2022 Kiwi Game Starter Final Judges
12 July 2022

Last month, our industry Selection Judges had the difficult task of whittling this year’s Kiwi Game Starter entrants down to just three finalists. Now that the final round of judging commences, we thought we’d get to know the experts who make up the 2022 Kiwi Game Starter Final Judging Panel:


Andy Phelps, University of Canterbury

andy_phelpsAndrew ‘Andy’ Phelps is a professor at the University of Canterbury (UC)’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory NZ (HIT Lab NZ). His work focuses on virtual and augmented reality, games and education, and a wide variety of art and interactive media experiences.

In addition to his research and creative practice, supervision of students and teaching activities, Andy is heavily involved in the University’s Applied Immersive Gaming Initiative (AIGI). The AIGI was established in collaboration with other faculty and staff at UC, HIT Lab NZ and ChristchurchNZ, the city’s promotion and economic development agency.

The AIGI aims to accelerate research and public use of immersive gaming applications, and to build strong connections with the New Zealand games industry.

Andy will lead the University’s recently announced Digital Screen Campus (DSC) as its Programme Director. The DSC will train future leaders in film production, game development and cross reality, helping New Zealand play a key role in the future of digital screen convergence.

“I’m proud to see UC’s continued support of creativity and innovation in the gaming sector*, a key pillar of our larger effort centred on the creation of the DSC and associated efforts on economic growth in these sectors. I wish the very best to everyone that enters the competition and, regardless of who wins, I hope to see many great game ideas produced, expanded upon, and ultimately brought to market.”

Andy also serves as a Professor in the Film and Media Arts division of the School of Communication at American University, is Director of the AU Game Centre and President of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA).


*The University of Canterbury is primary sponsor of the NZGDA Kiwi Game Starter Competition 2022. This prize package includes $25,000, mentorship and ongoing development and strategy support. 


Sam Ramlu, Method Digital / Mad Carnival EntertainmentSam_Ramlu

Sam is Founder and Managing Director, Method Digital / Mad Carnival Entertainment. An influential thought leader, storyteller, industry champion and creative technology innovator. She has spent over 20 years bringing awe-inspiring stories and experiences to life through digital and emerging technology, one of the most recent including the PAVS 2022 “Slice of Heaven” grand prize nominee “Wanderer” which was the first Playstation VR game created by a New Zealand studio.

Sam is passionate about authenticity, and sees technology as a driver and enabler for creative ideas that create connection with their audience. She also cares deeply about creating pathways for new generations to enter the creative and tech industries*. As well as Wanderer, Sam is co-founder of Method, an award-winning creative tech studio. Earlier this year, Sam launched Mad Carnival, a studio spanning both Auckland and Dunedin offices, making beautiful, fun and wholesome games. The studio’s keystone project is being developed in partnership with a large social media company for its platform, with a scheduled release date in Q3 2022 we eagerly await launch details!

“I’m honoured to be given this awesome opportunity to get an insight into some inspirational upcoming games from homegrown studios. Our industry is built on indie developers putting so much love and hard work into their games and it’s exciting to see what we can all look forward to supporting and playing. Congrats to all the finalists (and entrants) – being part of this is just the start of an epic journey for you all.”

*Sam donates tickets to our annual New Zealand Game Developers Conference (NZGDC) through the “Pay It Forward” system, to enable those with financial barriers – particularly new industry entrants – to attend this important networking and professional development opportunity.


Alexander Swords, Narrative Director

alexander_swordsAlexander is a writer, narrative designer and director with over 20 years working with stories, their creators and audiences across a range of mediums. He’s currently working with independent game studios across Australia and Europe, as well as the adaptation of film and literature properties. He’s worked with indies in Berlin, AAA in Sweden and has pitched at E3, Gamescom and GDC.

He is the creator of the Forest Paths Method for Narrative Design. The Method provides plain language development and analysis of story in an approachable and collaborative way, and is being used internationally by developers, researchers and educators in games and screenwriting. Alexander has also used the Method to teach narrative design at NZGDC, GDC, CODE, AFTRS, NIDA and run independent workshops with the support of the Australian Writers Guild, Creative Victoria and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Advising government, arts organisations and educators, he’s an advocate for diverse stories and their writers*, understanding the transformational power of story and helping creators explore the narrative potential of any medium.

“After 7 years of working with game developers, studios and funding bodies linking creative strategy with business development opportunities, I am excited to be judging Kiwi Game Starter – a great showcase and opportunity for developers of Aotearoa to take on the world.”

*The Forest Paths Method has sponsored three diverse storytellers through travel grants to attend NZGDC, and enable their voices and learnings to feature on our 2022 programme.  


Finalist judging takes place until 22nd July, followed by the “Dragons Den” style pitching sessions with each finalist team.

The winner of University of Canterbury’s $25,000 first prize, and Amazon Web Services’ $10,000 second prize will be announced LIVE on Friday 19th August as we close out NZGDC 2022!