THE global Grand Theft Auto phenomenon has earned Edinburgh a reputation for producing world-beating video games.
Now a humble couple from Dean Village are proving that it does not take the mega budget or countless resources of a company like Rockstar North to create a successful, highly addictive gaming experience.
Husband-and-wife team Jamie Montgomerie and Emily Thomforde spent six months developing a quirky, hand-illustrated word game for the iPad from the spare room of their home.
The end product is Coolson’s Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet, where the player is put to work in an Edinburgh chocolate factory and must rearrange alphabet sweets to create words of up to five letters.
A stylus pen was used to draw all the “rustic” graphics directly on to the iPad that make up the game. Such has been the product’s success since being released in June that it is now being used to promote Apple’s latest devices.
Coolson’s Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet has also been nominated for a Scottish Bafta – one of only three competing for the title of best game.
Both creators are Edinburgh University graduates and had previous computer programming experience, but had never before attempted to develop a video game from scratch.
Dr Thomforde, who recently graduated with a PhD in computational linguistics and described herself as a “word fiend”, had the idea for the game years ago, but had never before found the spare time to develop it. She combined her skills with her 34-year-old husband, who had previously worked in software development for Apple.
Dr Thomforde, 30, said: “I wanted to have a physical copy of the idea that I could play and enjoy. It started with the idea of letters on a sushi conveyer belt. Physically we got out lots of Scrabble tiles and mocked up the game so many different ways to find out what was the most fun configuration that this could be.”
Each chocolate the factory produces in the game bears a letter of the alphabet. Letters are produced randomly – making the game different every time – and must be dragged into boxes to create words and complete levels.
“It’s just like Scrabble – what you get is what you have to deal with,” Dr Thomforde said.
The game’s storyline involves the player becoming an English student who cannot find a job until they discover Coolson’s chocolate factory that is “now hiring”.
Dr Thomforde said: “There’s a lot of Edinburgh landmarks referenced. The Coolson’s factory is actually on the site of the Oz Bar on Candlemaker Row.”
Ellie Gibson, reviewer for leading UK website Eurogamer, described the game as “beautifully crafted fun”. She said: “The game’s sense of humour keeps it just the right side of twee. It is a game that has been made with care, commitment and love, and that shows.”
The couple have not yet made a fortune out of the release, but have ideas bubbling away for more games that will be released under their company name, Things Made Out Of Other Things.
Scottish Bafta winners will be announced on November 17.
Follow rules to the letter
THE rules of Coolson’s Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet are simple, but the game is difficult to master.
Individual chocolates bearing a letter of the alphabet must be pulled off a conveyor belt and placed into boxes that are laid out like crossword puzzles. The object of the game is to order the chocolates so they spell out words.
Unboxed sweets will start to fall off into a rubbish chute if the conveyor belt gets too clogged up. The game ends if the player loses three chocolates.
There are 30 levels to complete in the single-player adventure mode.
There is also a two-player mode and a network mode that allows “chocolatiers” from around the world to compete in making boxed presents for the public at the Castle Street farmers’ market. The game is for iPad only and costs £2.49.