Dreams and Ambitions
Brian Young, a 15-year-old Singaporean, likes video games. He prefers console games, because he doesn't like the download and installation process required of PC and mobile games. He likes games with a good story and lots of in-game choices to make, like Max Payne and Halo and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and is more into single-player games than multi-player.
Brian considers himself an enthusiastic game player--though not as devoted as some of his friends, he quickly points out. His enthusiasm is such, though, that he wants to be a part of making games. And to that end, he convinced his mother to send him to stay with relatives in San Francisco this summer so he could attend a program at Stanford University which teaches beginning game development. He may insist that he only plays games "just for fun", but it seems to me like he is very serious about his dreams of game development.
When I asked Brian what types of games he wanted to make, he said he wanted to make games that stood out from the crowd. "A high quality game," he said, where "you make a lot of decisions" and where you have to think. A game that speaks about "controversial issues, like war and peace, and things that happen in the real world. But with enough fantasy that you are in completely different place."
One thought that kept going through my mind as we talked was that Brian sounded like many of the young people I've talked to here in the United States, half a world away from his home. Like Brian, they grew up playing games: PC games, console games, mobile games, et al. And, like him, they often catch the bug and dream about making games of their own. Games, it seem, and the urge to make them, know no borders.
Jaryl Sim, a 19-year-old Singaporean, is also a game enthusiast. Jaryl is currently pursuing a Diploma in Information Technology at Nanyang Polytechnic, and expects to begin specializing in Digital Entertainment in the next semester.
Jaryl caught the bug to make games young. "I've been quite an avid hobbyist developer myself for about 6 years already," he said. "Most of this time has been spent learning programming really." He adds, "I don't know where all this will bring me yet, but I do hope that making games becomes my career someday. Also, given the opportunity, I would like to join or found a startup here in Singapore."
Jaryl wants to make games for PC's. "Call me ambitious, but it's what my interest has been all along." He sees the potential in games for mobile devices, but says he's heard rumors that "earning money isn't all that easy on this platform." He is currently working on a real-time strategy (RTS) war game, hoping to have a game that "more accurately simulates the grandioseness of war movies."
Both Brian and Jaryl have big plans and big dreams--but there are obstacles. In an educational system that emphasizes science and math over the creative disciplines, Brian had to go outside Singapore to find a game development program targeted at teenagers. And it has only been within the last few years that a Singapore university has offered courses in media and design. In the past, those topics were only taught in the city-state's polytechnic schools (similar to vocational schools or community colleges in the US).
For Jaryl, though, there's another issue, one that is peculiar to Singapore and other small nations around the world: mandatory military service for men. Singapore's National Service is compulsory for all able-bodied young men 17 1/2 years of age and not on deferment for educational reasons. For Jaryl, his deferment ends when he graduates from Nanyang Polytechnic in about a year. Brian still has a few years before this becomes an issue, but it's coming.
Some of the young men going into the National Service worry about how they will keep their creative edge or find inspiration while they serve. Military service is never easy, and can be very draining, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and the young men wonder how they will be able to compete against the women and foreigners who do not have to serve.
"I imagine that keeping a company from sinking would be rather difficult from within camp," Jaryl told me, so he's putting off starting his own independent game development company until after his service is completed. "I expect that I'll finish my term somewhere in 2007," he said, adding: "I could use the two years there to plan everything."
Building the Future
There is a world-wide trend of more and more young people wanting to get into game development. Multiple game development and design schools have opened in the US, like Full Sail and DigiPen and the Art Institute, and many universities are now offering or creating specialized game design curriculums.
Nor has Singapore failed to noticed. Though Brian had to travel to the US to attend a game development course this year, by next year it's very likely that he will be able to attend a similar program in his home town. One of the programs that could be available is the new Game Lab at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Game Lab is a program with multiple goals. In addition to helping students gain experience in game and interactive media development by working on projects they can design and complete within the scope of the class, Game Lab wants to "explore the creative use of technologies for the advancement of game media", and "explore new arenas in Game Design, and further studies in Psychology and Analysis of Gameplay, User Interfaces and Navigation, and Story and Content." If that doesn't already seem like a lot of goals, the scope of Game Lab keeps expanding.
Originally intended only for NTU students, Game Lab is now putting together "an introductory/get-the-feet-wet type course for a group from Raffles JC, considered high school level," according to Sarah Fay Krom, Director of Game Lab. "I expected to be able to run some workshops for younger groups (enthusiastic kids/students of all ages) at a later time," Sarah said, "once the lab was more settled. It's just happening sooner rather than later."
Beyond university courses, Singapore has created programs, like the Media Development Authority (MDA; http://www.mda.gov.sg), to foster Singapore-grown talent and intellectual property in film, TV, and games. The MDA's "Media Content Development Scheme" (http://www.mda.gov.sg/media/digitalcontentdevt.html) provides up to S$150,000 (approximately $85,000-$90,000 US) in matching funds for the creation of a game demo.
Finally, there are rumors of a Singapore-based game development event, bringing together developers from Singapore and all over the Asia Pacific region. Such an event, a sort of "GDC Asia", could provide more oppurtunities for both experienced and up-and-coming game developers to get together, swap ideas, and further improve Singapore's developer-support infrastructure.
As I've said before, game development in Singapore is still at an early stage. But it's growing.
Singapore has access to some of the biggest markets in the world, the infrastructure to take advantage of that access, and a very business-friendly economic environment. There are already a number of game development shops operating in Singapore, and more are starting all the time, fueled by the passion of young people like Brian and Jaryl. There are challenges, of course, but a bright future is definitely on its way.
This concludes my Game Port series of articles.
About the Author
David Michael wears many hats: developer, author, press, and more, as the situation requires. At one of his son's Little League games this summer, he was reminded that he used to have more hair, and therefore less need of hats. David is the author of "The Indie Game Development Survival Guide" (Charles River Media; ISBN:1584502142), co-owner of Samu Games (http://www.samugames.com), and the designer/developer of "The Journal", personal journaling software for Windows (http://www.davidrm.com/thejournal/).