Roseisle area a little hotbed of video games

Brothers thrive in rural solitude

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NEAR ROSEISLE -- One of the worst Internet games brothers Robin and Sandy Debreuil created, in Robin's opinion, was a spoof on the TV reality show, Survivor.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/02/2010 (4607 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NEAR ROSEISLE — One of the worst Internet games brothers Robin and Sandy Debreuil created, in Robin’s opinion, was a spoof on the TV reality show, Survivor.

It starts with 16 characters, like on the show, who beg, bargain and bribe for their lives, and you, the player, decide which one is eliminated.

Of course, in the video game tradition of ludicrous violence, you don’t just vote them off the island, you blow them away with a shotgun. Round by round, one by one, the computer-animated characters are blasted to smithereens until only one is left.

“It was one of our most popular games,” said Robin.

It’s a world many of us can hardly grasp: how Internet games earn any money whatsoever, and how video games you purchase in stores now pull down more profit than most blockbuster movies (except Avatar). Worldwide, video games now earn more than theatrical movies.

The Debreuil brothers are proof that computer game programmers can thrive in Manitoba and they’re a window on that world.

Until 2001, their company, Debreuil Digital Works, employed 12 people and was run from an abandoned school in Miami — Manitoba’s Miami — about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. But running the company took them away from hands-on creation of computer-animated electronic games, so they began working for themselves. Robin, 43, lives on a 22-hectare farm near Roseisle with his wife, Yuriko Mukumoto, a pharmacy technician, and their twin sons and a daughter. Sandy, 44, and his family reside in nearby Miami.

The brothers worked in Japan for five years, and Robin has also worked in China for two years and San Diego for a year. In California, “you walk into a building with 60 hard-core game programmers working away,” said Robin.

But they found living in Manitoba, and the lower costs that make their prices more competitive, more to their liking. Manitoba’s long, dark winters make for greater productivity than California with all its distractions.

For example, the night before our interview, Robin was up until 4 a.m. with his 17-year-old twins, Sky and Free, working on programming in their studio, a converted garage.

His sons alternated between game programming (they built their first video game at ages 15 spending a summer with their grandma in Japan) and jamming on electric guitar and drums.

Robin is the video game programmer and brother Sandy is an online cartoonist (crowbarbenson.com), and they are self-taught. “People are bent that way,” says Robin, about game programmers and their market. “At 13, I knew I would love being a programmer.” That was before he even had played on a computer. His grandma, Annie Burnett, finally bought him one.

Major electronic game releases now cost up to $20 million to make, and some over $100 million. One gamer in Korea made a living for five years just by playing real-time strategy game Starcraft. In Korea, video game championships are televised.

The most successful Internet video game is World of Warcraft, the multi-player online role-playing game, which charges $15 per month and has grossed more than $1 billion.

The brothers worked with about 100 other computer gamers on the recently released League of Legends for riotgames.com. Each person’s input is highly specialized. One worker was reputed to be “the world expert on lighting.”

They have done mostly contract work for U.S. companies, churning out some 200 to 300 games (such as the Survivor spoof) in 10 years. Companies buy the games and post them online, hoping to squeeze money from them or use them for other game parts. The brothers make mainly Flash and Xbox games.

Among other credits are four Sesame Street video games and work for the National Microbiology Laboratory and Fox Sports.

The brothers are about to launch several online games for Xbox Indie. One of Debreuil Digital’s new games is called Traffic and requires someone to cross a busy eight-lane highway without getting creamed. Another is like an electronic crokinole.

Game-makers on Xbox Indie can charge $1, $2, or $4 for permanent use of an online game. Microsoft hosts the website and charges 15 per cent of earnings. One Xbox Indie hit is a crudely made game called I MAED A GAM3 WITH ZOMBIES 1N 1T. It’s sold 165,000 copies at $1 apiece.

It’s a lot of shooting and explosions. “How many first-person shooter games are there? Millions,” said Robin.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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