Budding game developers find recognition at national event
Publish Date: Tuesday, 19 September 2023
Budding game developers find recognition at national event
SIT creative arts students, pictured from left (standing): Jessica Steininger, Eilish Johnstone-Karetai, Eyessa Gentle, Dan Brighurst, Juan Velez; seated: Kynn Donaghy and Courtney Power, holding promotional props for ‘Splintered Fate’, a newly developed interactive game recently showcased by the group at the New Zealand Game Developers conference in Wellington.
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Seven Southern Institute of Technology | Te Pūkenga creative arts students have recently returned from a successful trip to the Kiwi Interactive Showcase, part of the New Zealand Game Developers‘ Conference, held in Wellington on September 1- 2, where they introduced a newly developed game to industry and the public.

The third-year group of 18 students, comprised of Animation, Film, Game Design, Concept Art and Content Creation programmes, had their project 'Splintered Fate' accepted to the Kiwi Interactive Showcase prior to the conference. Still in the development stage, Splintered Fate is an interactive visual novel which combines gaming and story exploration. Throughout the game, players traverse different paths through three distinctively themed, 2D animated worlds, exploring the power of one's choices and grief processing, in an adventure-led setting.

The group, named Pekapeka Productions, tested the product with Te Rau o te Huia - Centre for Creative Industries students, then seven of the team took their prototype to Wellington to be showcased to more than 1,000 conference attendees.

Screen Arts Programme Manager, Rachel Mann, who accompanied the group, said it is a significant event in New Zealand’s gaming calendar because “anybody who’s anybody“ turns up to this one occasion. “All the industry gets together once a year ... from the largest studios to the start-ups. It’s a real snapshot of the New Zealand industry as it is right now.”

She explained the goals of the BSA 701 Studio Project paper the students were completing.

“It’s about creating something, but they’re required to make a business, so it incorporates making a business plan, communications, budgets, marketing, project management, presenting to industry and promoting to the public. Taking the product to an event like this really fulfils those outcomes.” 

Friday at the conference was designated for industry, and the public attending on Saturday had the opportunity to trial the students’ game. “They [conference attendees] were incredibly giving, the students received an immense amount of feedback, both good and bad, about how to develop and polish their product,” said Ms Mann.

Pekapeka Productions Creative Producers, Dan Brighurst and Jessica Steininger, on behalf of the group, said the showcase experience was invaluable, “both eye-opening and gratifying”. The event highlighted that creative projects need people from all the disciplines. “Animation, film and gaming were all intertwined and the focus is heavily on collaboration,” said Mr Brighurst.

Miss Steininger found initially it was “daunting and a bit scary” being around industry people, however, “they made us feel very welcome, I was surprised how open they were to us. I loved the networking, it’s still going on”.

The students have been able to paint themselves into the picture in terms of seeing their future careers. “We could totally see ourselves in the industry and how we fit in,” said Mr Brighurst. His biggest takeaway personally was seeing what other people were doing made his own ideas “seem more realistic”. And there were so many different areas he could fit into. “It’s opened it all up for me”, he added, and has come away with a greater interest in pursuing the production side of the industry.

Miss Steininger’s highlight came from the face-to-face networking with industry, receiving invitations to visit different studios. “I don’t think I would’ve got those invites by email,” had she not met people directly. The event had also shown her she has multiple paths and options. “I’m not limited to one, ... it solidifies my place in the industry.”  

The group were encouraged to approach CODE (Centre of  Digital Excellence) which functions to develop New Zealand’s digital industry. “They’re the gaming equivalent of NZ On Air,” Ms Mann explained, providing funding to start-up studios and new ideas. “Higher level funders recommended the group approach them. It was really positive, they gained so much information,” Ms Mann said.  

Looking ahead, the conference has helped the students to begin to think seriously about their game’s potential and where it could go. “There is a committed team behind the project who put a lot of effort into the art and the format,” said Mr Brighurst.    

Miss Steininger stated it was the group’s intention to continue developing the game after their programme ended. They originally envisaged it as a larger project requiring another one to two years of work to complete it. “We want to release it when its finished,” adding she saw the game had potential to be developed as an educational tool to help people deal with issues such as grief. “We need the drive and support to see it through to completion.”

Ms Mann was full of praise for the team’s presentation at the showcase. “They deserve a lot of kudos – they organised all of it themselves. It’s a full-on event, it’s exhausting. They did a very good job.” All sorts of soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking, are essential to support entering the sector. “These events are vital opportunities to help develop those skills for success. It was really cool watching their confidence grow, talking to industry,” Ms Mann said.

On the final day of term this year (November 17th), creative arts students will run the event, Creator Con, at Te Rau o te Huia, Centre for Creative Industries, where they will display their year’s work: comic work, animation, merchandise, and more. Invercargill public will also have the opportunity to play ‘Splintered Fate’ the game.