The Irish video game studio where family matters

lifestyle
The Irish Video Game Studio Where Family Matters The Irish Video Game Studio Where Family Matters
Wild Rats Games is a studio based in Galway made up of the Robert family (left to right: David, Johan, Mátheo and Ghislaine). Photo: Wild Rats Games
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Kenneth Fox

For most video game developers it all starts with a love for games, then you try your hand at making one.

If things go well, later down the line maybe you open a small studio with a couple of friends, so you can pursue your passion full time.

The idea of starting a video game studio with your entire family is almost unheard of in the industry, but for one family it was the obvious thing to do.

Wild Rats Games is a studio-based in Galway made up of the Robert family. Originally from France, they moved to Ireland in 2008, before moving to Seattle in the US in 2012.

They returned to Ireland in 2021 so their sons Johan (14) and Mathéo (16) could finish their education in Ireland.

Parents David and Ghislane Robert both have experience in IT and software development, but making games was a little different for them.

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“We are not big gamers. I used to play games back in the day, but we are talking about a long time ago,” David says.

The real reason they wanted to start the studio was because of their son Mathéo who from an early age showed a real passion for making games.

“He became more interested in creating games as well as doing the artwork. We (David and Ghislane) also wanted to do something else, we needed a change.

“We thought it would be a good idea to create the studio to basically create a platform for him," David says.

Mathéo learnt most of what he knows about making games from YouTube tutorials and doing online courses.

From left to right: Mathéo Robert, David Robert and Ghislaine Robert of Wild Rats Games

“YouTube is a very valuable asset," Mathéo says. "There is a lot of different people on it and a lot of different methods as well."

He plans on doing a PLC next year instead of doing the Leaving Cert, and is building up his portfolio to show off a range of projects.

As a studio they have been up and running for just over a year and in terms of games, they have a number of small projects they are working on which they created at a game jam.

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A game jam is an event where developers create games from scratch and come up with new ideas.

Their main focus at the moment is a game called Zinky, a 2D platformer where you play as an intrepid explorer in search of treasure who has to overcome puzzles to claim his prize.

They recently started to add new levels to the game where the Irish countryside is the backdrop, a refection of where they live.

They have also created Fragile Factory where you try to pack eggs and wine glasses in boxes without breaking any and Operation Ocean where you play as a marine biologist who is investigating a radioactivity report.

“Everything comes from for Mathéo any of the games we have. The game we are working on right now is Zinky, and we are improving the controls at the moment.

“The graphics and ideas come from Mathéo, so he is the one who leads the group," David says.

It might seem like a risk to put so much faith in a 16-year-old, but they clearly trust in his vision and talent.

Picking a name

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In terms of the name of the studio, it took a while to find one that fit.

“Finding a name is not easy. So, we went through a lot of different ideas, The story is more that we were trying to find something fun.

“David calls our cats rats and one of our cats is very wild and always doing funny stuff. So that is where we got Wild Rats from," Ghislane says.

It is a fitting name because it shows they do not take themselves too seriously and having fun is what is paramount to them.

In terms of the different roles within the studio, Mathéo does both art and programming and Ghislaine helps with both as well.

David mainly helps with coding for the games: “I work on things like optimising the game and ensuring the frame-rate is correct."

The youngest Johan is the ones who tests the games and looks for any bugs or glitches. This means looking for parts of the games that are not working right like the controls or times when a game crashes or freezes.

“I take advantage of the fact that I love playing video game" Johan says "Somehow, I'm good at finding bugs. I don't know how, but I am."

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As well as working on Zinky, Mathéo has also been working on an experimental horror game in Unreal Engine 5.

Unreal Engine is one of the premier engines to make games in and offers developers tons of different tools to make the process of making games as easy as possible.

At Gamerfest 2022 (the biggest gaming convention in Ireland) Mathéo showed of a demo which drops the player into an eerie world with no instructions but to explore.

Ghislaine and Mátheo at Gamerfest 2022

Family meetings

Evenutally you find different tools that help you progress in the game, but it is all done through the language of game design.

It is an example of the different type of games they can make and how they are broadening their scope as a studio.

In terms of the funding for the studio, David says: “We are currently using our savings, but we will be exploring grants options, like the Creative Europe Programme.

“This is after we launch Zinky, either we continue to fund the game or launch a new game," he says.

When it comes to conflict resolution and dealing with disagreements, they have a very diplomatic solution.

“We usually have a meeting, if there's an issue about something we all put our ideas together, and we try to come to an agreement on something.

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“It is what is best for the game that is most important so that usually comes through in the end.” Mathéo says.

Ghislaine puts their conflict free work environment down to their bond as a family: “We have been doing a lot as a family, we have travelled a lot and done a lot of projects together. I think we work well together as a family.

When you work you need to enjoy what you do so that is what we are trying to teach the kids. - Ghislaine Robert

"When you work you need to enjoy what you do so that is what we are trying to teach the kids," she says.

Of course, they are happy with just the four of them but depending on how things go they are open to expanding the studio and adding to the team.

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That is a long way down the line and right now they are just enjoying making games together as a family. They are also quite settled in Galway and prefer the beautiful countryside as opposed to the hustle and bustle of the city.

It is something that Mathéo clearly appreciates: “It is amazing to have such supporting parents and I feel very grateful. A lot of parents want their kids to have certain career paths.

“I have always loved games, and they saw that in me and grew that in me and supported it,” he says.

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