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European Games Industry Honours International Hobo Ltd

The nominations for the 2003 Develop Industry Excellence Awards have been announced, and International Hobo Ltd has been nominated for Best Outsourcing Company. In addition, its project Ghost Master (in association with Empire Interactive/Sick Puppies) has been nominated for Best New IP, and Sick Puppies themselves are up for a Creativity Award.

The nomination for Best Outsourcing Company represents the first time a game design and dialogue scripting company has been in line for a major industry award, and further secures International Hobo's position at the forefront of design-integrated narrative and external co-operative game design services.

Chris Bateman, the company's managing director says: "Of course we are delighted with this nomination. When we first set ourselves up to serve the games industry's game design and dialogue scripting needs it was a bold experiment, but we have succeeded both commercially and creatively. It's wonderful to have the industry honour us by nominating us for this award."

The award ceremony is on Wednesday August 27th at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London.


Comprehensive New Book on Game Design Published by International Hobo Consultant

Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game DesignInternational Hobo Ltd is proud to announce the publication of Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design, by New Riders Games. Rollings & Adams is the companion volume to the highly popular Game Architecture and Design by Andrew Rollings and Dave Morris, itself soon to be released in a new edition by New Riders Games.

Will Wright, creator of The Sims and Sim City, stated: "[This is] a very useful book for anyone working in (or hoping to work in) interactive media. [It approaches] the topic with very practical advice for both new and experienced designers."

Rollings & Adams is divided into two parts. The first part of the book deals with the fundamental principles of game design: concept creation, game worlds, storytelling, user interfaces, character development, gameplay, and core mechanics. The second part examines examine how these elements are implemented in each of the major commercial genres: action, strategy, role-playing, sports, vehicle simulations, construction & management simulations, and adventure games.

Managing Director of International Hobo, Chris Bateman, says that the book contributes a vital step to clarifying the process of design. "Despite the continuing success of the international games industry, there has been a certain lack of comprehension by many people as to the nature and role of the game designer."

Ernest Adams adds, "We felt the time had come for one large volume that would try to cover the subject thoroughly, without digressions into programming or business issues."

The book is 648 pages long and is available at a suggested retail price of $49.99. It may be found on Amazon.com at:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1592730019

About the authors:

Ernest Adams (co-founder of the IGDA) is a game design consultant for International Hobo Ltd. He has been in the game industry for 14 years, and before working for ihobo was employed as a lead designer at Bullfrog Productions on the Dungeon Keeper series. For several years before that he was the audio/video producer on the Madden NFL Football product line at Electronic Arts.

Andrew Rollings (co-author of the highly successful book Game Architecture and Design) has a B.S. in Physics from Imperial College, London, and Bristol University, and has worked as a technical consultant spanning the games industry and the financial industry since 1995.

Book details:
Title: Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design
ISBN: 1592730019
Publisher: New Riders Games, 1st edition, May 5, 2003
Publisher's website: http://www.newriders.com/rollings


International Hobo Ltd, End of Year Statement (Dec 2001-Nov 2002)

The 30th of November 2002 marks the end of the financial year for International Hobo Ltd, and the completion of its third year of operation. The first company to hire both games designers and script writers and have the two work together, International Hobo (or ihobo for short) has pioneered the principles of design-integrated narrative and continues to push the forefront of design and storytelling in games.

The 2002 year was the most prosperous to date, with the company pursuing seventeen different projects for six different clients, most of which are still covered by non-disclosure agreement and cannot be discussed at this time.

The most high profile of these, Empire Interactive's Ghost Master, has attracted considerable attention as it moves towards Ghost Mastercompletion and has been described as one of the most hotly anticipated games of 2003.

61% of the company's income came from design work (with some integrated story design) and 39% from design-integrated dialogue scripting and narrative design.

Richard Boon, the company's Head of Script Services, had this comment on the success of the company throughout 2002: "It's pleasing to see that the global games development community is beginning to appreciate the value of quality design-integrated narrative. Our continued success demonstrates that this area can only continue to improve over the coming years."

More than half of the company's clients are already planning new collaborations with International Hobo for the coming year.


