Block and roll

Published Friday, 29 March 2013
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The underground phenomenon of roller derby is taking over the island of Ireland with nearly ten teams established in the past five years- and now local rollergirls could be hitting the video game scene.

Roller derby is an all female, full contact sport which is becoming one of the most popular new sports in both participation and following in the UK and worldwide.

From its reincarnation in Texas in the USA just over ten years ago, there are now over 1200 derby leagues across the globe.

Northern Ireland's first roller derby league, Belfast Roller Derby, was set up in 2010.

Last year saw their competitive team, the Belfast Banshees, complete their first season, with a respectable three wins out of seven.

As they trained towards this year's season, they were approached by two local digital media companies who wanted to transform some of their athletes into 3D models for a video game in the making.

Using motion capture technology at the Movement Innovation Lab at Queen's University, they were able to record the Belfast skaters' movements for authentic in-game animation.

In researching the idea for Power Jam, William Barr, Director of BillyGoat Entertainment said he has become extremely passionate about the sport and has a clear vision for the game that will appeal to the derby and gaming worlds alike.

"Roller derby is unique, I can't think of another full contact sport started and played in the majority by women," he explained.

"We want to create a game that does the sport justice, as well as helping to introduce roller derby to a wider audience by being highly attractive and accessible to gamers who've never heard of it before."

Skater motion capture

One skater who was transformed into a virtual rollergirl was BRD's Lily Zombee.

Explaining the mindset of the game, she said: "You sort of have to get into a persona on track and choose a name that suits you skating, that brings a sort of fierceness and attitude.

"It's a fairly new sport, and its physical, competitive and tactical. There are a lot of rules, and this game will be good for getting an understanding of the game as it focuses on that.

"I think this game will be really popular with roller derby teams all over the world, I haven't seen anything like it at the moment."

Now they have a prototype, the team have turned to online social enterprise Kickstarter to urge the public to provide the financial backing needed to turn it into a full multi-platform game.

Gareth Gray, Creative Director of Iglu Media said the team have chosen to use this option as it allows them to raise money while still keeping control of their project.

He said that many games publishers are unwilling to fund such new concepts for games, but he is confident it will be a hit if it gets the £75k needed.

"It also allows us the chance to establish a fan-base early on in development and to use that fan-base as a source of feedback which will inform the final game," he added.

In return for the pledges, sponsors will be rewarded with a range of unique prizes for supporting the venture, including getting their own likeness transformed into a roller derby game character.

Power Jam

Fionnuala Dempsey aka 'Dempsey Hammer' is also a skater with Belfast Roller Derby.

She believes the game will appeal to both those in the roller derby world and hardcore gamers.

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She said: "With such an accurate, realistic and exciting project planned and the obvious costs involved, if we're going to be successful we really need both groups to support the Kickstarter campaign to help turn this dream into reality."
© UTV News
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Louise Convery
Louise Convery

Louise Convery is an online journalist at UTV.

Previously a freelance newspaper journalist, she trained at the University of Ulster, Coleraine after attending Queen's University, Belfast.

She spends her day writing about Northern Ireland politics and current affairs, but is also an amateur culture vulture with a penchant for live music, comedy and arts events.

In her spare time she tries to be sporty with Belfast Roller Derby.

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