Self-taught Carterton video game developer Cory Spooner is stealing a march on rivals around the globe with his debut indie app, Swing Racers.
Mr Spooner, 33, an old boy of Carterton School and Wairarapa College, in April founded his interactive entertainment firm Morepork Games as a sole operator and this month launched his first app, Swing Racers, to much digital fanfare.
The racing game this week seized berths in multiple top 10 lists, he said, and appeared on the App Store feature panel in more than 100 countries.
Mr Spooner entered the video game industry through the back door while studying resource and environmental planning at Massey University, where "instead of going to lectures, I stayed home and made game levels".
He switched his focus to information and communication technology at UCOL Palmerston North, while uploading his homegrown games to the web, and his extramural labours got him noticed.
"I didn't finish at UCOL because I ended up getting a call from someone in Sydney offering me a job which paid really well."
Mr Spooner worked for about two years in Sydney on the Playstation 2 and X-Box game Stargate for media entertainment company Perception before the firm folded.
"I actually had a lead role at Perception after they found the stuff I was doing on my professional website. I'm just a basic programmer but mainly, really, I'm a 3D artist."
After Perception closed, Mr Spooner went to work with pioneering Kiwi company Sidhe Interactive in Wellington, where he helped design Jackass: The Game, and Gripshift. In 2007 he worked as a designer for the capital city firm on Speed Racer, alongside Dean "Rocket" Hall, who created the world smash DayZ mod for the tactical shooter game, Arma 2.
After Sidhe, Mr Spooner returned to Canberra, where for more than five years he honed his craft on The Bureau: XCOM Declassified as a level artist, Bioshock Infinite as a technical artist and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as a senior technical artist.
"I did things like the water and trees, clouds, and foliage moving in the wind, things that are quite difficult to do artistically. It takes a fine combination of code and art to do them well."
Mr Spooner also worked at a 2K branch in Boston, US, where he first started working on Swing Racers, but left late last year ahead of the company closure in Australia.
Watch the trailer here:
He and his wife Nadia shifted in March to Mangatarere Valley, where the internet connection was "not super fast, but faster than I had in the middle of Canberra", and he founded Morepork Games in April after starting work on Swing Racers "in my spare time" about three years ago, he said.
The game is an all-ages, 3D racing game, available in 10 languages and counting, that boasts the innovation of a virtual rubber band to "swing your car around" the twists and turns of 15 meticulously rendered tracks, which snake through backyards and messy bedrooms, across snooker tables, kitchen benches and table tops.
Swing Racers uses the Unreal game engine and includes weaponised power-ups, customisation prizes and vehicle unlocks for leveling up, and a challenge to beat the developer at his own game.
"Swing Racers was the most unique idea I had at the time, with the racing mechanic of a rubber band. You have to break out to make a mark and if it does well in the App Store, I'll do it for Android as well, which is just a bit tougher. There's a lot more variety of devices to support."
Morepork Games has a slew of other ideas waiting in the wings, but Mr Spooner will wait on the market reaction to Swing Racers before choosing his next concept to pursue.
"Until recently it's been quite hard to work in the games industry in New Zealand. It's started opening up more, now the indie thing is starting to get a lot bigger, which is part of the reason I'm doing what I'm doing today," he said.
"I'd like to develop my own company and build my own studio ultimately, if I can do well enough. I might have to move in to Masterton, at least, but it would be good to do it in Wairarapa if possible."