When a Norwegian company needed help testing its new video simulation game Fishing: North Atlantic, one of the people it turned to was a 16-year-old honour student from a tiny fishing port in eastern Nova Scotia.
Because Dakota Keefe knows video games.
But he also spent two months on the back of a lobster boat this season fishing with his father and grandfather out of Little Dover, near Canso, on the province’s Eastern Shore.
Keefe helped identify bugs in the game while it was in development earlier this year. Now he’s one of the first to play the latest version weeks ahead of the official release.
“You could play the game and you can learn a lot about all the different ports and how we fish here,” he said from the gaming desk in his bedroom.
The room features a Trailer Park Boys poster and memorabilia from the Montreal Canadiens.
“I like that we’re in the game, really. The whole thing, lobster’s good, something I’ve never seen in a game before,” he said.
Game took 6 hours to download in rural N.S.
Keefe got involved when the Norwegian developer, Misc Games, asked for volunteers to test the game.
He was plugged into the company after playing its first commercial simulation Fishing: Barents Sea, which is based in northern European waters.
As a reward for his feedback on the new game — “mostly just having them fix things that didn’t work properly” — Keefe got the latest version this week.
But it did, however, take six hours to download in his remote community.
“They’ve made a lot of improvements from the previous game,” he said. “It’s more realistic.”
In the game, players start with a small boat, harpooning swordfish in 300 kilometres of “game map” off southern Nova Scotia.
As they land and sell their catch at any one of five area ports, they work their way up to progressively larger vessels, including lobster boats and, finally, to a factory freezer trawler.
The game will be released on the gaming platform Steam in mid-October for around $40.
The console version is expected in 2021.
For Nova Scotia audiences, it features realistic waterfronts and familiar landmarks in Lunenburg, Lockeport, Yarmouth and Digby and, to a lesser degree, Dennis Point in Lower Pubnico, although the wharfside Dennis Point Café is identifiable.
A lobster boat design was provided by the A.F. Theriault & Son shipyard in Meteghan.
Yasemin Hamurcu, Misc’s chief operating officer, said the company was looking for its next location when a documentary on television, along with YouTube videos, alerted them to Nova Scotia’s rich fishing history and beautiful ports.
Speaking from offices in Stavanger, Norway, she said it was a scouting trip to Nova Scotia last year to photograph landmarks that confirmed the decision.
“We knew then this was the perfect location to present how beautiful the fishing community is and what type of techniques they are using, and perfect what was involved in making the locations look realistic. I hope the people will feel, yes, we really … nailed it or they feel really familiar,” she said via Skype.
Keefe appreciates a video game dedicated to the “the way we fish.”
“Since I was a kid playing games, I always wanted something that we do. It’s the only thing that has anything to do with fishing, on a commercial scale anyway. It’s great to be recognized as the province in a game doing what we do here.”
There is one slip that still needs fixing.
Players steaming in and out of In Yarmouth pass a very realistic Cat Ferry, which runs between Yarmouth and Maine.
It’s spelled with a K, because owner Bay Ferries did not respond when the designers approached them for permission to use the name.
Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood alerted the company, which has now given permission and the Cat will be correctly represented.
She welcomes the publicity the game might attract.
“This is absolutely amazing. They’ve captured exactly who we are.” she said.
“That whole cultural piece and the fishery that we are absolutely surrounded by, and when you go into the website you see exactly who we are. You see the tuna fish and you see the herring and swordfish and all those pieces. So [I’m] absolutely thrilled that we are part of this.”
Company hopes to go worldwide
Misc hopes to expand its commercial fishing simulations to other locations, including Japan and the U.S.
In the meantime, Hamurcu thanks Nova Scotia gamers like Keefe, one of two teenage gamers in Little Dover who helped with testing.
“Dakota had a lot of good feedback for us,” said Hamurcu.