Ghost Master - Worth Waiting For

Ghost MasterHaving debuted at this years E3, Ghost Master (designed, level designed and scripted by International Hobo Ltd) attracted some extremely positive press from this years ECTS. Trusted industry newspaper MCV reported "journalists are now tipping it to be a surprise Christmas hit" and one critic described the game as "...definitely something new in a panorama of way-too-similar games."

Ghost Master, developed by Sick Puppies (a studio of Empire Interactive, who will also publish the game in Europe), is an innovative haunting game, in which the player leads a team of phantoms, banshees, gremlins and other haunters to scare the hell out of everything that breathes. Creative director on the game is industry guru Gregg Barnett, the man behind numerous classic 8-bit games and several chart-topping adventures.

Although initially slated for an October 2002 release, Empire has recognised that a quality title such as Ghost Master deserves special attention, and has opted to allow a few extra months for polish and tweaking, as well as shrewdly avoiding the seasonal crush. Advertising rates at Christmas skyrocket, making it an inadvisable time to launch a new brand and a better time to release licensed games and sequels. Products featuring licenses such as Harry Potter and WWF usually dominate the Christmas sales, and many deserving games have been lost in the Christmas hubbub.

International Hobo's managing director Chris Bateman, MSc is quoted in MCV saying: "the Christmas choke point occurs in all media sales... everyone wants the 'Christmas number one', because it means dramatically inflated sales - but this bonanza is at the cost of poor sales for the majority of products. Smart companies only release major products at Christmas if they are definitely in the running for the top spot - otherwise holding back to the following quarter is preferable."

"This product has significant potential," chief executive of Empire Ian Higgins stated. "We believe that for it to become a successful franchise it is essential to ensure that the released version of the game is of the highest quality possible."

Ghost Master's new release date has not been finalised, but early Q1 2003 is expected.


Edge compares Ghost Master to the Sims

Ghost Master - logoThis month's issue of Edge (#110) included a four-page spread of Ghost Master, which was developed using design, dialogue script and level design by International Hobo Ltd. The preview features a host of screenshots on the game, and some details of the game play.

Edge compares the game to The Sims in terms of its potential to penetrate a wide market, and writes warmly about the organic game play already being demonstrated in the pre-Alpha code. Gregg Barnett, the game's director, comments: "It's hard to classify a category for Ghost Master. It's not a resource management game or a god sim - it has each of these elements, but Ghost Master was designed before The Sims." It is named as appearing on PC, with PS2 and other console versions to follow.

Chris Bateman, managing director at International Hobo comments: "We are delighted to have been key players in the development of this exceptional game project. Good design is not enough by itself to make a great game - you need an exceptional team of programmers, artists and audio experts, and Gregg has brought all of that together in this game."

Ghost Master can be seen at the Vivendi Universal stall at the high-profile E3 convention next month, as well as through British software publishers, Empire Interactive, who developed the game via their Sick Puppies studio.

Ghost Master is due for release Q4 2002.


New US Distribution Deal for Ghost Master

Empire Interactive announced today that 'Ghost Master' is to be published in the US by Vivendi Universal Publishing. The game, which features design, script and level design by International Hobo Ltd is a highly anticipated product for next generation consoles, although no details about the game have been formally released.

Chris Bateman, Managing Director of International Hobo Ltd, said: "We anticipate that 'Ghost Master' will generate significant sales in all territories, and are proud to be involved in this remarkable game."

Empire Interactive, who developed the game and will publish it in Europe, also signed five other titles to US publisher Vivendi Universal, covering fifteen SKUs in total. Ian Higgins, CEO of Empire Interactive, said: "This deal is a major endorsement of the titles we are developing. It illustrates Empire's potential for significant growth and gives us the opportunity to challenge the larger players in the market."

Senior Vice President of Vivendi Universal Interactive Publishing North America, Philip O'Neil, added: "Empire Interactive's history of developing compelling and profitable titles for multiple platforms makes this partnership a natural fit."

'Ghost Master' is due for release early 2002.


