Nfld. & Labrador

Atlantic Canadian company taking gamers through the Rick and Morty multiverse

Other Ocean Interactive has been a game-changer for years, both within the worldwide gaming industry and within Atlantic Canada.

It'd be a game-changing contract for anyone else, but Other Ocean Interactive is used to it

Deirdre Ayre is Other Ocean Interactive's studio head. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

An Atlantic Canadian gaming company will soon be transporting gamers through the alternate realities of mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his hapless grandson Morty Smith. 

"We all thought that was pretty frigging cool, there's no question about that," said Deirdre Ayre, head of operations for Other Ocean Interactive, describing work on the game based on the cult animated series Rick and Morty. 

Other Ocean's offices in Charlottetown and St. John's are bringing the virtual reality game Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality to PlayStation 4. 

It might seem like a game-changing gig for the two small-town studios.

But Other Ocean Interactive has been changing the game in the region and in the industry for nearly 25 years.

"Getting in the door is not generally a problem for us," she said.

A gaming hub in Charlottetown?

The company began in Silicon Valley, launched by Ayre's brother, Andrew, a fellow Newfoundlander. He'd always wanted to bring his video game business back home, and hired Deirdre Ayre to make it happen.

She set up an office in Charlottetown in 2006, thanks in part to the P.E.I. government's strategy to attract gaming companies to the province.

That office is now one in a cluster of nearly 10 gaming companies in Charlottetown. 

The animated series Rick and Morty is about a mad scientist and his grandson, and is loosely inspired by Back to the Future. (Adult Swim)

In 2008, Ayre moved home to Newfoundland and opened a second Atlantic Canadian studio in St. John's.

Introducing the App Store with Steve Jobs in 2008

That year, after a project with Sega on the game Super Monkey Ball was halted, Ayre got a phone call from the project's producer, asking that two of the programmers be sent to California for a secret meeting. 

"He said, 'I just need you to trust me with this,'" Ayre said.

The Other Ocean Interactive office in St. John's is downtown on Water Street. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

Turns out, Apple wanted the programmers to work with Sega to build a demo of Super Monkey Ball for the iPhone. 

They gave them about two weeks to build it. 

Then, sharing a stage with Steve Jobs himself, one of the Other Ocean programmers and a Sega producer showed off the game at the Apple press conference which introduced the world to app development and the App Store.

The programmers' Other Ocean T-shirt is visible in the press conference footage.

"It sure kick-started a lot of interest in this little Charlottetown company," said Ayre. 

A changing industry

The St. John's office has continued to produce games that break new ground and new platforms.

In 2016, they released commercial virtual reality game Giant Cop, which caught the attention of Adult Swim when they were looking for a company to develop Virtual Rick-ality.

Ayre also tries to change the game for women in the male-dominated gaming industry.

Games would be different if they were made by girls.- Deirdre Ayre

"I can actually remember every female programmer we've interviewed in 12 years. There's been four," she said.

She makes sure the studios are supportive and welcoming to women, and she gives students time with her senior staff for advice and mentoring. 

Things are changing, she said, but the change is slow.

"Games would be different if they were made by girls," she said, adding that the industry needs more people of colour, too. 

A gaming hub in Newfoundland?

Ayre would also love to see a thriving gaming industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, just like the one in P.E.I.

Other Ocean often has to cast a wide, international net to find people with the skills needed to build their games, she said, and it's easier to convince people to pack up and move halfway across the world if they know they have a few options for work in their new country.

They've got those options in Charlottetown, but not so much in St. John's. 

Ayre worries it might be a bit too late for Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We put all of our eggs in one basket," she said. "We couldn't get much momentum going until the collapse of the oil industry. We just couldn't get on the radar."

But she's going to keep meeting with each new government in the province and keep at it, she said.

"If this works in P.E.I., there is nothing to say it can't work in Newfoundland and Labrador."

It's tough to find women programmers in the gaming industry, says Ayre. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)