The UK games industry is booming, contributing over £1 billion to the country’s economy. The last decade has seen a staggering growth in the number of games companies (22 per cent year on year) creating a highly competitive market where game studios succeed by standing out from the crowd and being incredibly fast to market.
This is certainly the case for Starship, a Liverpool-based digital media, technology and entertainment company who we’ve been supporting since they opened their doors back in 2013. They're not your standard games studio - they design lifestyle applications developing ideas and products for new sectors in the market where no one else is competing to the same level of quality.
Understanding the nature of the industry, that it thrives on the constant supply of new and different content, Starship have made it their mission to disrupt the lifecycle of the games market. The development of their new lifestyle product CyberCook, which brings cookery into the digital age, has been described as the “brave new world of cooking”. This game is a truly interactive cookery platform, leading Starship further into the field of virtual reality.
“As well as offering an engrossing experience, CyberCook dispels the fear of experimenting in the kitchen,” says Starship CEO Martin Kenwright. “You’re involved with every stage of the cookery process. Why learn from a video when you can practice hands-on and without a single bit of waste? In a couple of years, we’ll reach new levels of realism.”
Starship is known for breaking new ground with their technical work too. Since the beginning Escape Technology has worked with them to supply the hardware and software needed to streamline their pipeline. Everything Starship does is defined by the technology they use - right down to their Autodesk licences. They rely on software that is well supported and creates the best results in the quickest time.
Kenwright continues, “Autodesk Maya is our main creation tool, but using the FBX format for our workflow we’re able to use Autodesk 3ds Max too – working between the two products. This means our artists can use whichever they prefer. It means we can employ artists with both skillsets, enabling us to be more agile with our resources. We’re all very experienced in Max and Maya – we all used them pre-Starship, and Escape Technology has helped us get them up and running in a way that works for us.”
Most people working in games will agree that one of the main pressures in the industry is turnaround time. The Starship team has been in the games world from the outset and has gone from console products that might have taken up to three years to develop to the world of self-publishing where they can release new products monthly or even weekly.
Clemens Wangerin, MD at Starship, says that, “the iteration times we are now able to achieve with Maya and Max makes this possible, leaving more time for getting the quality right. It’s this quality that we’re known for. The physical simulations and dynamics within Maya are really helping especially on CyberCook. Food is really difficult to re-create because it needs to look entirely natural. Maya nDynamics are particularly good on the complex foodstuffs such as noodles and soft pasta shapes. We also use surface transfer to extract normal and albedo colour maps for use in CyberCook presentation scenes.”
Starship is in no doubt that the right software is critical to their workflow and innovation - from using Autodesk Mental Ray to create diffusion maps so content runs more effectively on mobiles to creating the environments in CyberCook providing a more lifelike and rich visual experience. And as they continue to take on new technical challenges both in CG and games publishing we’ll be with them every step of the way.
Wangerin notes that “our broad portfolio of Autodesk products and our great relationship with Escape Technology is helping us push the boundaries of virtual reality and they are at the heart of our creative and commercial success.”