Ireland has a tremendous pool of talent and resources available to those who wish to succeed and while headlines in papers might harbour nothing but words of doom and gloom, this initiative aims to restore your faith in what we can achieve as individuals, what we can achieve collectively and we can achieve through perseverance. Welcome to The Gaming Liberty’s “We Are” initiative…

The next team in our “We Are” initiative is bitSmith Games. Currently working on their debut title “Ku”, TGL had the chance to speak with the team recently and talk about everything the development of “Ku”, the gaming scene in Ireland and the future of bitSmith Games.

The Gaming Liberty: How did the idea to set up bitSmith Games come about?

bitSmith: We all met in college doing a masters, and began making Kú for our a project there. We really liked what we were doing and forming a studio just seemed like the next logical step.

TGL: The Irish gaming scene is notoriously hostile, and quite unresponsive to prospective talent(s). What, would you feel, are some of the key ingredients needed for an Irish studio to blossom?

bS: In our experience that hasn’t been the case – quite the opposite in fact! We’ve had a great response from the scene, and other small indie studios. Open Emotion have been exceptionally supportive and helpful. I think one thing that has helped us so far is the mix of skills on the team. A barrier to a lot of young prospective game designers out there is the perception that game design is primarily about coding. Of course it’s extremely important, but what’s a well coded game without style and atmosphere? It takes a team of many different skill sets to make a really excellent game.

TGL: Your first title “Kú” is currently in development. For those that aren’t familiar with the mythology of Cuchulainn, can you run us through the basic premise of the legend itself, and how you adapted that to create “Kú”?

bS: The main story of Cúchulainn takes place within the boundaries of  “the Táin Bó Culaigne”, or the Cooley Cattle Raid, in which Queen Medb of Connacht attacks Ulster to steal away their prize bull. The men of Ulster are left incapacitated and it’s up to Cúchulainn to single-handedly defend the province.

We have mainly used this story as a jumping off point, and somewhere to draw inspiration from. We don’t intend for this to be a direct retelling, although the basic premise of the story is the same, and many of the characters from the myth are featured. We see computer games as an extension of the oral tradition in many ways, as games are never experienced in the same way twice by two different players. The relationship between story teller and listener is very similar to that of game designer and player.

One notable difference in our version of the story, is that it is set in a future Ireland when technology is misunderstood and feared, and the nation has reverted to a tribal society. A post-NAMA apocalypse if you will! Basically we were just sick of fighting creatures from other country’s mythologies, and though it’s about time we gave people the chance to slay a Fir Bolg with a hurley. We’re intending for this to be an episodic game, so you could say that episode one is based around ‘the boyhood deeds of Cúchulainn’ part of his story.

TGL: There’s a very distinct art style behind “Kú”. What kind of inspirations does “Kú” draw from?

bS: Ku’s art style took a little while to pin down, and was almost an accident. What we feel is one of our main differentiating points, is the hand-drawn style using physical sketches. Our initial, very early proof-of-concept prototype was created using very rough animated pencil sketches and we liked the style so much we implemented it in the final game – with one or two tweaks of course!

Ku also draws aesthetic cues from the art style of many games, but especially that of Bastion and Skyrim. Supergiant’s Jen Zee was particularly helpful on a Reddit thread, giving tips on isometric drawing, while Skyrim’s Nordic influence was of great help as a sort of virtual back-in-time tour.

Last but by no means least, Ku’s aesthetic relies heavily on observational trips to locations such as the National Museum, Botanic Gardens and Glasnevin Cemetery. These trips were essential as an informational and pictorial resource of ancient Celtic aesthetic and culture and native Irish flora.

TGL: The official bitSmith website carries a video that shows off some of your prototype UI design for “Ku” using basic elements like paper. Did you learn anything interesting from these in-house tests? If so, can you tell us a little about the advantages of such research and development?

bS: We’ve been of the ‘release early release often’ persuasion from day one, periodically releasing our latest build on the website (www.bitsmithgames.com – keep your eyes peeled for the latest version coming soon!), which allows us to gather feedback and find bugs quicker and easier. The paper prototyping is just another aspect of that. It saves time, effort and money to build a very lo-fi version, helping you to pinpoint some of the problems with the design before a computer is even switched on.

TGL: Do you have any advice for anyone that wants to set up a studio, or be part of the Irish gaming scene?

bS: Just do it! Get stuck in, try, fail, get better. The tools we use cost next to nothing (the indie version of Unity is free to download, so go do it!), and with the App Store and various other platforms such as Steam, the cost and hassle of distribution is pretty much zero. We were lucky to get accepted to the NDRC’s Launchpad scheme, which has been really helpful in changing us from three guys who want to make games into three guys who actually have a plan, and a good bit more business sense (even if it does get in the way of the game making part sometimes!). There are plenty of schemes like that around the country that will give you free office space, capital, and advice.

TGL: What’s next for bitsmith Games?

bS: We’re focusing on getting Kú out there, and making sure we hit the App Store with a splash. We have a couple of other games in the pipeline, including Kú episode 2, more on those later this year!

You can reach bitSmith through the following links: