New Project: Zephyroth

Just back from UNITE’14, I wanted to do a project that would resonate with me as well as link into the experiences of my past. I wasn’t always a techno-geek; I used to be a biologist, I used to be a writer and I also used to design roleplaying games. I also built a substantial amount of knowledge of the Kabbala (from a lay, heathen point of view).

So, I’m working on this:

Take one part Super Mario Galaxy and one part Monument Valley. Sprinkle with a little Tron and a little Journey and wrap it up in a Kabbalistic journey from the Physical Realm to Godhood.

And yes, I know this explains nothing but I’ll update as I make stuff.

At The Foot Of The Mountain



Sometimes I feel like I’m standing at the foot of a mighty mountain that I have to climb. The only path open to me is a single rope, fitted with a lasso, which I can somehow loop around the summit and then just pull like mad until I reach the top. I cannot conceive of the 100,000 steps that I should be taking, the company I should be making and the help I’ll need in order to achieve this mighty undertaking.

I marvel at others, like Brain and Nerd and Twenty3Ten and their ability to step carefully through the minefields of their visions.

Like for Predestination:

And for Mulbury:

This mountain is my Magnum Opus. It could very well end up being the video-game version of my “Qabal” RPG but I’d hope that it ends up being more like “The 23rd Letter”, “Zombi” or “SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO” (also known as the books I was able to finish).

Some of the things I’ve been talking about:

  • Real time tactics
  • Asynchronous Multiplayer
  • Massively and Passively Online
  • Multilevel 3D world (cityscapes)
  • Squad-based combat
  • Territory-based resource collection
  • Human and AI protagonists and antagonists
  • Story-based plot development
  • Aliens, Tanks and Explosions

The problem is that climbing a mountain alone is difficult.

Eagle Lake for iPad – download it now!



Civilian Documentation

Enjoy retro arcade action in this 1 or 2 player classic. Stalk your AI enemies, making use of the grid-based landscape and bonus weapons through 27 increasingly difficult levels.

When you’ve beaten the computer, use Game Center to challenge your friends (albeit one at a time).

Amazing Features include:

  • Unlock 27 different levels of 1 Player action – potentially hours of your life we guarantee you will NEVER get back.
  • Nine different maps and random bonuses for 2 Player adventures (if you really do have a girlfriend, and she’s not just in Canada).
  • iCade joystick support.
  • Multiple bonuses. They spin! They zoom! One makes you invisible (N.B. not in real life, but wouldn’t that be awesome? Or would flying be better? I’m never sure)
  • Exclusive graphics designed by a programmer who isn’t very good at art, but likes black and green to a potentially scary amount, because it makes him think of the old VT terminal he had to use when he was at University.
  • In-game soundtrack performed by a programmer who isn’t very good at in-game soundtracks! Don’t worry, you can turn it off. We did.
  • Sound effects! They go ‘Bang’ and stuff. No expense spared.
  • Speech synthesis! Yeah! Really! It talks!
  • Surprisingly fun to play. Actually, this bit is true.

Before cadets can progress to commanding real materiel, they must complete tank simulator training to level 27, and win multiple randomly selected battles at level 28. The training system is codenamed “EagleLake”, and provides simplified visuals, touch-screen interface and audio-visual feedback.

EagleLake will provide cadets with simulated situations which include:

  • Multiple AI enemies (Using AME: the Artificial Malevolence Engine).
  • One-on-one human enemies over local and intra networks
  • Experience in stealth situations, contained supplies management, and multiple ordinance types.

Cadets are advised to set aside a considerable amount of time to spend in the simulation, for although simulated battles are short, they provide valuable skills for the missions to come

cultureTECH: What I did…

Last week, I spent 4 days at the CultureTECH Festival in Derry/Londonderry. I spent the majority of the days helping local game companies showcase their work.

Special thanks to Black Market Games, ZombieSaurus Games, Troll Inc, Cube Noir and BatCat Games for putting together their demos and attending the event.

I didn’t get to many of the events which were on all day and every day (just due to working on the stand). I did manage to get to (and thoroughly enjoyed)

  • Bright Club “Digital Love”
  • The Japanese Popstars
  • The Launch
  • NIScreen “Games on Film” briefing

I’ll write a little about Bright Club another time.

I’m kicking myself for missing Tim’s talk but my friend @mmarymckenna covered it well in her blog post “10 things crowdfunding investors want most from digital media investments“.

As I wasn’t there, I can’t verify but this seems to be a lit of things “investors” want out of a digital investment. It doesn’t seem to be specific to “crowdfunding investors” (especially because, at the moment, when you participate in a crowdfund, it’s not investment, it’s pre-purchase or donation – but I digress).

