Leading lights of gaming industry set for Dundee's new NEoN festival
Henry Northmore looks at Dundee’s new festival, NEoN, celebrating all that is great and good in the world of digital art
Scotland has had an amazing hit rate in terms of videogames. Starting with games like Lemmings through to the absolutely colossal Grand Theft Auto (the biggest selling game in the world), and with companies like Realtime Worlds, Denki, Dynamo, Digital Goldfish, Tag Games, Cobra Mobile and more based in Dundee it’s time to celebrate the fact that Scotland is one of the leading lights in videogame innovation. And the NeoN (North East of North) digital arts festival is the perfect showcase for the work coming out of the city.
‘Historically we’ve had a good head start on everyone: the Sinclair Spectrum was actually manufactured at the Timex factory in Dundee, so a lot of kids were growing up with unprecedented access to computers in Dundee, everyone was very enthusiastic and knew a lot about computers,’ explains Colin Anderson co-founder of Denki, a company supplying the majority of the games you’ll find on Sky TV and currently working on their first Xbox Live and Nintendo Wii titles for release in 2010. ‘That definitely led to a lot of homebrew computer programmers – as soon as you give kids the hardware and the ability to program they’re going to make their own games.’
You also can’t underestimate the impact of one forward thinking programmer. ‘Dave Jones is the godfather of gaming, certainly in Scotland,’ says Anderson. ‘He set up DMA Design here in 1988 and had the huge international success of Lemmings, and from there it snowballed. Once you’ve had a hit game like that it acts as a magnet, I came to Dundee to work with Dave on games like Grand Theft Auto which was a massive success itself. As an area we’ve punched well above our weight for a long time. If you look at the top five games coming out of the UK every year at least two or three of them are from Scotland. That’s not bad – as a region we account for a relatively small part of the population.’ Jones himself – who founded Realtime Worlds in 2002 which brought out the global hit Crackdown – will be giving a talk at NEoN.
However, the festival wants to go beyond just gaming and focus on digital arts, proving there is more to computing than merely hammering away at your joystick. ‘NEoN is a digital interactive arts festival,’ says Anderson. ‘There are games festivals and arts festivals but no one was bringing the two together. We’ve got a wealth of talent and NEoN is a catalyst to bring others to Dundee who share our love of all things digital and to see how they are using this new technology to artistic effect.’
There are instillations, exhibits, workshops, talks, master classes and more all culminating with Video Games Live. VGL brings together classical musicians under the watchful gaze of videogame composer Tommy Tallarico (cousin of Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler) bringing to life the music of popular games such as Final Fantasy, Zelda, World of Warcraft, Metal Gear Solid and Sonic the Hedgehog synchronised with video footage, lights, effects and interactive elements.
Another highlight is the appearance of Bud Luckey who started in television commercials, worked as an animator on Sesame Street and is now based at Pixar, working on character design, storyboards and conceptual art on the likes of Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc, Ratatouille and A Bug’s Life. ‘That’s going to be a highlight of not just NEoN but my whole year, if not my whole career,’ says Anderson. ‘Bud is somebody who really has seen creative media go from pen and pencil to television through the transition to the early digital medium to where we are now. Just to be able to learn from that as a creative person will be hugely inspiring.’
NEoN runs across Dundee, Fri 13–Sun 15 Nov, see www.northeastofnorth.com for full details.