International Hobo E-novel (Downtime), published by Jacobyte Books

‘Downtime’ - Spiral LobsterInternational Hobo Ltd (ihobo) are proud to announce the publication on 6 June 2001 of the cult science fiction novel 'Downtime' by Jacobyte books (www.jacobytebooks.com). This marks the first collaboration between the rapidly expanding games and script consultancy and Australia's largest e-book publishers. Several more novels are planned over the next three years, with Jacobyte having exclusive e-publishing rights, whilst ihobo retains the computer game rights.

"We first approached Jacobyte looking for writers to add to our talent pool of script writers," Chris Bateman of ihobo explains. "But nine months later, and the relationship has flowered into the publication of a book written by one of our most acclaimed and unconventional script writers. We know of no other similar collaborations between e-book publishers and games companies, and believe we may be the first company to strike a deal selling book publishing rights to one party, whilst retaining games rights for our own portfolio."

Since its inception in 1999, Jacobyte Books has established an international reputation as a publisher of innovative, high-quality books, with an emphasis on new writing. In 2001 alone, Jacobyte's authors have won 2 EPPIE awards and a Simegen Reviewers' Choice Award. Jacobyte Books is in the forefront of modern publishing technology, publishing on-line and in paperback formet using Print on Demand. "We are delighted to add such an excellent book as Spiral Lobster's 'Downtime' to our list," says Jacobyte's Managing Director Tania Milohis, "and we hope this won't be our only book in association with a company like ihobo."

It is expected that 'Downtime' will be followed by a sequel, 'Dreamtime', within the next twelve months.


Ernest Adams joins International Hobo as Design Agent

Ernest AdamsInternational Hobo Ltd is pleased to announce the addition of veteran games designer Ernest Adams to its team of design and script agents. Ernest was behind a number of successful titles for EA including several of the Madden range of American football games. Later he was employed as Lead Game Designer at Bullfrog Productions before joining International Hobo.

His addition to Europe's leading Games Consultancy expands both the client and skill base, and is accompanied by an internal restructuring to maximise the use of his talents, as well as a comprehensive revision of the pricing structure.

Managing Director Chris Bateman says of the restructure: "We're excited to have Ernest join the team, as his experience both supplements and complements our existing knowledge of the design process and AI techniques. The timing is excellent, as a number of new projects are expected to be announced over the next few weeks. We are certain to put Ernest's talents to good use."

Ernest's first role as a member of the ihobo team was to represent the company at this year's Game Developer's Conference in San Jose.


Discworld Noir inducted into the Times Hall of Fame

Terry and tune make a classic

Don Paterson and Jo Shapcott
(from the Times, London)

We are launching a game Hall of Fame and Discworld Noir qualifies, for being the best scripted game we have played

So what exactly passes for a classic in this relatively youthful medium of gaming? There is a desperate need to establish a canon of classic games against which their mediocre rivals can be judged and damned.

This means that many games pass from review copy straight to the Hall of Fame long before the gaming public gets a chance to cast its vote. Never mind the test of time: if a game's been out for three months without too many glitches or bugs, hell, let's repackage it cheaply as an instant "classic".

So what are the criteria? Let's take Discworld Noir as an example, often hailed in the more literate mags as such, and now available very cheaply on budget. DN is the third of the spin-off games from the best-selling Terry Pratchett novels. It's a detective thriller, but much more loosely related to the novels than the previous two games.

This is a mercy if you don't happen to be a big fan of Pratchett's bottom-gag slapstick, or are indeed a tad embarrassed to be associated in any way with the hordes of Student Grants in hash-burnt knee-length jumpers who flock to touch the hem of Pratchett's safari suit at every public reading that he gives.

DN is still set in Ankh-Morpork, but it has an entirely new plot and characters, and takes its cue as much from film noir and Raymond Chandler as Discworld's comedic fantasy. Pratchett was closely involved in the development of the game - his job title is listed as "Far Too Much Interference" on the credits - but Chris Bateman should take equal plaudits for a script that displays a level of wit you simply don't associate with PC games.

It is just as well as this is a very talky game indeed. Grim Fandango, which is comparable in action gameplay, has 7,000 lines of dialogue. DN has 16,000. The pedigree of the actors is impeccable: Rob Brydon, Robert Llewellyn, Nigel Planer and Kate Robbins - veterans of Spitting Image, The Young Ones and Red Dwarf - make a versatile and skilful team. But there are only four of them, which, given the huge cast of characters they play, makes for the wrong kind of laughs as you listen to what sounds suspiciously like the same actor talking to himself in different regional accents.

