Adventure game with a clever mix of originality and tradition

The Little Acre draws its inspiration from 1980s escapist fantasy films

Game development is still an emerging sector in Ireland but it is home to a lot of talent and a growing number of enthusiastic and innovative young companies. Those in the know say it is only a matter of time before an Irish-produced game becomes a major international hit.

Aiming for a piece of the action are Chris Conlan and Ben Clavin, founders of Pewter Games Studio.

Pewter's focus is adventure games for PC and Xbox One and its first game, The Little Acre, draws its inspiration from 1980s escapist fantasy films such as Labyrinth and The Never Ending Story.

“We’re both big fans of adventure games and in recent years it became very apparent that their popularity was really on the rise,” Chris Conlan says. “With this in mind we set about creating a game that would interest us if we heard about it and this led to the development of The Little Acre which is a narrative-driven adventure game with plenty of originality and an aesthetic reminiscent of a Sullivan Bluth Studios production.”

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(Sullivan Bluth was an Irish-American film production company set up here in 1985 by celebrated Disney animator, Don Bluth. )

Pewter Games Studio is based at the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) where the founders have been participating in the Launchpad accelerator programme.

This programme is aimed at new ventures with significant future growth potential and those chosen to take part are given access to business mentors, office space, and a fund of €20,000 provided jointly by the NDRC and Enterprise Ireland.

This stipend helped pay for the recruitment of two artists on a part-time basis and in 2014 Pewter secured additional funding from Enterprise Ireland under its Competitive Start programme. Employment at the company has now risen to eight people.

Conlan and Clavin met at DIT where both were working towards an MSc in Digital Games.

The germ of the idea for The Little Acre came from a project they did together during this time. After graduating they decided to continue developing games and made a number of small titles before setting up Pewter Games Studio.

Conlan's academic background is in gaming (he studied at Ballyfermot College of Further Education which has a well-recognised gaming pedigree) while Clavin graduated in philosophy from Trinity College Dublin.

“While The Little Acre is a traditional 2D point-and-click adventure, it manages to break from tradition somewhat,” Ben Clavin says. “One of the main ways it does so is with its perspective-swapping feature. As the main characters travel to another world or dimension, the player’s perspective shifts to an isometric perspective. When they return home, it shifts back. In addition, we’re using a traditional frame-by-frame style of animation, which we just love the look of. We were also the first Irish company to become part of the ID@Xbox programme and to announce our game for the Xbox One platform.

Set apart

“In addition, The Little Acre will be one of the few 2D adventure games on Xbox One so that sets us apart. We want our game to be enjoyed by as many people as possible all around the world and while there will be an English voice narrating, we will provide subtitles in a number of languages.”

The Little Acre is currently well into development and will be launched in the first quarter of 2016. The game, which runs to about four hours, will retail at €14.99.

“We don’t consider any other developers to be direct competitors since purchasing one game doesn’t exclude you from purchasing another – especially indie games which are at the lower end of the price scale,” Conlan says.

“We have other ideas at concept stage but haven’t committed anything to paper yet as it would just be a distraction. Right now the focus is getting The Little Acre finished and released.”