Epic Games’ Developing Beyond competition has now entered its final phase and the final three games have been chosen. Jem Alexander speaks to the finalists to find out how the process has been, and discover what it’s like to collaborate with a scientific researcher on their projects
The three finalists of Epic’s Developing Beyond competition have now been revealed. Announced at an event held at Develop:Brighton, the finalists will receive a further $60,000 of funding, allowing them to further develop their games for the next six months before the finals.
Developing Beyond began in January, with applicants being whittled down to just six a month later. These teams were each awarded $15,000 to progress with their concepts and were partnered with a scientific researcher, who would help give a fresh perspective as they created their games based on the theme of “transformations”. Now six have become three. The winner will be judged in January by an expanded panel, which includes Develop Legend Award winner John Romero, and will receive a prize of $150,000. Second and third price will receive $50,000 and $30,000 respectively. So whatever happens, these teams know they’ve got a chunk of cash heading their way.
Developing Beyond gave me the chance to make the prototype that I needed to
Robert MacLaughlin, Lost Forest Games
“It sounds cheesy saying it, but it’s such a close competition,” says Oliver Lindsey, director at All Seeing Eye, one of the competition finalists. “Everyone’s pieces have been incredibly well produced, and far more put together than I think anyone could have imagined.”
Robert Maclaughlin, from finalist Lost Forest Games, is in complete agreement. “It’s brilliant. I mean, coming here to see the six projects that the teams have produced, it’s just incredible to see the quality and breadth of interest in all the projects. It was an honour to be part of the six It’s an incredible opportunity to try and think up how games can work with real life. How games can work with medical science, how games can work with scientific research.
“I found it really really useful and interesting to talk to my scientific advisors, because although they weren’t games people at all, they had helped in some way because they didn’t have that natural filter on what is possible and what isn’t possible in a game. They had far more exciting advice for me than I thought possible, and it’s just been a really really fruitful relationship.”
Other finalists also found that collaborating with a scientific researcher, in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, was an unexpectedly eye-opening experience. “Working with the researcher has just been fantastic,” says Olie Kay, associate creative director at All Seeing Eye. “She genuinely input a huge amount into defining what our game is.”
Eliza Di Lorenzo, from finalist Untold Games, had a similar experience. “Working with a scientific advisor added to the game,” she says. “It’s changed some things in the game in a way that we didn’t fully expect initially. So it’s been a different approach of what we’ve done so far in enriching in some way.
“To have someone as prestigious as the Wellcome Trust being involved in this thing, it gives prestige to what we are doing. It opens doors to things that we didn’t think about, like as I said. We found that being as scientifically accurate as possible wasn’t a problem if we managed to make it fun inside of the game.”
When you introduce someone who doesn’t necessarily have a games background into the development process, strange things can happen. The lexicon of games is so entrenched at this point, the best-practices so established, that having fresh eyes on your project can allow you to escape familiar traps and try something new. “It creates these unique kind of intersections,” says All Seeing Eye’s Oliver Lindsey.
“You wouldn’t necessarily go out with the intention of creating something that’s based on science, so I think the ecosystem that it creates is a real microcosm, where being paired with a researcher... We were fantastically lucky with the researcher that Wellcome introduced us to, in that she was much more of a historian and a researcher than a scientist, and as a result of that we got these wonderful stories and these incredible new directions to take our game that we never would have taken had we not been introduced to her.”
Untold Games’ Eliza Di Lorenzo has some choice words of advice for anyone looking to enter the competition in the future. “When you come to work with your scientific advisor, try to get them as involved as possible from the beginning,” she says. “It can be a bit difficult sometimes because, of course, they become another dependent, and they are very, very busy. Maybe they don’t know anything about games and they have no idea what you are planning to do.
“It’s part of a challenge when you are participating in this type thing, making them feel part of your team and making them understand how you are using their knowledge, how it’s going to shape the game you are doing. I think it’s good for both parties.”
To have the Wellcome Trust involved gives prestige to what we are doing
Eliza Di Lorenzo, Untold Games
But greater even than a fresh perspective, finalists see Developing Beyond’s main benefit as a funding platform that allows them a level of creative freedom they don’t or can’t normally enjoy.
“Developing Beyond gave me the chance to make the prototype that I needed to,” says Lost Forest Games’ Robert MacLaughlin. “It’s extremely difficult to find the sort of funding that Developing Beyond provides nowadays, to go from concept to prototype, and Developing Beyond has done that for Lost Forest Games, and it’s basically secured the future of the company for the next year or so.”
“We’re a client facing studio, so we build to order,” says All Seeing Eye’s Lindsey. “So to actually have the opportunity to actually take some time out from that and develop some of our own IP... This game’s been kicking around in the studio for three or four years, so the idea now of actually being able to turn it into something is great.
“We’ve always teetered between wanting to write and develop our own experiences, but then obviously needing to make money. We’re still only a small studio, there’s three, four people at most, and so at this stage it would really allow us the means to actually filter down the work we’re doing and concentrate on just one thing, rather than having to do seven things at once.”
Lindsey’s colleague Olie Kay is in complete agreement. “The grant money that they give for us to develop the games, it’s something that we wouldn’t have been in a position to make our own IP at all,” he says. “It’s what we all really want to be doing, so it’s really fantastic to be a part of it, and certainly to get through to where we are now.”
Seed by All Seeing Eye
Seed is a virtual reality game where players can discover, grow and engineer generative plant life. The game immerses the player into a visually stunning environment, using hand tracking to allow players to craft unique and beautiful plants which grow quickly before their eyes. As the planet’s population expands, the relationship with plants and crops is crucial to human survival. In the face of a changing world Seed aims to explore this relationship by taking inspiration from seed banks and the roles they play.
Terramars by Untold Games
In Terramars the player manages six crew members in a mission to start the terraforming of Mars. In order to do so, they will have to manage the planet’s resources, development of the base camp and, most importantly, the repercussions on the mental and physical health of the astronauts from the conditions in which they’re living. Alongside exploring the transformation of the planet, Terramars explores the challenges and stresses on human bodies, minds and social relationships when adapting to life in an alien environment.
Winter Hall by Lost Forest Games
Winter Hall, a narrative exploration game about the legacy of the Black Death, enables the player to leap through time and live a few hours in the lives of a connected web of characters. As the player explores the world from their first-person perspective, and items and stories set in that era will be surfaced. The game sees the player transform into different people throughout time, and explores their lives and the changes that occur through the years.