Profile: bitSmith Games. How one start-up is gaming mythology on its road to success
A 2,000 year old epic tale, which tells the story of war between ancient Ireland’s Celtic tribes, has become the inspiration for one of the most successful independent iOS games to come out of Ireland. But while you might not be familiar with the story of An Táin Bó Cúailnge the story behind its reimagining as a 21st century gaming app, Ku: Shroud of the Morrigan, is the stuff of modern legend.
This modern story begins when three people met in college; Owen Harris, Basil Lim, and Ralph Croly. When a friendship was kindled over class assignments the students began working together and it was during one of these projects that the concept of Ku was formed. Owen Harris explains,
“Myself, Bas and Ralph met in college. I was studying Games and they were studying Digital Media in DIT. Ku actually started out as a group project there. We were really excited about the game and we decided to take the project to the next level.”
The next level for the three friends was to form bitSmith Games (@bitsmithgames | Facebook). While this gave them the structure with which they could develop the game they faced a problem that many start-ups face, rapid growth. To help them, and the game, develop the team applied for a place on one of Ireland’s leading digital business accelerators, the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC).
With their application a success the team began working on their business proposition, and continued development on the game.
“[The NDRC] helped us mould a student project into a game studio. While we were there we filled out the team with Paul Conway and Robby Becker. They brought the skills we need to finish the first game.”
With regular talks from industry experts and one-to-one mentoring Owen says that accelerators, such as the NDRC, are vital in bringing new talent to the industry.
“The barrier to entry has never been lower [for new businesses]. Anyone with a computer can build, sell and market a game for little to no cost. If you want to take a project to the next level though, things can get very expensive very fast. It can be hard for companies to raise the money they need to get projects finished.”
Owen says that programmes such as those being run by the NDRC can help overcome these barriers;
“They gave us office space for about a year, €20,000 and a huge amount of mentoring, feedback and advice. I am still in regular contact with the people there, as well as the other companies.”
Starting in the summer of 2011, the game took nearly 17 months of solid development until its release on the iOS app store in January 2013. And in the weeks since its launch it has already become the top selling paid gaming app in iTunes’ Ireland Store.
With visuals that owe more to The Legend of Zelda than ancient Irish iconography the Celtic influences might not be immediately apparent to someone with only a small amount of knowledge of Irish history, so why base the game on a story as ancient as An Táin Bó Cúailnge?
“It is just so video gamey. Full of battles, magic weapons, special moves and strange adventures. The question could be, why have more people not looked at this for a game before?
“We drew upon what was around us. The stories of Ireland’s past are full of amazing creatures, heroes and tales never seen in games before. And as the mighty Tolkien put is, Celtic Mythology is “a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come.”
As for the team’s next adventure Owen explains that an Android version is on the cards but the team won’t stop there.
“We want to get the game on as many platforms as possible – PC, Mac, Linux and iPhone are all being worked on right now. The Shroud of the Morrigan is only the first of Ku’s adventures: In the next instalment we’ll see him travel to the Scotland to train with the fierce warrior queen Scáthach (pronounced Scat – shock).”
“Finally we are working on a cross platform strategy game that we will be unveiling soon.”