By Hugo Blair – Gaming Editor
Ireland is known internationally for many things: agriculture, red hair, the colour green… the list goes on. However, one area that our country is less notable for is our game development scene, but that is not to say it is absent. While we may not host world leading developers like in the United States or Japan, the sector has seen rapid growth in recent years. Still, Ireland is the base of operations for several large video game companies such as Galway based Romero Games, and Havok, whose headquarters are located in Dublin. It comes as no surprise then that the capital is the hub of Irish game development; the city is home to a whole host of organisations based in IT. However, Galway is rapidly becoming a secondary centre for video game development in its own right, while other developers are cropping up in counties like Cork, Limerick, and Waterford.
One such game studio is Greene Rapture. Based in Cork, the team is composed of Lead Developer & Art Director Neil O’Sullivan Greene, Sound Designer & Musician Mathew Xavier Corrigan, and Graphic Designer Bartek Gruba. Many may be familiar with the trio due to their work with Cork-based music collective Hausu. The studio entered the video game scene last November with their release of Knight of the Parking Lot onto Steam’s early access platform. The team’s first formal release, the game centers around a young boy defending a large tree from hordes of robots. The game has a beautiful art style, fantastic music, and fun, dynamic gameplay. I caught up with Neil, to ask him about the team’s journey so far, the reception to KOTPL, and his personal opinions on the Irish development scene.
Firstly, how did you get started in game development, was it something you had always wanted to do?
Yes, I always wanted to make games, but I didn’t have a clue how it was done. It really confused me just thinking about it, especially anything to do with coding or programming. For years I would study concept art and illustration as a way to get into the games industry, but at the start of lockdown I realised I really just wanted to make games, and the only way to learn was by trying! So, at the start of lockdown, with no prior coding experience and just some 3D modelling experience, I got Unreal Engine 4 and started watching tutorials online. It was really overwhelming at first but with enough hours put into it, it clicked! I completely engrossed myself in it since I found it so interesting. I would even watch tutorials on my lunch breaks or before I went to sleep.
Once you started learning to develop games, what led to you joining with Mathew and Bartek to create Greene Rapture?
So, while I was learning how to make games, I asked my good friends Matt and Bartek if they’d like to collaborate on my first game project called LOOMING. I had worked with Matt countless times before on projects for Ghostking Is Dead (Matt’s project within Hausu), or any other general work within Hausu. I had also collaborated with Bartek plenty of times before, whether it was for a college assignment or, again, on other projects in Hausu. So, for LOOMING, Matt created the music and sound effects, while Bartek designed the logo, UI graphics, and helped with the world-building by adding signage and other graphics. Once we finished that project, I had the idea for KOTPL and they were interested in working on it too, so forming Greene Rapture just made sense from there!
The Irish influences on Knight of the Parking Lot are clear – a hurley is the strongest weapon, so where exactly did the idea for the game stem from?
I had an idea in my head to make a small but polished looking game in a short amount of time. I really liked the combat mechanics from Souls-like games and wanted to put a wave-based spin on one, but I wasn’t really interested in doing another played out generic fantasy aesthetic. While I was exploring ideas, I remembered playing with friends when I was younger, fighting with sticks, pretending they were lightsabers. From there, it fell together quite well.
Since you began work on the game, have you faced any major roadblocks? Especially given this all began in the middle of a global pandemic.
For sure! With game development, there’s always roadblocks. From nearly losing the entire file for the game due to corruption, or even not being able to work on it for weeks due to my PC being fried. In terms of Covid-19 though, we were pretty used to working with each other over Discord; sending stuff back and forth to each other, so we were pretty lucky in that regard. Although not being able to hang out together and chat about ideas in person definitely made it a bit harder, and not being able to celebrate with each other when it was released felt pretty unfair too.
So, the team released Knight of the Parking Lot in November onto Steam’s early access platform, what benefits do you think early access gives you?
The reality is, game development takes a long time, even for a smaller project like this. Early access gives us the flexibility to iterate and improve the game post-release, even if our schedules get hectic with everything else happening.
The early access route has gotten a lot of negative press since its introduction, with many games never making it to release. Do you think some developers abuse the platform, cashing in without the intention to finish development?
Very rarely would a game release without the intention to finish development. There’s definitely a minority of developers who try to take advantage of that system, but they’re less prominent nowadays. I think there’s been a lot of cases where games haven’t been finished while in early access, but this is more often due to external or internal factors, never due to lack of trying. Game development is tough, and unfortunately the majority of games in development never see the light of day; early access just gives people a better view of how it can happen to a game!
So how has reception been to the game since release?
Surprisingly good! Since it was our first commercial release, I really didn’t know what to expect, especially when I’ve been looking at the project all day every day for months. People really liked fighting with the hurley too, so I definitely want to add more of that in the game!
More hurley mechanics on the horizon, noted. Aside from that, are there any other features you wish you could add, but time/scope limitations prevent?
Oh – so, so many! I can’t even begin to describe all the cool stuff we wanted to do. Ideally, I would love to add a whole quest system where you can run around the estate and explore the world, and get into a lot more mischief. We have to be realistic though…
Moving to game development in a national context, how do you personally view the Irish game development scene today?
The Irish game dev. scene is small but passionate, and lots of people are making amazing strides in making our country a more prominent player within the industry, but currently we still have a lot of progress to make. IMIRT (A representative organisation for Irish game developers) especially is doing lots of work. While Dublin and Galway have great game development communities, Cork is kind of lacking in that regard.
While the industry is growing, do you believe the sector currently receives enough support from the government/other funding agencies?
Definitely not, but thanks to IMIRT, good progress has started on that! As part of the 2021 budget, the Irish games industry will be presented with a tax break that’s aimed to be introduced in 2022, so progress has begun.
It’s clear that this industry is only going to be on an upward path in the years to come, so do you have any advice for those who wish to make a start in game development?
Oh, where do I begin! First of all, I would say you don’t need to be able to code. As someone with dyscalculia, this is really what turned me off of development for a long time. Unreal Engine 4 has visual blueprints which is what I use, and Unity also has an equivalent. Secondly, there are so many tutorials out there, Udemy has really good courses to get started, but if you can’t afford that then YouTube has plenty of really great quality tutorials for game development as well. That’s just on the technical side though, if you’re interested in more of the theory aspect of games, you need to watch GDC talks, they’re incredibly insightful and inspiring.
Lastly, and this one is important, when you make your first game, start small! Don’t try to make the next greatest MMO, or Skyrim 2. The general rule I hear is when you come up with your idea for your game, cut it down by 75%. Then it’s the right scope/size. Game jams are also a fantastic way to meet new people to make games with, as well as learning how much time it really takes to make something.