While you may read and
hear whispers about some or other game development effort on the African
continent, with news occasionally coming from places such as Egypt, Kenya, and
Morocco, there is one country in Africa that is desperately trying to wiggle
its way into game development prominence -- South Africa.
With a handful of
development studios making false starts over the years, and a passionate, if
thinned out, development community, South Africans are working at laying the
foundation for a vibrant local industry in the years to come.
When, though, did this
work begin, what have been the results so far and where is it going? Several
South African developers based in the country, and abroad, were kind enough to
provide some answers.
It starts with a bunny...
In the early '90s, a
computer programming enthusiast by the name of Travis Bulford had become
involved in the local South African demo coding scene, which informed a lot of
his assumptions about teamwork and game development. This lead to the
development of his team's first game in 1994, an action platformer called Toxic Bunny, and the formation of game
development company Celestial:
the moment I got my hands on a computer (that would be 1987), doing game
development was my obsession," says Bulford. "I am not sure there was
a specific plan at that stage, or rather that there was a new one each week."
[worked on Toxic Bunny] for one and a
half years, the last six months of which we spent full time to finish. Of
course, being so young we had no expenses to speak of, which really made it a
Celestial's Toxic Bunny (1996)
With the release of Toxic Bunny in 1996, Bulford and his
development partners were on the road to making a career in game development a
feasible prospect for other programming enthusiasts in the country.
The team soon began
work on its second title, while they began actively encouraging and promoting
the idea of game development in South Africa, based on the notion that there
existed a great backbone of media and creative skills in the country, only
without the necessary experience in the realm of game development to create a
local industry, of which Bulford says:
"There is a great deal of enthusiasm here in South Africa --
I see it every day. The enthusiasm has to progress into financially viable
results. We have the talent in all areas, but we need the structures and
disciplines that can turn that raw talent into successful products."
Celestial continued to work on establishing a foundation for themselves with
the development of its new game, as well as building a foundation for future
game developers in South Africa, plans were being hatched by a former South
African, now living and working in the U.S., to establish a new game
development company in the country to inject more energy and talent into the
The DigiPen Grad
Dan Wagner, a graduate of the DigiPen Computer Graphics School (DCGS) in
Canada, and now busy with contract development work in the U.S., was in the
process of drumming up financial support for a development studio to be based
in South Africa, his country of origin -- his home. He wouldn't be able to do
it alone, though, so it made sense to bring with him former class and project
mates from his time at DCGS to help found such a studio.
Lamothe, a Canadian working as a teaching assistant at DCGS, as well as helping
out at the newly formed DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond at the time,
was one of those acquaintances contacted by Wagner with the prospect of
building a development studio together, only not in his native country of
Canada, but in South Africa. Lamothe, despite a future opportunity at Nintendo
of America, and after some deliberation, decided to take Wagner up on his
"I was pretty
well versed at that time of the lack of a game development industry here,"
Lamothe explains. "It was actually quite exciting to think that we could
have the chance to grow a new industry in South Africa."
successful meeting with their future financial backers, Lamothe, along with
various other developers Wagner had met in the US ("[we] started out with a team of seven
people, six of whom were not South African," reminds Lamothe), flew out to South Africa in late 1999 to set up their
studio, I-Imagine, and began work on a stunt driving inspired racing game
that was to become known as Chase:
Hollywood Stunt Driver.
I-Imagine's Chase: Hollywood Stunt Driver (2001)
By the end of 1999,
the development scene in South Africa had "ballooned" (a relative
term) to two active game development companies, Celestial and I-Imagine, with
two games currently in development, while the local gaming scene was also given
a boost with the creation of South Africa's first locally, and professionally,
produced gaming magazine, New Age Gaming,
the year before.
The local development
community, too, had begun to grow, culminating in the creation of the SAGameDev
developer website, acting as a meeting hub and forum for amateur game
developers in South Africa to discuss the art and science of the industry, as
well as share their own creations.
The question was, with
this new energy and talent-base growing in the South African game development
scene, could the momentum from the months and years previous be carried through
to the new millennium, and continue to grow in the months and years to come?
The beginning of the
year 2000 did indeed seem promising for growth of the South African game
development scene, as not only would it mark the release of Celestial's second
game, now known to be named The Tainted,
but it also saw the I-Imagine team's first trip to E3 as a fully fledged
company, ready with a game demo in tow to show their work to prospective