The Midlands in profile: Part 2

The Midlands in profile: Part 2

By Ed Fear

July 29th 2009 at 8:30AM

A look over studios Eiconic and Lightning Fish

Continuing our look at some of the leading games companies based in the Midland's area, below we profile Eiconic and Lightning Fish.

EICONIC

Number of staff: Five, plus contract staff

Year founded: 2006

Location: Various, distributed development around the Midlands, but primarily based in High Wycombe.

Key staff:
Graeme Monk (MD/Executive Producer)
Dave Pollard (Lead Games Programmer)
James Boulton (Technical Director)
Neall Jones (Creative Producer)
Simon Credland (Art Director)
 
Previous projects:
SqueeBalls (Oct 2009), Polar Panic (Sept 2009)
 
Currently working on:
TBA

Eiconic is one of the growing group of distributed developers, having no fixed abode but all collaborating remotely. Its founders came from the Oxford studio of LEGO iterators Traveller’s Tales. After working on Crash: Twinsanity and Super Monkey Ball Adventures, they left in 2006 to start Eiconic.

Since then, the team has been working with Performance Designed Productions producing SqueeBalls for its Xbox 360 Freedom motion controller, which was recently announced at E3. It’s also hard at work on an Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network title Polar Panic on off-moments. The studio aims to release the latter this year.

“We’re a core team of dedicated professionals who concentrate on small to medium projects,” explains managing director Graeme Monk. “We much prefer the shorter turn-around of projects lasting up to 12 months.”

What really separates Eiconic is the ‘virtual studio’ approach, however. Staff work from home, using established communication software like Skype and Google Talk – and its proprietary technology Moai has been specifically designed to work on a remote server.

“It was necessary that all of our tools, assets and production pipeline could work remotely and from anywhere in the world,” explains Monk. “Every member of staff works on live data and the latest code, and clients have access to the same data and pipeline. If we want feedback on an issue, asset or gameplay mechanic we can inform the client, who can update and build the data on their end in less than ten minutes.”

The system works well for the team, who still meet up every few weeks but can have Scrum production meetings daily. They also try to keep to standard working day hours, but can be flexible – and this, coupled with the lack of stress that comes from no commute, makes production “very relaxed, and increases the creativity that we have,” says Monk.

In fact, they’re so confident with the distributed model that they think other studios will follow suit in time: “We firmly believe that distributed development will become more and more commonplace over the next few years. When we set up with this philosophy, people said that we were mad, and that we wouldn’t survive. We’re now in a position where we’ve proven that it works and that our philosophy is sound – we’re still alive and kicking, and looking to expand.”


CONTACT

Eiconic
W
: www.eiconic.com
E: contact@eiconic.com

LIGHTNING FISH GAMES

Number of staff: 12

Year founded: 2008

Location: Banbury

Key staff:
Simon Prytherch (CEO)
Mike Montgomery (Development Director)
David Hunt (Chief Technology Officer)
Phil Marley (Creative Director)
Nicola Salmoria (Senior Programmer)
 
Previous projects:
N/A
 
Currently working on:
NewU Fitness First Personal Trainer, further NewU products, plus unannounced title

Lightning Fish is the youngest of all the developers featured here, having been set up only last year – but the firm is already set to release its first retail product this September, the fitness title NewU Fitness First Personal Trainer.


Set up by industry veterans Simon Prytherch, Mike Montgomery and David Hunt – who have more than 60 years of experience between them – Lightning Fish is targeting a different type of gamer than the traditional core user: families, and specifically the growing number of people using game consoles as fitness devices.

Shortly after its inception it signed a deal with Black Bean to develop NewU, for which it worked closely with fitness chain Fitness First and (non-)Dr. Gillian McKeith’s ‘You Are What You Eat’ company, to ensure the game had a solid fitness and nutritional grounding.

“Our studio mission is to develop family-oriented games that have a positive effect on your life through social interaction,” says founder Simon Prytherch.

“When designing games we consider the consumer first. This means we often come up with novel approaches that are not always the acknowledged approach. For example, NewU is gathering attention because we decided to feature real video-based characters rather than computer generated avatars: the audience for fitness titles is much more comfortable with a real person, and this is proving to break down barriers.”

To this end, Lightning Fish has its own studio for video shooting, which it intends to leverage for all of its future titles. “Our proprietary technology is in the areas of motion tracking and video/graphic integration,” says Prytherch.

“It enables us to achieve excellent motion tracking and custom video editing. This was initially all developed for the Wii, but we are now developing versions for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.”
Lightning Fish believes in the power of small teams – which will always be ten members or less, says Prytherch – because it believes it to be the most efficient way of developing games.

“It also means that every team member knows each other, and everyone has a say in the direction and design of the products,” he explains. And while there may only be one product team at the moment, it is currently staffing up for a second team, and is poised to announce further family titles in the next few months.


CONTACT

Lightning Fish Games

Colin Sanders Innovation Centre
Mewburn Road
Banbury
Oxfordshire

W: www.lightningfishgames.com
E: via website
Tel: +44 (0) 1295 817666