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As a child, game designer Gøran Myrland learned all about fishing from his grandfather. Now, he’s made a fishing game about making your grandfather proud.
Published 15 March 2017
“We want anyone, even people who know nothing about fishing, to be able to play this and catch some insight into how it all works”, says Gøran Myrland.
Right now, Norwegian game designer Myrland is on the last stretch of production for a video game quite out of the ordinary. “Fishing: Barents Sea” is the result of years of painstaking design and programming work, all aimed towards showcasing an occupation rarely portrayed in the gaming medium: a Barents Sea fisherman.
With satellite data from the Norwegian Mapping Authority and weather data going back 20 years, Myrland and his Misc Games colleagues have recreated the gorgeous and wild coastline of Northern Norway in splendid detail, awash with northern lights, midnight sun, and blackish blue waves – a stage worthy of a true fishing tale from the north.
“The game starts off with you, the player, inheriting a small fishing boat and fishing quota from your grandfather. You receive some money as well, along with three or four fishing lines armed with 250 hooks each, that you then prepare with various types of bait depending on which types of fish you’re going after. Then, you go looking for areas rich in fish with your echo sounder”, describes Myrland.
It’s not only the ocean and landscape that are aiming for realism in Myrland’s game. Aided by representatives from the fishing industry, he and his colleagues are also attempting to build a lifelike simulation of the fishing vessels that populate the northern seas.
“A lot of them tell us the game feels really familiar to them, even though there are plenty of tiny details that have to be corrected along the way. ‘With that hull the boat is going to be very unstable in rough seas.’ Or they’ll say ‘the placement of the block hauling the fishing nets is wrong’”, he says.
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The game is attempting to closely mimic the everyday life of a fisherman in the Barents Sea. Here, players will be hauling fish on board their vessel and gutting them by hand. A local cruise ship might call in with an order for two tons of cod to be delivered by next Monday, or the player might pay a visit to the city center of Hammerfest, selling fish directly to the locals.
“We’ve also created a boat based on Follabuen, an old fishing vessel from the 50s, that the player can use for taking tourists out on whale safaris.”
As the game progresses, players will be able to afford larger boats, more employees and higher fishing quotas. It all culminates in the purchase of a bottom trawler vessel, the largest and most effective boat in the game. Still, according to Myrland, the real endpoint of the narrative hits a lot closer to home:
“The entire goal of the game is to make your grandfather proud.”
As Myrland lets on, himself having been taught fishing by his fisherman grandfather, much of the game is rooted in deep personal experience. He is originally from Ringvassøya island north of Tromsø, and like his grandfather from Vestvågøy in Lofoten, his father has also worked as a fisherman.
“It’s run in the family for a long time”, he says.
The origins of his game can be traced back to Myrland’s own stint as a Barents Sea fisherman in the middle of the 90s. At the age of 17, he was working on a small bottom trawler named Stålfinn, fishing near Bear Island south of Spitsbergen.
While attempting to sort out his captain’s computer troubles, he found a copy of the programming tool QBasic. He ended up attempting to create a simple shooter game in his time off on the boat.
“And then I had this thought: ‘Huh, a game about fishing would be cool to do some day’.”
He eventually parted ways with his fishing career – the lure of computers was stronger – but the idea stayed with him. In 2013, having completed his studies, he started work on “Fishing: Barents Sea”. Today, eight people are working on the game, two of them full time programmers.
The team recently paid a visit to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to show off the game, receiving great feedback from companies like Blizzard (“World of Warcraft”), Disney, Pixar and Oculus, the virtual reality arm of Facebook.
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“Many of them said that we were like a breath of fresh air, ‘this is new, we’ve never seen anything like it‘.”
On the game’s Facebook page, the questions from impatient would-be players keep pouring in, asking when they can play – and in turn, perhaps catch their first taste of what may later become their real-life occupation.
“A lot of the people who want to play seem to be kids between eight and fifteen who are curious about how the fishing industry works”, says Myrland.
“Some have an uncle or father who’s been out fishing, and some are looking to go in that direction themselves.”
“Fishing: Barents Sea” is set for release in late 2017. In the meantime, there are plenty of real-life opportunities for sea fishing in Northern Norway. For instance, visit Sørøya outside Hammerfest and let Sørøya Gjestestue or Sørøya Havfiskecruise take you out on the waters. The latter also offers whale safaris from their second base in Tromsø in wintertime.
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