For innovation in games in the South West, the non-profit Bristol Games Hub is a hive of interesting activity. Dr Tomas Rawlings, who co-founded the Hub with Debbie Rawlings and Ben Trewhella in 2013, is also Design and Production Director at Auroch Digital, a games consultancy and independent games development studio that operates out of the Hub.
For Tomas, both are the culmination of a long history of games creation: “I’ve been in games long before I co-founded Auroch Digital,” he tells us. “In fact, my first fumbling attempts to create games were with the BBC Micro and ZX81.
“As a professional games developer, I’ve been doing this for about 15 years. When I got into games, there were not the courses to train you that exist now. I got a break on a temporary contract as an assistant designer with a company called Hothouse Creations, and the rest is history.”
Newsgames and notoriety
Auroch and Tomas attracted global attention with the controversial release of Endgame:Syria in 2012, made available through offshoot GameTheNews.net. A tactical military game that put you in the shoes of Syrian rebels navigating the Civil War; it was followed a year later by another game titled NarcoGuerra, tackling the War on Drugs. According to Tomas, these are “newsgames”, “short, playable experiences that turn news and current affairs into gamic experiences”.
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Tomas is a firm believer in the potential of games to explore political issues, and in 2013 gave this TEDx Talk on the subject of democracy in games.
But Auroch Digital’s output is wide-ranging. As well as games based on politics and current events, Auroch are working on a “playable documentary” of Jack the Ripper, Shadow Over Whitechapel, supported by REACT and the Wellcome Trust, which will have a special focus on the society of London in 1888.
“Games is such a fast moving area in terms of design, reach and technology that it’s both exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time”
“We’re about to launch a crowd-funding campaign for [it],” says Tomas. “So we were really pleased when this work was recognised by the Nominet Foundation.”
There’s also the lighthearted Camelina Caper, an aquatic science game created with the Roehampton Institute; and, most recently, Chainsaw Warrior, a recreation of the 1987 board game by Games Workshop.
“Personally I tend towards [creating] strategy and RPG games, but we’ve worked on lots of different types of game; puzzle, action and more,” says Tomas.
War on drugs: Screenshot from the game NarcoGuerra.
“In terms of platform, again I’ve worked on most of them and there are pros to all platforms. Currently, we’re doing a lot of work on PC via Value’s Steam distribution platform, who I think are doing some very interesting things! But we’re also talking to console platforms and working with mobile too.”
As if this was not enough, Auroch Digital also serves as a consultancy. Tomas explains: “It means that we work with non-gaming organisations to help them understand what opportunities to achieve their goals might exist within gaming and games technologies.
“Bristol has a great mix of existing talent, long stating game heritage, vibrant culture and lots of good office space”
“It also means working with other developers to help them in areas where perhaps we have a bit of a different perspective on how it might work. So for example we produced a game jam mixing science and game development for the Wellcome Trust.”
Like Opposable Games, the studio launched by fellow Games Hub co-founder Ben Trewhella, Auroch Digital is exploring a lot of different avenues by experimenting collaboratively with organisations inside and outside of games. The result is that the Games Hub is a growing hotbed of innovation, though this may not have been so achievable outside of Bristol.
“We’d have struggled to set-up and run an equivalent to Bristol Games Hub in other places, I feel. The great mix of existing talent, long stating game heritage, vibrant culture and lots of good office space means we can – and do – make it a success here.
Talented folks: The Auroch Digital team hard at work.
“Games is such a fast moving area in terms of design, reach and technology that it’s both exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time,” says Tomas. “One of the reasons I’m so excited to be working in gaming!”
Chainsaw Warrior is available now on Steam, Android and iOS. Also keep an eye out for the Jack the Ripper: Shadow Over Whitechapel Kickstarter! You can keep abreast of Auroch Digital news on their website, or on Twitter @AurochDigital and @GameTheNewsNet. Tomas is also on Twitter @TomasRawlings. Many thanks to Tomas for taking the time to speak with us.