International recognition for University computer game

A computer game produced by a University of Portsmouth lecturer has won a top prize at the IndieCade2009 International Festival of Independent Games

Dear Eshther

Dan Pinchbeck from the School of Creative Technologies won first prize in the ‘Best World/Story’ category at the IndieCade festival which represents the best creativity, vision and work of independent game designers from around the world.

He received the award for his original game creation, Dear Esther, which tells a story about a deserted island, a lost man, memories of a fatal crash and a book written by a dying explorer. The game has received over 30,000 downloads and is the focus of a double-page feature in the November issue of Wired-UK, a magazine about technology and innovation.

Dan, a Senior Lecturer in Computer Games and Interactive Media at the University of Portsmouth, attended an awards ceremony at the Sony Pictures Plaza in Los Angeles where he collected his prize from Richard Lemarchand, Lead Designer at Naughty Dog, Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment.

He said: “I wanted to create a unique game which would blur the lines between computer games, art and film and draw people in. Dear Esther contains fragments of story which are randomly triggered by players moving around the game, making every experience unique. Forget the normal rules of play – if nothing seems real here, it’s because it may just be all a delusion. It’s deliberately ambiguous and because of that I didn’t expect the reaction to be so positive but people love it.

“These awards are a very significant indicator of critical esteem, with a jury panel that includes some of the most important figures in both commercial and artistic game development. Winning is a really amazing and quite unexpected result for a project created through an external research grant and it’s is a real credit to everyone involved.”

The IndieCade competition is the only independent gaming event in the United States which is open to the public and received hundreds of entries. Its aim is to highlight the cultural significance of independent games and secure industry recognition and public attention for the games, the game-makers and the medium.

The game, which is voiced by a professional actor and has an original score by Jessica Curry, is one of four to emerge from thechineseroom (www.thechineseroom.co.uk ), a research project set up by Dan at the University of Portsmouth following a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Dan uses existing computer games as a basis for his new games, a process referred to as ‘modding.’

He said: “A key factor in the project was that we would release the games over the internet, into the ‘modding’ community. “We wanted the games to be played and responded to by the gaming community outside an academic or research context and the feedback has been overwhelming. Winning at Indiecade has been the icing on the cake”

Dan said that having his finger on the pulse of current industry trends is crucial for his students. “Our graduates understand exactly where the gaming industry is at and where it’s heading which is vital in this field.”

Dear Esther can be downloaded at: www.moddb.com/mods/dear-esther

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