Company scores direct hit with its Clumsy Ninja game for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

The Oxford Times: Ben Palmer with Clumsy Ninja on his iPad. OX64810 Jon Lewis Buy this photo » Ben Palmer with Clumsy Ninja on his iPad. OX64810 Jon Lewis

WITH all the art galleries and theatres to choose from, you might think Culture Minister Ed Vaizey would be too busy to play games on his mobile phone.

But when he gets a break from his hectic schedule helping to run the Government, the Conservative MP for Wantage and Didcot takes time out to play Clumsy Ninja.

Mr Vaizey is clearly not the only one to enjoy the game, which gained 10 million downloads in its first week.

In the game, players train their own virtual ninja to perform a range of tasks.

It was developed by computer games company NaturalMotion, which has an office in St Ebbes Street, Oxford.

NaturalMotion started out as a spin-off of Oxford University and now employs 270 people.

Managing director Torsten Reil, right, who lives in Oxford, says he thinks the success of Clumsy Ninja is partly due to the technology used in the game which simulates human movement.

He said: “You replace playback animation with real-time simulation of the body.

“It’s a proper simulation of human movement and characters can be surprising and unique every time.

“The concept of the game is that you have a ninja who is clumsy and you have to train him on a trampoline or a punchbag to be a better ninja.

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“You build up a relationship with the ninja like he is a friend – it’s a bit like Tamagotchi.

“We have been blown away by the success of the game.”

Mr Reil was a doctoral researcher in neural systems at Oxford University and programmed computer simulations that mimicked human and animal movements.

In 2001, he co-founded NaturalMotion in Oxford.

To create characters that move realistically, animators have traditionally drawn a series of frames that are played back in set sequences.

But Mr Reil and his team wrote software that an animator can use to programme a ‘nervous system’ for a character he or she draws once. The software then makes the character’s body react to ever-changing on-screen scenarios.

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