I think every quality mentioned in the blog post describes investments in every tech-related company but it leaves us with some difficult issues. I had a brief conversation with Tim just after the SeedComp judging and touched on some of these.

Business Model

Many media companies in the “hit” business are going to find this difficult to describe. Recent darlings in the media include:

  • OMGPOP – $16.6M investment since 2007, acquired by Zynga for $200M.They developed around 46 games before Draw Something, which resulted in their aqui-hire.
  • Rovio Entertainment – angel investment in 2005, $42M Series A investment in 2011. Current revenues of €74M. And 32 games listed as developed before 2009 (when they released Angry Birds)
  • MOJANG – founded in 2009, boostrapped and by March 2012, the company had accumulated a net income of over $80 million

The point being that all of these companies toiled for years before having their overnight success. Many of our hit-driven companies tend to focus on one property and then attempt to court investors on the strength of that one property. But an equity investment is not about the strength of the property, it’s an investment in the company and therefore you may have to detail how you will defeat risk by iterating on titles and making multiple products. Explain to them you are not looking for a one-hit wonder.

And good luck explaining this to our local Regional Development Agency.


If location is a big deal, then you’re fucked if you stay in Northern Ireland. Our local investment funds are conservative, ignorant and, for the most part, tapped out. There’s no way you could get a $42M Series A here. OMGPOP managed a $1.5M Series A after Angel funding, followed by a $5M Series B a year later. If you want anything of that scale (and to fulfil the business model of rapid iteration, you will need large amounts of funding), you will need to go elsewhere. That’s if Location is as important as they say. For crowdfunding, I don’t think it is.

There’s more in the blog post so pop on over and have a read. I just don’t think that any investors in Northern Ireland appreciate the difficulties for creating a real media business in Northern Ireland.this also means they do not appreciate the opportunity.

You will spend a lot of time doing work for other people.

While you may love your idea and have a list of ideas as long as your arm, you will end up doing a lot of “agency” work as you use your finely crafted skills to make games for other people. This will distract you from your mission as you end up crafting games where your eye and expertise are not the deciding factor. This will provide you with much-needed liquidity – enabling your team to afford luxuries such as food and power. I admire the teams of people able to make games while living on 11p Ramen while sleeping on floors but that’s an occupation for the young. It’s not something that my wife and kids would be able to stomach. If you are like that, then try and reconcile your ambition with the Francis Ford Coppola model.

Games are for kids

And it doesn’t matter how much you try to explain this to investors, they don’t play games. For the most part they got a trade in their youth (involving the lifting of bricks or other housing materials) and games were the things they bought for their children. Unless you mean the slot machines in Newcastle on a rainy summer day. The idea that the average age of gamers is creeping up and the average personal income of gamers is skyrocketing is beyond them. They don’t play games. They don’t buy games.

Property investors don’t understand digital

If you build a house for £50,000, you sell the house for £200,000, you get £150,000. If you build a game for £1,000,000, you sell the game for £13.99 and you get a massive loss. The idea that you have to sell a million copies is utterly alien to them. But you will have to explain to people who do not play games, how you’re going to sell a million copies of your game to people. And I shudder at the thought of trying to explain Free-To-Play.

Investors want sold quick returns

You have to explain how long it’s going to take to make back the investment. And there is every chance that your first five games will not make back that investment. So extend your runway. There is no reason you cannot be as good as MOJANG or OMGPOP or Rovio. So measure your successes in years, not months. You have to be prepared for the long haul. You have to prepare your investors too.

Listen to your customers

Just as local investors do not understand you, your market or your product, your target customers absolutely do. You don’t have to implement every crazy ides they have (the Easter-themed mod might not make the final cut) but customers are all potential fans who will help you get to your returns. They’re the oil for the engine that will accelerate you to getting 1000 True Fans..

Get on with it

We are following the Coppola model in Conquest Dynamics. Everyone in the team has their day job, everyone has family and responsibilities. The current team (John, Aidan and myself) started working on this in mid July and we were able to demo at CultureTECH last week. An incredible amount of work has been done and the (other two) guys are amazing at what they do.

From this rough series of diagrams and icons on the 18th July:

To this working multiplayer demo, in 6 weeks.


Tanks are easily identified, easily engaged, much-feared targets which attract all the fire on the battlefield. When all is said and done, a tank is a small steel box crammed with inflammable or explosive substances which is easily converted into a mobile crematorium for its highly skilled crew.”

– Brigadier Shelford Bidwell


Conquest Dynamics will be demoing a tactical simulation game at CultureTech this week. I’m not going to post any screen shots. You’ll have to come and see us.