WHEN Stuart Martin and Rob Madden “spun” out of Abertay University to set up their own gaming company, they initially had one goal: “survive”.

That was in 2014. Now, almost a decade on, Hyper Luminal Games is a fully-functioning games studio with more than 60 full-time staff based in the heart of Dundee – Scotland’s gaming capital.

The office walls are adorned with beautiful illustrations from their game Cloud Jumper, due to be fully launched in 2024, while the team works away on a wide variety of projects.

“For me, I never thought we’d be anywhere like this. I didn’t have a job and wanted to make sure I was working so this sounded great,” Madden, who serves as creative director, told The National.

READ MORE: New BBC Alba documentary set to explore Scottish video game industry

“In the early days it was just about taking things day by day and slowly but surely realising you can do it, and you build up your skills and your team.”

Together with CEO Martin, the pair are keen to make sure everybody understands just how pivotal Scotland’s gaming industry is to our economy and our culture.

‘Gamifying’ industries


THE studio primarily operates through work for hire, which serves as the main source of revenue, contracted by organisations both game and non-game related.

Martin explained: “Something we’re passionate about is taking game design theory and gamifying other industries. That’s our backbone.”

At the heart of much of the company’s work is education, best demonstrated through the game Venture Valley. Created with US-based charity the Singleton Foundation, the game aims to teach people about basic financial management all while retaining a sense of fun.

“It’s a multiplayer strategy game about business management, selling product and paying your staff,” Madden explained.

The National: Hyper Luminal Games.

“You learn about the terminology surrounding business and I think it’s an engaging way of taking a dry topic and learning about it in an interesting way. It’s aimed at people who perhaps don’t have the tools to access opportunities or those in lower income areas.”

‘Tech, teaching and tourism’


PART of why the games industry is so pivotal for Dundee is it allows the city to modernise, moving from the sectors it’s traditionally associated with to newer ones.

“Culturally, the games scene is so rich. We had Rockstar back in the day putting Scotland on the map and out of that you get multiple universities supporting game design and a rich ecosystem that trades ideas for the betterment of the economy,” Martin said.

“Dundee has that industrious history of jute, jam and journalism and I think it’s moved to tech, teaching and tourism.”

The city is home to numerous game companies, with Hyper Luminal situated just a floor away from Rockstar North – the creators of the worldwide sensation Grand Theft Auto.

Hyper Luminal doesn’t like to box itself in when it comes to a market audience and Martin is keen to stress that even those who maybe don’t consider themselves gamers actually are. “We ask people all the time if they play sudoku on their phone or Candy Crush. They are gamers even if they might say they’re not.

“Some of our products are what you would consider being aimed at the typical gamer, that 16 to 35-year-old male trope, but we also have original games looking at the wholesome market. They’re skewed towards a younger audience and are based on environments and worlds that are nice to be in.”

The company’s big break came when they worked with the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh to create a game called Caledon, which was a simulation teaching school pupils “how intricate and complex the forest environment is”.

The National: The dragon Edme from Cloud Jumper on the wall of the offices.

Could Scotland be doing more to showcase gaming?


IN spite of the company’s great success, a feeling persists that Scotland needs to do more to showcase itself as a hub of gaming excellence.

How has it come to this though? It’s an industry worth £331 million and, crucially, one which has the resilience to deal with “challenging economic periods”, says Martin.

For him, it’s a range of cultural factors which have held back gaming being taken as seriously as it should be. “It starts with education, educating people as to what games are and what’s required to build it because sometimes I don’t think graduates quite understand what it’s like.

“There’s a big difference between playing games and making them.”

He added: “The games economy is worth more than the film economy. It’s one of those things that will stand the test of time.”

It’s a cultural barrier which an event like the recent Scottish Games Week, the first of its kind, is trying to break down.

Hyper Luminal attended the “games frenzy” during Scottish Games Week, where they showcased Cloud Jumper.

READ MORE: The MSP on a mission to better support Scotland's thriving games sector

Madden also appeared on a panel about business and investment in the gaming industry, while the company also held a talk about how it’s just as important to have good people skills as it is to be an amazing coder.

The creative director echoes his colleague’s thoughts but is optimistic that the mood will soon begin to shift. “I think there is an element of people not realising. Games are still seen as shooting folk when they have so much more value.

“We could do more to attract talent, especially people that are more senior and have been in the industry for a long time.

“We produce amazing graduates so there’s a lot of younger talent, but people here that are established and understand it are sparser. It’s only a matter of time before it all changes, though, we just need to grit our teeth.”