From picturesque lochs and glens to thriving game dev hubs, Scotland’s got a lot up its sleeves.
Scotland has played a significant role in video game history. While boasting a reputation as the birthplace of the ZX Spectrum, Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto, it still enjoys a fertile development industry, one that grew by 27% in 2016-2017 alone. The epicentre is the renowned city of Dundee; its two universities offer game design courses – Abertay’s having been consistently voted the best in Europe – and last year saw the announcement of the £9 million InGame research hub.
One team of developers enjoying such prosperity are Puny Astronaut, whose upcoming exploration game Skye has gained the patronage of Minecraft porters 4J Studios. Managing director Cian Roche told us a wee bit about their experiences in such a flourishing scene.
How did Puny Astronaut form as a development team, and where did the concept of Skye come from?
Most of us first met at Abertay University when we were all completing different games courses. We had worked on other projects independently, but the project that became Skye was the first project that we all worked on together.
In 2016, I remember being particularly mentally drained and I felt like I had very few outlets to turn to, few which I actually found relaxing. So many games seemed like they were just trying to stress the player out, so we wanted to develop something that succeeded in actually being soothing. The first concept, called Glaze, was very abstract. You controlled the character in a glittering, stained-glass world and it was more about exploration than achieving anything in particular. As we developed Skye further, it became a game about a friendly dragon exploring a richly interactive world where they helped out its denizens along the way.
Its atmosphere reminds me of artsy and open-world titles like Journey and Breath of the Wild. Which games and developers do you take influence from?
We’ve looked at loads of games which try to bring joy to the player. One of the early inspirations for us was a game called Hohokum. Again, it was very abstract, but we liked the intention of the gameplay being to pull the player to a different, cheery world. We’re always on the lookout for the games that make us smile and we’re particularly interested in why they succeed in doing so, and where we see elements that we would improve on. Obviously, developers such as ThatGameCompany and Nintendo are very successful in that area!
It also features some very scenic places. Were these inspired by anywhere in particular, such as the game’s namesake?
We have team members from all over Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and beyond. We certainly have taken a lot of inspiration from beautiful landscapes from around the world, including the breathtaking scenery of the Isle of Skye.
The Scottish gaming industry is booming. It must be an exciting time to develop games in Dundee.
Dundee has been a great place for us to study and work. We think the city is a really comfortable space to live in, where it’s easy to get around and where we feel very connected to other developers. There are groups like Creative Dundee, which bring professionals from all different disciplines together to collaborate and keep in touch with one another. Being in the same city as so many other studios like Outplay, Tag, 4J, and Ruffian Games is fantastic – there’s a great sense of fun, creative energy here.
Abertay has always been supportive; they were able to give us a space to work in once we won Dare To Be Digital – now called Dare Academy – in 2016, and they gave us a lot of help and advice whilst we were finding our feet. We were lucky to take the game around the world with Abertay to places like Cologne, New Delhi, and Shanghai. We wouldn’t be where we are now if not for them.
The InGame project is a fantastic initiative, which will help energise the already electric games development scene in Dundee and the rest of the UK. We’re grateful to have an existing relationship with Abertay and many of the other games industry partners, and we’re really looking forward to seeing the output of the project over the next few months and years.
Getting 4J on board must have been a special moment. How have they helped you?
It was humbling to have the potential of Skye validated by a studio like 4J, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better partner. They have years of experience making games for the same audience we’re developing Skye for, so to have them next to us as we make our debut game has put us in a really good position. They’ve already helped us take our ambitions for Skye from a good ‘student game’ to a strong, fully developed release we can’t wait for the world to see.
When do you expect Skye to be released and what do you hope players will take away from the game?
Not to be vague, but we plan to release as soon as it’s ready! We’re working so hard at the moment to make it really special – it’s not something we want to rush out the door. Players will fly into a world that couldn’t be happier to see them, with so many reasons to stay, explore, and be truly relaxed.
The strength of the city’s ties has placed Puny Astronaut in the perfect position to launch their debut title. With a flourishing epicentre of game development behind them, it’s not difficult to see Skye leading the charge in independent production in the area. Find out more and stay in touch with the devs on Twitter at @PunyAstronaut.
Andy is a Scottish games writer with a penchant for Nintendo and indies. His credits include Official Nintendo Magazine, BBC, Vice and Playboy.