Full marks, though, for Noir's music and sound world, easily its best single feature. The composer Paul Weir has supplied an extraordinary range of musical textures, from the sleazy swing of a jazz club to faux Schoenbergian tension builders. The introductory music wouldn't sound out of place at a Proms concert.

Another attribute of a classic should be its fitness to its purpose, a sense of all its elements being held in an internal balance. This is where a clear and clean interface becomes so important.

In Discworld Noir the gameplay is simplicity itself - the point-and-click system uses a torch beam to highlight the objects or places of interest in a scene. Lewton - Discworld NoirThere is a simple inventory, and a notebook for clues. Best of all, about halfway through the game our hero, Lewton, becomes a werewolf. When the "dog's nose view" is switched on, swirls of coloured pungency become visible. He can investigate these for more clues, while trying to resist the competing attentions of lampposts and trouser legs.

We loved the shadowy sets, and the end-of-LP crackle of the perpetual rain that put us in mind, inevitably, of the film Seven. The only real disappointment is the pre-rendered 3D and, in a less-witty game, we would not have long tolerated all the characters jerking around their fixed backgrounds like Captain Pugwash.

That said, Discworld Noir is just about the best scripted and best scored game we have played, and - with admittedly little competition - deserves its place in the canon. The look of the game will date very quickly, but then, who thinks less of Psycho for being in black and white?

All software reviewed in Interface is available from The Times Software Shop on 01874 612888 or at www.times-eshop.co.uk

Comments

Paul Weir of Earcom (composer for Discworld Noir):

"Any exposure of game music within the national press is good news for us sound designers in demonstrating to the wider public the sheer quality of our work within this industry."

Chris Bateman of International Hobo (co-designer and script writer for Discworld Noir):

"Discworld Noir used a prototype dynamic scripting language to produce rich, context-dependent dialogue quite unlike anything previously offered in adventure games. We're very pleased that our staff are being praised for this achievement, and we would like to thank producer Gregg Barnett for giving us a chance to try this innovative new approach."


Discworld Noir reviews

Adventure Gamer:

On the game:

"Discworld Noir has a quality core with a strong story and a cinematic touch, which should appeal to general adventure gamers, Discworld fans and film noir fans alike."

On the manual:

Carlotta - Discworld Noir"Definitely worth mentioning is the manual. Yes, the manual. It's full of funny sidenotes, self-mockery and inside jokes. Take the paragraph "How to Stop talking to People" for example. Its sidenote reads: "In real life, this is usually the easy part." I like dry humor like that, especially in a manual, which is normally supposed to be very straight-forward."

Rating: 4 out of 5

Adventure Collective:

"Discworld Noir is very successful in creating a believable and eerie atmosphere... The story is deep and complicated and almost always manages to keep the player interested with its multiple leads and subplots. The storyline is full of surprises, especially the ending... The story of Discworld Noir, along with many fun and new gameplay elements, keeps the player's interest high... Discworld Noir is a good game to enjoy."

Ratings: Story 5/5, Gameplay 4/5, Overall 4/5

Games Domain:

"The one thing that Discworld Noir does have in common with its predecessors is the sharp wit that made the other two games such a delight to play. One will find it difficult if not impossible to not smile, chuckle, and laugh out loud while playing this game... All in all Discworld Noir is a fun, witty game that should keep even the veteran adventurer going for a few weeks"

GameSpot UK:

"Discworld Noir will undoubtedly please existing Discworld fans as well as make new ones, but both should be warned: this case is tough and not for the easily discouraged. As Lewton P.I. you will quickly find your notebook brimming with information but your leads almost always running cold. Only with patience, dogged pursuit and a worn out pair of shoes will you even get close to solving the mystery of the missing Mundy. That is, if someone doesn't get you first."

Rating: 8 out of 10

Quoted text is © Adventure Gamer, Adventure Collective,
Games Domain and GameSpot UK respectively