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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 May, 2005, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
British game makers saved by Sony
Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website, in Los Angeles

Screenshot of Heavenly Sword for PS3
Heavenly Sword is a martial arts epic with a fiery heroine
A team of British game makers, who lost their jobs just over six months ago, has landed a major deal with one of the biggest names in entertainment.

They have been hired by Sony to make an exclusive game for its next-generation console, the PlayStation 3.

It is a major turnaround in the fortunes of Tameem Antoniades and his team at Ninja Theory.

In October, their world was turned upside down with the collapse of top UK indie game developers, Argonaut Games.

By then, the team had been working on a prototype of the game, called Heavenly Sword, for 10 months at their Cambridge studios.

The game was highlighted by Sony during the launch of its PlayStation 3 at the E3 games expo in Los Angeles.

Soul-destroying times

"The future is quite bright for us now, whereas a few months ago it was very, very grim," Mr Antoniades told the BBC News website.

Following the collapse of Argonaut, Mr Antoniades and his colleagues, Nina Kristensen and Mike Ball, set up their own operation, Ninja Theory.

The Ninja Theory team
We had either the balls or the stupidity to do what we did, but it so nearly didn't work out
Tameem Antoniades, Ninja Theory

The team continued working on Heavenly Sword, struggling to find a big name backer for the project.

But most publishers shied away from committing to funding an untested game for an unknown console.

The potentially $10m (5.5m) to $20m (11m) budgets needed to make next-generation games is a major concern for publishers.

To get to the deal with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe was "soul-destroyingly difficult".

"For a moment I started to lose hope there you can survive in this business," said Mr Antoniades.

Ambitious plans

Heavenly Sword is a martial arts epic. Initial demos of the game have impressed attendees at E3.

They have shown the heroine of the story battling hordes across striking landscapes.

Screenshot of Heavenly Sword for PS3
Ninja Theory struggled to find a backer for the game
No date has been set for the game's release, but Mr Antoniades reckons it could be finished in 18 months.

He has an ambitious 10-year plan for Heavenly Sword, talking about the possibilities of making a version of the game for Sony's handheld, the PSP, or even a film based on the story.

These are just ideas at the moment and rely on the game proving a blockbuster hit for the PlayStation 3.

The team was behind Kung Fu Chaos, a game published in 2003 by Microsoft exclusively for the Xbox.

The game received generally positive reviews but did less well in stores.

Hopes and fears

The deal with Sony comes at a time of consolidation in the games industry.

Ironically in September 2004, just a month before Argonaut's collapse, Mr Antoniades had warned of the problems facing independents.

Screenshot of Heavenly Sword for PS3
The game should be ready in 18 months
He told a conference of game developers that he feared many independent studios would disappear, either by going bust or by being bought out.

Now, Mr Antoniades believes that Ninja Theory has shown that there is hope for small developers.

"We stuck our necks out to achieve what we have achieved," he said.

"We had either the balls or the stupidity to do what we did, but it so nearly didn't work out."

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