“Where are all the South African game dev studios?” we hear you cry. “Surely if we claim to have potential, there must be a company or two out there doing some cool stuff?”

Cease your lamentations, little one. The fairy godmother has just landed on your shoulder, sprinkled some generic magical powder over your face, and cooed, “Of course there is, you fool. Have a look at Luma Arcade.”

Yes, the fairy godmother is a rude little creature, but she has a point. Luma Arcade is what one would call a “real” game development studio: even if you look down on indie development (“Which you bloody well shouldn’t!” snaps the godmother), it cannot be said that these hardworking people aren’t making a mark on the local and international scene.

Mini #37Luma Arcade started off some years ago as a humble division of a broader creative studio, the team consisting of various industry experts that included game developers absorbed from the ranks of Game.Dev and I-Imagine. Their first project was a branded racing game known as Mini #37, a “whizz around the racetrack” offering which had players zooming (and screaming, and crashing) around localised tracks that featured true-to-life environments from Durban and Cape Town. It was a really novel offering for South Africans who were able to playtest it at major events such as rAge or download it for free from the Mini #37 Website.

Since then, Luma Arcade has been expanding its game development portfolio with projects including CG movies, game trailers, real-time graphics solutions, advergames and a whole lot more.

At the moment, its crowning glory is an iPhone game called Marble Blast Mobile. If any of you are aware of GarageGames, you may have heard of the original Marble Blast, an action puzzler which has players rolling marbles along crazy, cartoon-style landscapes.

GarageGames gave Luma Arcade the responsibility of developing a mobile port of this hit classic for the iPhone, making the group one of the first iPhone game developers on the continent, and possibly the first developers in South Africa to be entrusted with such high-profile game IP. There were a lot of technical and design-related issues involved in moving a game like Marble Blast to the iPhone, but Luma Arcade rose to the challenge with innovations such as “virtual analog sticks” coupled with an educated look at previous Marble Blast titles and game design philosophy.

Marble Blast MobileAside from press announcements and the oh-so-typical marketing spiel, the people involved with Marble Blast Mobile have already offered the public a technical postmortem written by one of the core developers.

Even in these times of economic doubt, Luma Arcade has shown that there is still potential for South African developers – take a look at their stuff when you have the time, and you may just get that warm fuzzy feeling in your tummy.

Marble Blast Mobile is available from the iPhone App Store and has its own GarageGames product page for you to check out. The going price is $4.99.