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Mobile gaming

Hong Kong game developer that can’t find local talent says it’ll take a revolution for Hongkongers to see industry as a viable career

Founder of company behind Deadheads, pioneering first-person shooter game for mobile phone users, uses lure of city to build a multinational team of talents

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 11:13am

Deadheads is a new first-person shooter game for mobile phones. It was created by Hong Kong-based company Cmune and features a full episode set in the city. Yet none of those who worked on the project are from Hong Kong.

Cmune, which was established in 2007, is a multinational team of about a dozen people, including Kostya Plutenko from Ukraine, the lead 3D artist; Lee Turner from Scotland, the lead server developer; and Matti Lamberg from Finland, a client developer.

The co-founders, Shaun Lelacheur-Sales from Australia and Ludovic Bodin from France, chose Hong Kong as their base to tap into the emerging Asian markets as well as to attract foreign talent, many of whom find the prospect of living in Hong Kong quite appealing.

“You can’t make it on your own if you want to build a big game,” says Lelacheur-Sales. “You need to have a really talented team of people with different specialisations, such as database, front-end development, artificial intelligence, sound, gameplay and system engineering.”

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Though Lelacheur-Sales was very keen on recruiting Hongkongers, they were unable to find the right people even after conducting many interviews.

“There was a lot of talent, but they were more focused on building apps for business, particularly fintech. In terms of people with experience that we need, it’s very challenging in Hong Kong,” says Lelacheur-Sales, who believes a revolution needs to take place in the city to make game development a more viable career option.

“It’s not the same as having a job in a big company that’s very steady. By the same token, game development is a very rewarding career. You learn so much every day. We never suffer from boredom at all,” he says.

This is especially true with Cmune, whose games often break new ground. Hong Kong connections aside (another notable video game set in this city is Sleeping Dogs by United Front Games and Square Enix London), their latest title, Deadheads, stands out as a premier multiplayer first-person shooter (FPS) for mobile phones.

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Given that the majority of gamers are used to PC and consoles for the FPS genre, the team has had to adapt the game to new form factor and input devices, which is one of the greatest challenges they face.

“We spent many months working on it, how to adapt the control system, what’s going to be natural for people,” says Lelacheur-Sales. “We have a lot of intelligence systems running in the background, looking at how you’re tapping and swiping.”

There was a lot of talent, but they were more focused on building apps for business
Shaun Lelacheur-Sales

Now players navigate the map with one hand while shooting and pointing with the other, which takes a while to get used to.

“It’s harder with touch, but we don’t think that needs to take away from the shooter experience,” he says.

On top of that, Deadheads has a sci-fi storyline, complete with futuristic weapons and gear. The concept of the game is inspired by the Hugo-award winning science fiction novel Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. The game is set in the future and players return to a deserted earth, only to find it crawling with aliens.

One of the nine episodes is set in a dystopian Hong Kong. The skybox of the Hong Kong scene – the 3D graphics of the skyline and buildings – was built by Joaquin Catala, a 3D environment artist who is based in Spain and has never even been to the city. He drew a dark, abandoned cityscape using reference images sent to him by his Hong Kong teammates.

Deadheads gained more than 50,000 users while still in its beta phase and was officially launched in May .

Lelacheur-Sales, who met his business partner, Bodin, while learning Chinese in Beijing, first ventured into the game industry when Paradise Paintball, a game Lelacheur-Sales built as a hobby, became a surprise hit with several million players. The duo were developing 3D business apps, but decided to build on their successful game and developed it into Uberstrike, Cmune’s first flagship game.

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Launched in 2008, Uberstrike was the first multiplayer first-person shooter (FPS) game on PC and had more than 25 million players around the world. While the launch of Lelacheur-Sales’ career as a game developer was purely accidental, the popularity of their games is no coincidence.

Paradise Paintball, for example, was the first real-time shooting game on Facebook. Leveraging the social media, it transforms the gaming experience into a social one.

“People were just looking for a community. The game was only secondary for some of the players. But we provided somewhere where they can hang out, chat, go on a forum and interact with one another,” says Lelacheur-Sales.

Taking what they had learned from the previous two games, Cmune incorporated the social factor into their latest project. The community has been helpful for the team, giving constructive feedback, spotting glitches and reaffirming the value of their work.

And it goes beyond the game. “We have had people announce their weddings, write poetry or have political discussions,” he says. “People quite often just want to be part of something. The game is just there as a means to attract people. At the end of the day, life is not just about game.”