Inaugural festival is music to the ears of gamers

Ireland has the potential to become a significant player in the gaming industry, writes Ailín Quinlan

Inaugural festival is music to the ears of gamers

THOUSANDS of gamers are in the capital this week for one of the most spectacular tech events to be held in this country — the inaugural Dublin International Game Music Festival.

International artists and composers from the gaming industry, including Grammy award winners and Bafta nominees, have jetted in to participate in a dizzying whirl of technology demos, roundtable discussions, workshops, hands-on demonstrations, and talks.

Attendees include the award-winning game developer Tommy Tallarico, video-game composer Christopher Tin, and three-time Emmy winner Russell Brower, the senior director of audio for Blizzard Entertainment.

Brower works on blockbuster titles such as World of Warcraft, the Bafta-nominated Diablo III, and StarCraft II.

The event also features award-winning vocalist, songwriter, and performer Jill Aversa, who has starred in blockbuster gaming franchises such as Halo (Microsoft), God of War (Sony), and Killer Instinct (Microsoft).

“These are the rock stars of the gaming industry,” says internationally renowned composer and conductor Eimear Noone, who is co-ordinating the event with her award-winning and Emmy-nominated music producer husband, Stuart Garfinkle.

An estimated 2,000-plus gamers from Ireland and abroad have attended events for the iDigMusic Festival at Dublin’s Convention Centre, which started on Thursday and ends today.

This is the first year of the festival, which its organisers confidently expect will become one of the biggest annual events on the calendar, showcasing indigenous gaming and animation firms, creating employment, and firmly putting this country on the international gaming map.

“We want to make this an annual event which creates a symbiotic relationship between the Irish gaming industry and the international gaming sector, while cele-brating the new genre that video music has become,” says Noone, who is from Galway but based in Malibu.

“This is an enormous industry that this country needs to tap into.”

Noone, who has carved out a hugely successful career composing for video games, feature films, and television, declares that Dublin “is a great destination for our colleagues from LA”.

She is composing and conducting for the iconic franchise World of Warcraft and its recent expansion, Warlords of Draenor.

As a conductor, she’s led many of the world’s top ensembles, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, the Sydney Symphony, and the National Symphony.

Noone is a passionate believer in Ireland’s potential to become a significant player in the gaming industry.

“Gaming brings together two of our great strengths — technology and storytelling. It’s a completely people-based industry.

“We don’t need to make video-game consoles to be a leader in the video-gaming industry.

“Basically we can be a completely tertiary industry and that’s where Ireland is strong, because of those strengths.”

The event is showcasing the work of a variety of up-and-coming Irish indie game developers such as FranknJohn, Deep, Super Sword Sword Shield, Guild of Dungeoneering Discman, Super Mexican Standoff , The Little Acre, and Dark Side Detective.

The innovative Push Playground music lab held all-day workshops at the event over the past two days, while Carlow Institute of Technology, which runs a sought-after BSc in computer games development, has a booth in the exhibition hall providing information on the education and career opportunities in the sector.

Also represented in the hall is Tech Week, Ireland’s nationwide festival of technology which is aimed at students and parents, as well as the public. It runs from April 26 to May 2

“We’re bringing this festival to Ireland because what’s going on in technology in Ireland at the moment is very exciting,” says Noone.

“We’re on the cutting edge of technology here, and added to that we have an amazing arts culture. The idea is to bring these two ideas together.”

But it’s not all solely about tech — the past two days have featured a range of groups performing their interpretation of popular video-game music, including the National Youth Orchestra, DIT Traditional Music Ensemble, the virtuoso pianist JJ McNamara (the son of well-known pianist Frank McNamara), and the Triface Quartet from Boston.

The festival concludes tonight with a spectacular Video Games Live concert event, an immersive concert featuring music from the most popular games of all time. Orchestras and choirs will perform along with exclusive video footage and music arrangements, synchronised lighting, solo performers, electronic percussionists, and live action and unique interactive segments.

The event starts at 8pm.

‘We’re on the cusp of a creative watershed’

Owen Harris is extremely excited about Dublin International Game Music Festival.

“It’s all about visibility,” enthuses the game designer and founder of Bitsmith, a game development studio in Dublin.

Harris, the creator of Deep, a psychoactive VR game that’s controlled by breathing (it’s to help people with anxiety) believes iDigMusic couldn’t have come at a better time. It attracted a phalanx of top international gaming studios to Dublin.

“In terms of the scene in Ireland, we’re on the cusp of a creative watershed. The quality of the games we are making is reaching a pinnacle,” he says, pointing out that two Irish-made games have been nominated for awards at the AMAZE festival in Berlin later this month.

“That would have been unheard of a few years ago.”

Huge strides have been made in the type and quality of work being done in Irish gaming studios, he says. “The quality of work in this country has skyrocketed over the last 12 months. I think the more eyes we bring on to the things been done here the better.”

Harris is in charge of co-ordinating an area at iDigMusic for local game developers to showcase their wares. “They’ve provided us with the space and the means to show off our games, so this is an opportunity to let people outside the country know what’s going on here.”

Gaming students have big chance but there's a lack of awareness

Right now, gaming’s where it’s at in this country, according to Ross Palmer and Philip Bourke of the BSc programme in computer games development in Carlow Institute of Technology.

But there’s a hitch.

“There’s not enough awareness of the potential for a great career in gaming — or enough awareness of the sort of skills and the diversity of skills required for it,” says Mr Bourke, a lecturer in games design and programming at the college.

“There’s a lack of awareness out there of this area as a potential career,” he says, adding that while young people may have the basic skills required for a third-level course in game design, such as that in IT Carlow, they may not even recognise these skills for what they are — a potential launch-pad to a lucrative career.

Game design — with its three pillars of art, programming, and music — is still very much an emerging career in this country, he says.

And while the career guidance machinery “is getting better” at encouraging senior second-level students to consider such sectors, he believes, the potential of new careers like these may still not be fully understood by students facing into their Leaving Certificate and beyond.

But for those who do, says course director Mr Palmer — Carlow IT now has students working at master’s degree level in the area — the rewards are handsome.

“We want to get the message out there that jobs are plentiful in the tech sector in general and that the gaming sector in Ireland is growing steadily,” he says.

“Pretty well all of our graduates are employed in the tech centre, and it has been relatively immune from the recession.”

Carlow IT will staff a booth providing information on its gaming development courses and staff will be available to discuss the kinds of skills required by wannabe game designers.

Both men are enthusiastic about the potential of the iDigMusic Festival for Ireland’s fledgling gaming industry.

Mr Bourke says: “Carlow IT is at this festival because we want to showcase Ireland as a place which is producing the graduates with the appropriate skills to attract gaming studios.”

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