25 March 2008

Silat finally comes to gaming

Codemasters has a presence in Malaysia, working with local outfit VisionNew Media. And Electronics Arts is setting up shop with the nation's southern neighbour, Singapore. These are gaming industry heavyweights that would be a boon for the local creative content development industry ifthey decide to grace our shores.

There are, of course, notable games developers in Malaysia such as Phoenix Game Studios and GameBrains. But it seems that in most cases, the local games development industry still lacks its own intellectual property (IP).

Most projects handled bylocal players are outsourced jobs, with the IP belonging to foreignentities. The interactive entertainment industry is very enticing, especially when one considers the fact that video game software worldwide sales reached a staggering US$9.5 billion (RM30.4 billion) last year.

Compare that to the Top 10 Hollywood blockbusters, which generated US$2.6 billion last year, and the excitement in the gaming market immediately becomes relevant. Unless the local gaming industry gets a boost, it is likely that the games development industry will remain at a service provider level for along time.

Not owning unique IP can spell disaster if a games developer decides to shift to other places that offer lower wages and other incentives. But there is hope, as established foreign games entities realise Malaysia's potential to produce quality work. There are some resources in the country in terms of multimedia and animation talent, but it takes more expertise to make a computer or videogame.

A game requires more people than a movie production. In that respect, relying on an established gaming engine is a good way to jumpstart the gaming industry.

Growing Gaming Developers Community
Datuk Abdul Hamid Mustapha, executive chairman of Online e-Club Management Sdn Bhd, which owns NOESISInteractive Sdn Bhd, believes that one of the best ways to break into the games industry is by creating mods, or game modifications. Mods is a key reason why games such as Counter-Strike (running on theHalf-Life engine) refuse to die.

In 1996, alterations to id Software's Doom resulted in modified versions. These mods extended the life of the game beyond the point where its excitement would have died down. Since one must have the original game to play mods, sales went beyond the shelf life of normal computer games.

Using this template, Half-Life has made Valve Software's revenue stream steadily increase. Valve Software is based in Bellevue, Washington, US. Valve Software mainly attributes its success to three mods: Day of Defeat, Team Fortress and Counter-Strike. In the first year, Half-Life sold two million units. In its third year after launch, it sold 3.8 million units. Overall, the franchise sold over11 million units.

NOESIS Interactive intends to offer gaming development courses through franchisee universities and colleges. Courses are scheduled to start in June. Leveraging on partners Valve Software and NOESIS Interactive USA, NOESIS Interactive believes that it has an ecosystem to welcome a new generation of games developers from training, community development right through to digital distribution of games for commercialisation opportunities.

In simple terms, it means that budding games developers can take up the course from participating universities and colleges and get a certification in respective programmes such as 3-D content creation with Softimage XSI, character design and integration with Half-Life 2, custom props and animation for source-powered games, advanced character animation for games with Softimage XSI, and advanced source level design bundle and source level design essentials. These certifications mean that the holder can work on games that specifically use the Half-Life engine.

Besides Softimage XSI, other three-dimensional animation tools such as Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max-based courses are offered. Such project-based training is open to all students, teaching professionals or those who want to upgrade their skills.

"NOESIS Interactive is a project conceived, produced and managed by Online e-Club Management to address the inadequacies of the Asian electronic games industry. Currently, there is only a handful of local game titles that have been released in this region," Abdul Hamid says. This, he thinks, is largely due to lack of resources and more crucially, lack of access to any game engine.

Also, NOESIS Interactive believes that the pool of skilled designers, artists and coders is small and scattered, with most young talent yet to be discovered. The company hopes to leverage on its connections in Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam since Online e-Club Management is the regional official distributor for ValveSoftware.

With that, locally produced IP coming out from this collaboration has a good chance of being distributed as mods to these countries. The IP rights will also remain with Malaysians.

"Malaysia can use this opportunity to market its unique culture and IP as well. Placement of facts or cultural objects can pique one's curiosity and influence them to find out more. This has a similar effect to placing products in movies," Abdul Hamid points out.

Cultural Advantage
Silat, the Malaysian form of martial arts, forexample, has been eyed by a Dutch-based company DGames. According to its adviser Azlan Ghanie, also a respected martial arts expert and chief editor of local martial arts magazine SENI BELADIRI, DGames representatives are keen to create an online computer game where players from around the world can band together to fight the "forces of darkness".

DGames is synonymous with child prodigy Paul du Long, who created his first online game when he was only 11 years old. His father, Glenn duLong, intends to have his son mentor local talent, as he has done for thousands of children in Europe.

"We are scheduling the launch of the proposed game sometime in May or June in Kuala Lumpur," Azlan says. DGames is keen to have Malaysia as a hub for developing online games.

Clearly, Malaysia has hidden gems which can attract established names from the gaming development industry. But to build up the industry, it takes more than a bunch of companies. The pool of talent needs to be polished enough to gain the confidence from the would-be employers from overseas.

And players in the local gaming development industry need to first learn what they can from the tried-and-tested formulas, just like the Japanese animators, before branching out on their own.

Written by Hazimin Sulaiman
Sourced from New Straits Times

1 comment:

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