Video games have increasingly become a part of mainstream culture over the last two decades, attracting more and more attention from a wider demographic. But while big companies like EA churn out games left, right and centre, there are thousands of small groups who throw themselves into self-initiated projects, whether it be for personal achievement, […]

Video games have increasingly become a part of mainstream culture over the last two decades, attracting more and more attention from a wider demographic. But while big companies like EA churn out games left, right and centre, there are thousands of small groups who throw themselves into self-initiated projects, whether it be for personal achievement, fulfilling a hobby or to make a living.

With the popularity of independently developed games constantly on the rise, the industry has seen its fair share of successful indie games alongside the less fortunate ones. Since the launch of PC game distribution platform Steam, indie developers have been able to get their content out to the world much more easily. Alongside PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, Steam enables many developers to create a game of their own and release it to the entire world.

What does Sheffield have to do with any of this? Well, it turns out there are various studios dotted around the city dedicated to indie game development.

You might have heard of Eufloria (previously known as Dyson), the indie game developed by Sheffield-based studio Tuna, which made an impact on the industry back in 2009 with its initial release on Microsoft Windows. Since then it’s been released on iOS, Android, Steam and PlayStation Network. There’s even a Japanese version for PlayStation Mobile.

Eufloria was created by Alex May, Rudolf Kremers and Brian Grainger. Amazingly, three people created a game that would go on to be recognised as one of the best indie releases to date.

Eufloria puts the player in charge of seedlings, whose mission it is to expand the existing colony. To do this they must take control of numerous asteroids, planting what are known as Dyson trees in order for more seedlings to spawn, so they can create even more trees to increase the population.

But don’t let the simplicity of the concept fool you – this game is actually far more advanced than meets the eye. Spanning over 25 missions, Eufloria is built around a style of gameplay you’re probably not used to, but it works very well. Each level is randomly generated, making for large replay value. There is strategy involved – where to place your seedlings next, which asteroid is worth taking over first, and so forth – but at its core this isn’t a game so much as a unique experience that immerses the player in a beautiful fantasy world.

Eufloria doesn’t need the best visuals or cutting-edge technology to give players an enjoyable experience, and in fact this is what makes indie games stand out. Many offer unique elements not found in mainstream gaming, and for that it’s worth recognising the time and effort put into these projects.

I spoke with Alex Amsel at Tuna about Eufloria and indie gaming culture.

What were the inspirations behind Eufloria?

It came about because of a competition on an indie game developer forum. You had a month to do it. Eufloria didn’t win actually, but people kind of liked it, so the original two guys started developing it and it became a much bigger game on lots of platforms.

The very first version of Eufloria was done part-time. The difficult stuff was making all the visuals look nice. It’s not 3D in the traditional sense. It’s procedural rendering. Procedural content is instead of having an artist design your artwork, the content is a result of code.

Did you expect the game to do as well as it has done?

No-one expected it. It’s done it twice actually – the first time it did well was on Steam, and the second time around, once it was released on iPad, it’s just done amazingly well. There never was a plan, I have to say.

What is it like creating an entire game yourself?

When you’re in control of what you’re making, it’s great because you can actually spend the time polishing it up and making the changes that will make the game better, without having to be too concerned about keeping businessmen happy or being out on a certain date.

Eufloria was ready to come out a few months before it did on iPad. It’s a big collaboration and we weren’t as involved at the start, so we asked Alex [May] and Rudolf who started it whether we could actually not release it for Christmas and make it better. They said go ahead, and we’ve seen all the rewards from that. If it had been with a publisher we couldn’t have done that – it would’ve come out and it would’ve had more bugs in.

Is there going to be a Eufloria 2?

There’s Eufloria Adventures, a spin-off game,which is going to be on PlayStation Mobile first. It will go on to all major platforms from next year.

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Sheffield indie company Shindig – “an informal collective of predominantly Sheffield-based game developers” – plays host to some of the most promising indie studios in the city, including Robot/Lizard, Games Faction, David Walters Development, Tuna and Mr Qwak.

Games Faction – responsible for Storm The Train, Inkvaders, Trigger Happy Christmas and Project Aftermath – have played a huge role in the recent uprising of indie development throughout the city, helping developers create their own game through the Work With Games Faction project.

Sheffield Hallam University currently offers a course in games design, giving students the chance to work with over 30 professional Playstation development kits. This only strengthens the current roster of developers in Sheffield, encouraging people with creative talent to put it to good use in the industry.

Take a look at these games and you’ll notice the time and effort put into them. Most large developers will have hundreds of staff working on a single project for several years. These small indie studios have nowhere near that amount of resources, yet continue to create some of the most unique, engaging and entertaining games on the market.

tunahq.com
shindigdev.com
gamesfaction.com

Kieran Wade.