Level Up Wales 2018
Last week on the 31st May to 1st June 2018 the Welsh Gaming Network attended Level Up Wales, North Wales biggest Games and Technology convention of the year.
This was an event primarily but not limited to showcasing current and previous students at major games development hub Wrexham Glyndwr University which was also the host of the event. This event was organised by Senior Lecturer and #WeAreGameDev creator Richard Hebblewhite – a great leader in the North Wales games industry community.
Level Up Wales saw many visitors interested in learning more about the games development courses available with young children and older adults alike asking plenty of questions to the students behind each game and technology device. There was also talks involving experienced members of the North Wales gaming community on the Friday all day which looked at plenty of aspects of development and a talk on supporting the North Wales games industry by Carwyn Edwards of North Wales Tech.
The Welsh Gaming Network ourselves was generously given plenty of table space, where we were able to bring awareness to this website, and the larger gaming community we are looking to build. We also played host to speed-run competitions, of which the winners will be contacted in due course.
I spoke to many up and coming Welsh developers, with plenty of ideas between them, the future is looking bright and exciting for the North Welsh gaming scene. There were also companies from around the UK, including a charity from Manchester with a great idea. I will share whom I spoke to with you below:
This is a charity based in Manchester, who’s slogan “We help kids who find it difficult to fit in” is a complete understatement. Everyone Can looks to help people of all ages with disabilities by improving their quality of life through the power of assistive technology.
While at Level Up Wales, I saw them host a few different devices of which I have never seen before, these were used to help disabled people gain access to video games of which they may never have been able to before.
Everyone Can offers assessments and advice services to anyone who requires it at their national centre in Sale, Manchester but also run workshops across the UK. The assessments look to match current technology to the needs of the user while the workshops can help by demonstrating ways technology can help people with disabilities. The centre also hosts space where disabled people, carers and families can experience accessible gaming.
If you are interested, in volunteering or contacting them check out their website here. http://www.everyonecan.org.uk/
Currently based at offices in the university, Static Shell Studios are the creators of a game which I’ve previously played on my YouTube channel, Sunburnt. This is a zombie survival game with a twist, their only enemy is light. You use any light source such as a torch to more creative weapons such as the screen of a tablet in order to defeat waves of zombies and rack up points doing so.
I got a chance to speak to the developers in person for the first time which was great, as it put faces to the names I have been in contact with since giving Sunburnt a go. This game has improved since my video. Previously you could stand on cars and zombies wouldn’t be able to kill you which made it easy to rack up the points and kills. Now zombies will lose interest and go away, as well as being worth no points. This was my main concern with the game as it made things too easy so I am glad they have addressed it. There are also new weapons available with plenty more to come.
Static Shell Studios also had 2 dedicated PCs setup for their Unreal Spring Jam 2018 entry Jet Junkers. This is a racing game which reminded me of Star Wars style pod racing and was created in just 5 days. I was informed they may have accidently uploaded the wrong file to the wrong location and could have actually missed out on the Unreal Jam but none the less, this game was created for that. The developers told me it could have up to 20 player servers before crashing, but would need test subjects to find out!
After visiting Static Shell Studios, I spoke with Samurai Duck after learning they had been accepted as the North Wales Transfuzer 2018 entrant before it was officially announced. This means the team will be given a £5000 grant to further develop their new game Eden’s Grasp during the summer, and eventually show it off at EGX in September in order to hopefully take home the £25,000 grant from the Government based UK Games Fund.
Eden’s Grasp in an incredibly early adventure game prototype. You play as a knight attempting to save what looked like a castle or township against evil plant creatures. Its hard to explain but there will be 2 simultaneous realms which your character can move between, where there may be puzzles to solve in one realm which will open gates in the second. You will also face enemies in each realm, with boss battles to be included too. The fighting style looks like they could be taking inspiration from Dark Souls so I am interested to see how they improve.
The game set up right next to our table space was by Quantum Soup Studios, called Annwn: the Otherworld. Annwn was previously selected for the Leftfield Collection at EGX Rezzed this year. As the developer for this game was busy, this table was taken over by Welsh speaking WGN member InstaSim, an avid speedrunning streamer with a keen interest in the gaming industry.
Annwn: the Otherworld is an interesting puzzle game where you move around different maps, the one I played on was an island, using grid spaces. To move, you have to absorb objects on a grid space, such as a tree, which granted energy to be able to create a totem. You could then teleport to the new totem, absorb your old totem for the energy, and repeat the process. The goal is to reach the enemy on the map, who looked to me like a lighthouse, and if it spots you with its 360 gaze, would absorb you so you want to get to them first!
Annwn: the Otherworld is looking to release within the next month on Steam.
Treasure Map Tales is a Year Two university project using augmented reality. It is currently in the process of getting funding from the Welsh Assembly. Their goal is to get children aged 5-12 interested in nature again with a series of educative mini games.
The goal is to find informative cards across the selected wildlife/nature areas, these cards may be near specific trees or animal habitats. Once discovered, the children will be able to activate mini games via a mobile phone app and this will act as a scavenging hunt to eventually be brought across the whole of Wales, much like the Gruffalo Trails in England.
Zerocar: Future Motorsport is a fast paced racing game currently in development by a solo developer Jack Bognar. This was inspired when he was working for Codemasters, known for racing games, where he put a top of the range racing car onto a rally track and saw the madness it creates.
Zerocar can currently be considered a very early prototype as it has 1 working map and car, while there is plans to have maps from all over the world, including the beautiful Welsh roads. The UI is incredibly sleek and professional, and with his experience I am looking forward to seeing what the end game will look like.
