Depending on which member of their creative team you ask, the story of Zügalü, one of Calgary’s only independent video game studios, begins at a few different key dates. It may have begun in 2003, with a group of friends all working together in the kitchen at The Keg. It may have begun in 2013, when the company was officially founded by Branden Sloane, it’s current president and owner. Or, it may have just begun last Friday, with the launch party of Technolites, Zügalü’s very first PC video game title. The creative endeavour of over 15 people, this top-down space shooter features a science-fiction story with hundreds of customizable weapons and items, and several different levels with unique planetary physics and obstacles.
Prior to Technolites, Zügalü operated in Calgary primarily as a website and app developer for corporate clients, especially in the oil and gas industry. Today, they are hopeful for a shift in the landscape that will permit them to create games on a full-time basis. Sloane points to two challenges that they hope to overcome: staffing and government support.
“There’s lots of great skills at the University of Calgary that teach coding, but not specific to the game industry,” he says, adding that finding people in Calgary who are familiar with the unique tools of video game creation can be difficult.
In terms of government support, Greg Forsyth, Zügalü’s project manager, says that under the current granting scheme, the video games industry finds itself competing with the film industry for funds, but whereas film and television typically employ temporary contract staff, the video games industry requires more full-time permanent positions.
Sloane and Forsyth both agree that Alberta could do more. In British Columbia, the government offers an Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit to companies, which specifically includes products like video games, at 17.5 per cent of eligible salary and wages incurred in the tax year. In Nova Scotia, home to gaming giant Ubisoft’s Halifax studio, the digital media tax credit covers up to 50 per cent of qualifying expenditures, including labour. Sloane and Forsyth are hopeful that with big studios like Edmonton’s Bioware urging the government to adopt similar tax schemes, they will be able to compete with other provinces, and put out more games like Technolites.
“This genre of game has been around since Asteroids and Galaga, and we want to bring something new to it,” Forsyth says. “We hope that the world can enjoy this, as well as Calgary being proud that it came from here.”
For now, though, they have turned Technolites over to the public, with a Kickstarter campaign that is running until March 18. “Calgary’s been a big help with the community coming out to give feedback,” Sloane says. “Last year we were at Calgary Comic (and Entertainment) Expo. We saw a great turnout there for our mobile game Boulder Rush. To get to meet people there was great, to get our name out and learn a bit about all of the players.”
And, through Technolites’ story creator Devon Dubnyk, Zügalü was also able to employ local voice talent for its in-game story. Dubnyk set out to cast with diversity in mind: “One of the things that I had purposefully thought of when creating the characters was that I wanted to have women and minorities represented. We didn’t want a white voice actor playing a black character.”
The experience of writing the story for Technolites proved uniquely rewarding for the Calgary-based theatre actor. “I’m used to doing my art on the stage, live and in the moment,” Dubnyk says. “To create something and hand it over to another group of artists with a skill set that is super alien to me, and to see it come out as this great product that started as an idea in my brain at my kitchen table … that’s cool to me.”
Technolites is currently available to Kickstarter backers in an Alpha format for Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile platforms (with Playstation and Xbox to follow), and depending on the success of its fundraising, will contain features including even more ship customization, competitive leaderboards, and the opportunity for players to design and play their own maps and planets.
But whatever the results of their funding, Sloane’s greatest hope is to tap into the spirit of imaginative creators like Walt Disney, one of his personal hereoes. “Zügalü allows me to create a world for people to enjoy themselves in,” he says. “There’s nothing that brings me more joy than seeing someone play something we’ve created.”
(Photo courtesy Tim Ford.)
The Technolites demo is available online at Zugalu.itch.io. To support the Kickstarter campaign (running until March 18, 2018), visit technolitesgame.com. For more information on Zügalü games, visit zugalu.com.
Tim Ford has written extensively for the horror blog Everything is Scary, and had fiction published in places such as Neo-Opsis Magazine and Crossed Genres Magazine.