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Global Game: Why the UK Midlands is a mobile dev centre of excellence

Blitzing the competition

Global Game: Why the UK Midlands is a mobile dev centre of excellence
Since the 1980s, central England has been one of the most important video game development regions within the UK.

Though the minds of consumers may automatically think of console classics such as Dizzy, Micro Machines and, latterly, the critically acclaimed Colin McRae Rally series, even now hits from the region aren't hard to find.

Full Fat's Flick Soccer, for instance, is a recent feather in the cap for one of Europe's most concentrated mobile development clusters.

In the first of our regular series looking at development hotspots around the globe, we take a closer look at the mobile scene in the Midlands, with interviews with some local luminaries to follow in the days ahead.

Midlands legends


The Midlands is not strictly defined, but spans the centre of England, taking in the likes of Birmingham, Nottingham and Leamington Spa

The area's biggest companies, Codemasters and Blitz Games, have both enjoyed notable success on mobile devices of later: Codemasters' Formula One franchise regularly tops iOS racing game charts, while the firm also re-released Dizzy: Prince of The Yolk Folk on iOS in 2011 - a game originally developed by The Oliver Twins, who went on to found Blitz.

Blitz itself has also garnered much success recently thanks to the launch of its first mobile release, Kumo Lumo, with the firm also having attempted – albeit unsuccessfully – to further revive the Dizzy franchise on iOS via Kickstarter.


Kumo Lumo

Nevertheless, moves such as this are evidence of a development region that appears to be going full circle. The Midlands was at the forefront of bedroom coding in the 1980s, serving as the movement that created Dizzy and the Darling brothers' Simulator series - the first games from Codemasters.

Today, not only are the Olivers hitting mobile devices in a big way, but David Darling – who, along with brother Richard, founded Codemasters back in 1986 - is also working in the mobile space with Kwalee.

The current spirit of mobile development seems to mirror these early days of coding rather closely, and that's something that appears to suit these Midlands gaming legends perfectly.

Of course, one could argue that some of the brands and personalities associated with gaming in the Midlands are no longer relevant.



The Oliver Twin's Dizzy Kickstarter dramatically failed to get anyway near its funding goal and, while the region has embraced mobile and other new development initiatives, it has not had huge success outside of the racing or sports genres.

Is this an issue the developers themselves are aware of?

The indies

On a more positive note, from Leamington Spa to Coventry and Birmingham, innovation is thriving amongst multiple mobile studios.

Of note is Full Fat, which made a name for itself on iOS with the likes Flick Soccer and Flick Golf, NFL Flick Quarterback and Agent Dash.


Agent Dash

It has also enjoyed success on portable platforms - Sid Meier's Pirates on PSP and a variety of Game Boy Advance and DS titles adding to its library. The studio - which is currently hiring - has recently moved to Warwick.

Further west in Birmingham, a growing indie development community has formed around studios such as Soshi Games and Distorted Poetry.

Leamington Spa is a hive of activity with dozens of small studios creating titles in nearly every genre.

Supersonic Software created Top Gear: Stunt School Revolution. DNA Dynamics is regularly updating their F2P RPG, Warheads Battle and new studios are springing up regularly – of most note Caperfly, which released Predict This, an unusual title where users predict the results of pop culture events.

The legacy of the bedroom

Throughout the course of the week, we'll be focusing in on some of the area's most notable players.

In part two of our look at the Midlands, we will explore the legacy of Codemasters, the company which defined gaming in the region.

David Darling, Co-founder of Codies and now CEO of Kwalee, will be on hand to talk about his massive influence on the region over the last 30 years.

Finally, in parts three and four we'll take an in-depth look at the region's star performers when it comes to portable gaming, Full Fat Games and Supersonic Software.
Have you worked in video game development in central England? What was your experience of the area and what do you think the future holds? Is the region diverse enough in its creativity? Let us know what your thoughts in the comments below.

Joe just loves to go fast. That's both a reflection of his status as a self-proclaimed 'racing game expert', and the fact he spends his days frantically freelancing for a bevy of games sites. For PocketGamer.biz, however, Joe brings his insight from previous job as a community manager at iOS developer Kwalee. He also has a crippling addiction to Skittles, but the sugar gets him through the day.

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Lewis
I was stunned at how many Indie developers from the Midlands I met at GDC, and some of the work they showed me was super-impressive. I think there's every chance this area could be establishing itself as a hotbed of indie gaming development, exactly as it used to be a hotbed of console development.
TeamPesky
Not forgetting the Midlands own Team Pesky for 'Little Acorns'
iOS - Editors Choice
WinPhone - Game of the Week
And out this week on Xbox Indie
http://catalog.create.msdn.com/en-US/GameDetails.aspx?catalogEntryId=adf486db-0c8e-4fa4-8df8-0e586efa6871&type=2

Busy busy!
Alan Hazelden
PLUG: I organise Midlands Indies, a monthly pub meet for indie developers, alternating between Birmingham and Coventry. It's very casual, all are welcome! Would be good to see some new faces.

There's more information here: http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=30112.0
And you can sign up for email reminders here: http://groups.google.com/group/midlandsindies/topics

We use the Twitter hashtag #MidlandsIndies.
Kevin Corti Chief Evil Officer at Evil27 Games Limited
Well said JB!

It's worth mentioning that there is also decent education and public sector support for the sector. @gamercampuk at BCU and @launchconf at Birmingham Science Park for example.

For Leamington Spa (aka 'Silicon Spa')-related games tweets check out @siliconspagames - there's over a dozen games co's in or around the town.

....and I just set up EVIL27 Games (@evil27games) at Coventry University Technology Park ;p
Jamie Lowes Director at VAMflax
It's pretty amazing that I've worked for Codemasters, Sega and Sony, all while living in Leamington Spa. I'm now a freelance coder, so the number of studios nearby is great for me! I've also set up a games company, VAMflax, and will be releasing my first game - Chopper Mike - on iOS and Android next month.

Codemasters has been key to seeding a lot of the nearby studios. It was a great place to learn how to make games.