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Updated: August 30, 2013 17:28 IST

All in the game

GEETA PADMANABHAN
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Parlours galore: Attract the city's youth. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao
The Hindu Parlours galore: Attract the city's youth. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

Hi-tech parlours, professional tournaments and a vibrant youth population provide a strong culture for the growth of the gaming industry in Chennai. Here’s what developers have to say about the scenario

“The good news first,” said Akhilesh Deshmukh, Gamecrypto.com, discussing the game scene in Chennai. “Game developers are going indie — they start a company with 3-5 people, usually friends/ex-colleagues/classmates, work from home or a mini-workspace and develop small and mobile games.” That doesn't sound like much, but the “garage-take-off” has proved a goldmine for a significant number of developers, he said, rattling off eleven names. No big investment, no large expenses. “You wouldn't find a mega gaming company in Chennai and this is meant in a good way.” The bad news is, the market and lack of investment have forced even those with dreams to make triple-A-title games move to mobile platform games. “We gamers don't get to see an AAA game from an Indian developer that often.”

Strong culture

Pity when you consider the clientèle. “Chennai boasts a strong gaming culture, be it mobile, casual, hardcore, not to mention the sheer number of professional gaming tournaments,” Akhilesh argued. “The gaming clans we host make these tournaments worth watching.” But if we have like 2000 gamers, barely 2-3 take it up professionally, feels Manoj Menon, vril-interactive.com. “Gaming's still frowned upon in homes, but it's changing. The presence of hi-tech gaming parlours and a vibrant youth population can make Chennai the gaming hub.”

More pity when you think of plot lines — we have mythology to mine from. But developers work within short deadlines, target popularity. “They are fairly good to a point and do sell,” admitted Akhilesh. “A few are top-notch.” He dreams of “awesome” games of international standard coming out of the Chennai stable. And the fan base will emerge, he's sure. “Hire good artists and developers and, more important, pay them regularly.”

Manoj hears only a murmur in Chennai's game development scene. He sees services rather than core internal product development. But then, core games deplete cash reserves and revenue flow takes time. To support their Indian mythology-based “serious” game project, Vril has worked on games for iOS and Android — casual games that go across genres, genders and ages. “The Indian game studios have the expertise and we are building on experience.

It wouldn't be long before we see an AAA title come out of an Indian studio.” For that to happen, we need to work on the basics. We are fine in graphics, speech, music, difficulty level, story and navigation but need to sharpen hardcore game programming skills, logic and animation.

Great potential

Chennai's “nascent” game development industry has great potential, believes Vijay Varadan, Axham Games, whose title Karmic Pickle (tactical combat game with RPG elements) is now design complete. His cross-platform games target Windows/OSX/Linux alongside popular consoles and dedicated handheld devices.

Mobile phones are a rather tertiary consideration. “Games that are well-made succeed in the Indian marketplace, just as they would internationally,” he said.

Chennai's well-known talent (along with family support) persuaded him to set up shop here, but he's disappointed it's not geared towards game development. “Most animators seem to have stumbled into animation as users of software packages and tools rather than as artists who have explored their creative side. There is no experienced workforce for video game development. Then there are the auxiliary issues specific to Chennai. Folks hesitate to relocate to Chennai, cite heat, humidity and language barrier as hold-up reasons. Besides all these, poor availability of high-end hardware is the largest issue, he said. Accessing high-performance video cards, processors and storage is difficult. Volumes are very low, so prices are higher than in countries such as the U.S. Not many studios develop video games A-Z, conception to release, so independent development is a lonely path. The Indian game-development industry is service-oriented and primarily geared to outsourcing art work — in bits and pieces.

Immersive experience

“Providing immersive experience for folks working at the studio is the best way to nurture talent,” he says walking me around his studio packed with a library of 4000+ video games (physical and digital), two gaming stations each with XBOX 360s, PS3s, Wii and Wii-U, dedicated handheld/tablet gaming devices for workers to immerse themselves in. Friday evenings work ends early, and developers play video/board games into the wee hours of Saturdays. Impromptu gaming sessions are the norm, he says. “Try one out.” One has to analyse games of different genres and styles to create a great one, he adds.

Reckoning the need to “chew fat” with fellow game developers “I started the Chennai Game Industry Professionals for socio-professional meet-ups. We video-conference via Google Hangouts every couple of weeks to talk about design, critique prototypes, discuss monetisation strategies, share experiences and technical know-how.”

There's a tonne of talent — artistic and technical, he asserts. “It's up to studio owners to provide the right environment — the only way to produce world class games.”

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