (play it online at http://www.playdeadrun.com) and the puzzle game Beat Attack (play it online at http://www.twoplusgames.com/beatattack). Dead Run is waiting approval in the Apple App Store, with an Android version on the way.

Of course, these games cannot compete with the multi-million-dollar budgets of what the gamers call the AAA titles – the mega-hits that generate more profits than Hollywood blockbusters. And, as much as rAge focuses on those titles, it also gives the little guys a platform.

StevenTu

Steven Tu of Twoplusgames at rAge, with one of the games his company developed.
PIC: Arthur Goldstuck

“What an opportunity this is for us indie game devs!” enthuses Tu. “Games are all about engagement and interaction, the two-way dance between player and system.

“Playtesting is the most important thing that we can do with our creations. Being able to put our games in front of a great variety of people to watch how they interact with it is invaluable. If they don’t get it, you can figure out why, and you can fix it. If they love it, that is the greatest reward known to a creator.”

Hall agrees: “rAge gives us the opportunity to address these issues by allowing the local consumer market to experience the quality of local games as well as raise general awareness of the industry.”

And now his association want to take it further.

“Make Games, along with key partners like the Department of Trade and Industry and the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, is hoping to start an incubator in Johannesburg as well as Cape Town within the next year to assist start-up studios in becoming sustainable. We already have a community-funded bursary that has allowed two students to study Game Design at Wits University, and we’re hoping to expand the programme.”

South African hardware also made a big spash at rAge, with the global launch of the Sci-Ryder, an ergonomically designed seat and framework with fully adjustable arm, foot and head rests, as well as screen-mounting positions.

“Together, these unique features provide users with a comfortable and customisable personal gaming environment that significantly reduces the impact on their muscular frame,” declared its inventor, Gavin Mills.

The device measures 1.5m x 0.6m of floor space, occupying half the space of a normal desk, and sells for a neat R18 000 (visit www.sci-ryder.com). Despite this, it drew crowds of onlookers, and queues of aspirant test-pilots.

One can’t quite picture a businessman in a suit in the Sci-Ryder or at the Home-Coded stand, but the local industry is slowly becoming a serious business.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

Box:

The local games on display at the Home-Coded stand  at rAge:

Agent Unseen, by Clockwork Acorn

Alien Lobotomy, by Soup With Bits

Cadence, by Made With Monster Love

Beat Attack, by Twoplus Games

Dead Run, by Twoplus Games

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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