Brainwave Studios is another 3rd year student team, much like Samurai Duck. They were showing off Shardstorm – a 4 player split screen first person shooter, where the goal was to protect an “energy core” from invading monsters attempting to destroy it. The developers were hoping to apply for Transfuzer, but due to new rules meaning only 1 team can get through from each recognised Game Hub, they lost out to Samurai Duck. I was told it was a very tough decision as both teams had a great pitch, but I am sure Brainwave Studios will bounce back and make a great game, especially as they will be working in the same offices within the university site as some of the other developers already mentioned here.
Shardstorm allows you to pick 1 of 4 different character archetypes, each with their own abilities inspired by characters of Overwatch. Each character gets a turret and skills, I had a go on the “Tank” who had a deployable shield as example. The next goal for Brainwave Studios is to allow online play, and new maps as there is currently only one map available.
Cyber Lamb Studios brought their multiplayer arena shoot ’em up DEATHPIT 3000, which I previously saw at Player Nation in Cardiff this year. We also made a video on this, which went along side an interview you can see on this website with a review on Steam by our resident review pro and Editor Athravan.
DEATHPIT 3000 is a 4 player LAN and recently updated with online capabilities multiplayer game set in a futuristic gladiatorial arena where the goal is to defeat waves of monsters and spend money on upgrades in between rounds across different styles of arena. The difficulty ramps up quickly with some enemies requiring a lot of teamwork to kill, so you are at a disadvantage playing this one solo.
It was nice speaking to the developers and catching up, who both took a keen interest in our Friday speedrun event, where we made people race around on the original Mario Kart to get the fastest lap times.
DPAD: FTW was showing off their latest game in the works Ye Fenny 2, but also brought along Ye Fenny – Revenge of the Evil Good Shepherd. This game is hard to describe as it is utter madness. This was created by a solo developer, Dave Jones but with the help of his mate and brother as actors. The idea for this series was first created in 2003 in a field, as Dave and his mate were teenagers drinking beers and camping out.
This lead to Ye Fenny, a modern retro style shoot ’em up where the goal is to stop The Evil Good Shepherd from doing evil things. With FMV cutscenes throughout (Over 33 minutes infact), this game creates a huge amount of lore and story for the Ye Fenny world.
Ye Fenny 2 hopes to build on the story but is taking a complete visual change. All the visuals will be using real world images, and this makes for an absolute bonkers view as each character and enemy is just a combination of different people Dave knows in costume ADLIBBING their part in the game. For example as you run around killing guys in robes and masks, theres a bloke waving his arms about, this bloke is just used as an object in the environment and makes little sense to what hes doing as you can’t interact with him. Apparently all scenes are created while being pretty drunk. This game is inspired by the original Mortal Kombat and the series can be seen on Steam, Humble Store, Itch and Gamejolt.
I am looking forward to seeing how this pans out, as you are shooting your way through bosses and saving multiple worlds along the way.
This is a year 3 student project where you control a giant mech in a basic city. The destructible environment felt fulfilling when you have a cannon for an arm, but out of the student projects I’ve mentioned, this felt the most like they were aiming towards a prototype instead of a finished game. There is a large variety of weapon names, with different tiers of value from common to epic and unique which was a nice touch, with the only real goals was to use said weapons to destroy enemy tanks.
I didn’t get a chance to look at their game Beyond Arm’s Reach as I was so busy, but I do know this is an action adventure game where you use a grappling hook to traverse their impressive looking world, solving puzzles and defeating enemies along the way. This game is set in an 1950’s steampunk universe, and the developers always had people at their desk wanting to test the physics in this game.
Year One Students
I got the chance to speak to several first year students having their first taste of convention life. I believe they said they had to use Multimedia Fusion instead of Unreal Engine or Unity to create their first games. They were each given randomly generated names to work with. The most promising game was called Android Insect Dystopia which is a side scrolling beat ’em up where you must kill giant bugs attempting to destroy all mankind. A fairly simple concept, must like the retro games of Streets of Rage and the old Mutant Hero Ninja Turtles games, but I will always love this style of game.
I am looking forward to coming back next year and seeing what projects these guys are working on!
Year Two Students
The Year Two students had spent their time working mainly on Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality games. There was a VR game using a cross trainer and another separate game using a rowing machine which both looked interesting and the developers were even giving out prizes for the rowing game. InstaSim from the Annwn exhibition walked away with not one but TWO boxes of chocolate, which I felt was counter productive to playing a game on a rowing machine. I had a go on a VR game which felt like a virtual Escape Room as you were in a submarine filling with water, and the only way to save yourself was a series of buttons throughout the submarine. I was opening doors and pressing anything that resembled buttons in a relaxed state (as the voices around me told me what to do) even though this was my first attempt at Virtual Reality. This was probably my favorite highlight of the event. Before hand, I was very pessimistic about VR, but consider me a convert!
I can see games such as those using fitness equipment acting as a form of e-olympics in the future and hope we will see more of this type of thing.
Overall, this was a wicked learning experience for me personally, but also a great experience for the Welsh Gaming Network, as this was our first showing with our own table at such an event, and paves the way for many more to come.
I want to thank Richard Hebblewhite for inviting us, Wrexham Glyndwr University for having us, but most of all my gorgeous girlfriend Stacey Williams, who drove us 3 and a half hours at 7am to Wrexham and back the following day, helped to man the stall while I was able to network with the talented developers of the future, and created some fantastic video games art for free to children and passers by including a pretty quick painting of an original Pokemon.