The BAFTA Scotland Awards are perhaps the most prestigious in the country’s calendar, honouring those who weave their colours into the rich tartan of our entertainment industries, leaving behind patterns which will be pored over and enjoyed for years to come.
2022’s awards were no exception, presenting a livestream positively overflowing with talent; from incredible actors like Jack Lowden and Izuka Hoyle, to visionary directors such as Matt Pinder and James Strong, the stars burned bright for the full duration of the evening.
Nestled among the more recognisable heavy hitters, the Game category quietly showcased some of the most interesting, diverse pieces of media Scotland has produced in the last 12 months. We chatted to the nominees, and the winner, for the category, uncovering the stories behind the three games which represented our industry at one of the biggest nights of the year.
Nominee 1: The Longest Walk, Alexander Tarvet
The Longest Walk is a serious game. Developed as part of Alexander Tarvet’s PHD, which looks at “how game developers can communicate lived experiences of health issues through games authentically and respectfully”, and dealing with the deeply personal subject matter of his father’s depressive episodes, it felt right at home among the emotional dramas celebrated elsewhere in the evening.
The game’s title, beyond simply reflecting the content within, also reflects Tarvet’s own journey in making it. “The development process has been incredibly challenging, but also cathartic and rewarding.” He notes. “Conducting and editing the 54-minute-long interview was the most difficult aspect of the project. Transcribing, coding, reconstructing, implementing, and testing the audio in which my dad was discussing the pain he was in, his mindset at the time, and his plans to take his own life was extremely tough.”
As with many long walks, however, the game’s creation was more than worth it in the end, with more than 15,000 people downloading the game, and over half a million viewing it via Let’s Play videos online. All of this attention plays right into the central goal of the project; in Tarvet’s words: “I am glad that such a personally challenging project is having a positive impact on players worldwide; helping them feel less isolated, encouraging those suffering to reach out, and letting them know that things can and do get better.”
After such a challenging development cycle, seeing the game honoured with a BAFTA nomination was incredible for Tarvet. “To be recognised by BAFTA for The Longest Walk – an experience that is a little different from traditional games and created as a solo developer – is an honour. It was also great to see such a diverse range of projects being spotlighted!”
Attending the awards ceremony with his father, Tarvet’s story comes full-circle in the best possible way: “Attending the nominee’s party and awards night was such a surreal experience! Walking down the red carpet with my dad, getting our picture taken with the BAFTA masks, meeting and speaking with Edith Bowman, Ncuti Gatwa, and others was such great fun. Brushing shoulders with celebrities and celebrating our achievements in games with Common Profyt Games and Blazing Griffin was an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Nominee 2: Strange Sickness, Common Profyt Games
The second nominee in the Games category also deals with illness, albeit in a physical rather than mental sense. Telling the tale of plague outbreaks in Aberdeen in the 15th and 16th centuries, Strange Sickness is a unique mix of historical research and digital storytelling. “The project combined a team with different areas of expertise, but also many shared interests.” Recalls Dr. Jackson Armstrong, Historian at the University of Aberdeen and one of the game’s developers. “There was a great feeling of working together to get the development through its various hurdles.”
Even with a great team on the case, a project this unique couldn’t help but come with some unexpected challenges. “Writing in the game and for the supporting historians’ commentary raised some fascinating issues, not least on language and the best way to use and explain historical terms (like ‘goif’, or ‘backlands’).” Notes Armstrong. “We went back to the records in the City Archives with new questions.”
But the intrepid team pushed on. And their reward? Recognition from one of the most prestigious sources out there. “It was such an honour, and so surreal!” Said Armstrong of the game’s nomination: “To have the game and all the work that went into it credited in this way, alongside outstanding co-nominees Sandy Tarvet and the Blazing Griffin Games team, means so much. And it’s wonderful to have BAFTA recognition for three games telling very different stories and coming from such different points of origin.”
Much like Tarvet, the Common Profyt team found themselves stunned by the ceremony itself: “The ceremony in Glasgow was just spectacular and the mood was so positive. It was also only the second time we had managed to get all the Strange Sickness team together in person, so lovely for that reason too! I met some amazing people, heard some inspiring words, and had fun.”
The Winner: Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, Blazing Griffin
And finally, we come to the game which claimed the crown at this year’s Scottish BAFTAs: Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, a modern take on one of the biggest cannonballs in the literary canon. Working with such excellent source material was a challenge that Neil McPhillips, Co-Head of Games for the studio, relished: “We really enjoyed creating our own take on an Agatha Christie murder mystery, mixing in elements of her stories while also subverting others to create surprise.” He recalls. “What was challenging, however, was simultaneously crafting the gameplay and narrative, through our deduction puzzles. Iterating on that wasn’t simple with VO, localisation and release dates to hit.”
And while it didn’t centre around illness of any kind, the game’s development was very much impacted by the real-world pandemic that took us all by surprise back in 2020. “Ultimately, we were able to launch a digital and boxed game across PlayStation, Switch, Xbox, Steam, GOG and Mac with 3 VO’d languages and 12 written languages – all done while adjusting to COVID lockdowns, remote working and disruptions across the industry. Something we’re immensely proud of!”
Despite crafting what they knew was an excellent product, the team didn’t have any expectations when it came to a BAFTA nomination, let alone a win. “I can’t say we were expecting to be nominated as it’s always hard to judge these things, but we’re really happy we were!” Says Justin Alae-Carew, the studio’s other Co-Head of Games. “And the team were really chuffed to win the award! It’s great to be awarded Best Game in any show, but the BAFTAs, with its Film and TV focus meant a lot given the transmedia nature of the IP, and the transmedia nature of us as a company.”
That last point, on Blazing Griffin’s status as a transmedia company, was particularly relevant on the night of the awards, as a number of productions which the studio’s post-production division were involved in won in their respective categories: “Our post production team put so much into Too Rough which picked up Best Short Film and also multiple other productions including Irvine Welsh’s Crime which won Actor Television for Dougray Scott; The Hunt For Bible John which picked up two awards for Specialist Factual and Director Factual; Guilt which got a triple whammy across Television Scripted, Writer Film/Television, and Actress Television for the wonderful Phyllis Logan; and nominated productions Runrig: There Must Be A Place, Vigil, Shetland, Rescue: Extreme Medics and Outlander.” Says Ross MacRae, Head of Post Production at the studio. “It all comes together to demonstrate the calibre of Post Production that Scotland can deliver for the UK and international market.”
These awards served as a powerful reminder of the influence of games technology across other modern entertainment industries, and a fantastic addition to what was already a brilliant night for the Blazing Griffin team, and the Scottish games industry as a whole. As the years go by, and collaborations like this become deeper and more commonplace, perhaps the BAFTA-winning games of the future will be beyond anything we could imagine today.
You can check out the full BAFTA Scotland 2022 stream recording here.
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