A little ‘shake, rattle and roll’ does not stop game developers in Wellington. On the 14th of November 2016 shortly after midnight, a 7.4 quake rocked the New Zealand city and its surrounds, followed by hundreds of aftershocks that were almost as strong.
It smashed glasses, plates and bottles in the taller apartments and flung some developers out of bed. But the next day, their office buildings were checked for safety and the day after that it was business as usual for Pik Pok, Magic Leap, Aurora 44, Dinosaur Polo Club and Camshaft.
I must confess I slept through most of the aftershocks. My flight was above the tarmac when the big one hit and we stayed in the air until it passed. After landing, we waited for a pause in the tremors to disembark. Then we waited another half hour for our luggage to be hauled off the plane, all the while being told the airport was the safest place to be. Lucky for me, a pre-arranged driver waited through all of this to hustle me into the car. “Quick”, he said “we need to get to high ground.” A tsunami was coming and the Wellington airport is next to the sea. I got the scenic tour to my hotel, past people huddled in blankets on streets sparkling with shattered glass. By 2 am I climbed six flights of service stairs – the lifts stopped working – and popped open a beer that frothed and poured over me, the quakes had shaken it so much. I was massaged to sleep reminiscent of a 1960s ‘Magic Fingers’ vibrating bed in an American motel.
Andrew Lamb, co-founder of Camshaft, was in Queenstown on a work trip and did not feel the quake. I caught up with Andrew a couple of days later at his studio. Camshaft is located about 25 minutes outside of Wellington along the coastline. The studio is on the top floor of a two-storey building. There was no damage and it was business as usual for the small team renown for Automation, a car company game. Andrew and fellow AIE graduates Caswell and Jayelinda relocated from Melbourne in early 2014 to the more affordable Lower Hutt area in New Zealand. They bought a house together and enjoy the sea air and mountain views.
Ten minutes up the Hutt valley Aurora 44 is putting the finishing touches on their offices in Avalon Studios, a giant bunker-like building that showed no sign of being affected by the quake. They share it with a division of WETA Workshop and have access to a mo-cap studio and sound-proofed recording rooms. Each two-person workspace enjoys black lighting and thick sound-proof and quake-proof walls. Co-founder Derek Bradley is happy to be making his AAA game at Avalon Studios and is keen to see more game developers use the space.
Pik Pok and Dino Pony Club are content to stay in the Wellington CBD. Mario Wynands, co-founder of Pik Pok houses his 80-person team on two floors in a solid building above an inner-city shopping strip. Peter Curry, one half of Dino Pony Club, perches in a quaint old brick abode in a trendy back alley. His desk is a cardboard construct.
The quake did not deter the monthly gathering of game developers for Wellingtaru a couple of days later. We met at the Fork and Brewer and shared stories over locally crafted beer. James Everett, Lead Game Designer at Magic Leap, hinted his initiative to set up a government fund for game developers was about to pay off. It did. The New Zealand Film Commission announced on 28 November a $200,000 Interactive Development funding pilot was open for applications.
The Wellington game development community is resilient and thriving. Quakes, tsunamis, flooding rain, gale-force winds and freezing temperatures notwithstanding, I left Welly a little wistful.
Robin Potanin is the Deputy Director of Industry Development for the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. She was in Wellington to discuss the GamePlus co-working space initiative for Australasia. For more information about GamePlus you can check the website. For more information about the NZ Interactive Development Fund you can check here.