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VG247 Scotland issue #2: Educating Scotland

Friday, 14th February 2014 11:11 GMT By Dave Cook

VG247 Scotland continues with a look at the nation’s game development courses, the wealth of careers to be found within the industry, and all your regular news and updates from across the country.

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Missed VG247 Scotland issue #1: Where’s the Best Place to Sell Games? Just hit the link to check it out.

Last month; our panel session focused on the best place to sell games. It’s true that marketplaces aren’t as clear-cut as many people first assume. Steam’s becoming saturated, iTunes is rife with cloning and both Sony and Microsoft are opening their doors to smaller teams. There was a consensus however; that it’s becoming easier – as a developer with skill, time and resources – to bring your game to market and potentially see a return on investment. That’s one of the reasons why more people are getting educated with the skills needed enter the industry. This is a serious vocation.

Scotland’s Abertay University has long-stood as a centre of excellence for game courses in the UK education sector, and with good reason; it has a high rate of graduates moving into paid positions within the industry, and if they’re not getting jobs off the bat, they’re setting up their own studios and projects. It’s not just Abertay either; there are now more institutions across the wider UK offering game development courses, and both politicians and educators alike are coming round the idea of games as a valid career path.

In this month’s panel we discuss the range of development courses across Scotland, and explore jobs within the industry that aren’t strictly focused on coding. Game studios now employ writers, actors, artists, musicians, community managers, and people with various other talents needed to make games in today’s market. You needn’t be a coder to make games, and today, there are options open to you, no matter where you are in Scotland, or indeed the world. Scroll down to watch the panel session.

But first…


News

Monstrum: new survival horror game from Team Junkfish gets first trailer
Monstrum is a new survival horror game from Team Junkfish that sees players escaping from a vicious beast inside a derelict ship. Players will have to use their wits to survive, and as an added incentive; there’s also perma-death.

To make things even creepier, there’s also procedurally generated levels so you’ll never quite know where the beast is coming from. You’ll need to either distract it or avoid it completely to survive.

Monstrum is being developed in Unity3D and is coming to PC, Linux and Mac in Q3. It also has Oculus Rift support.

genes_in_space

Play Genes in Space, help cure cancer
Earlier this month we reported on a game called Genes in Space, a game developed by Scottish developer Guerilla Tea in collaboration with Cancer Research. It sees players guiding a starship through levels littered with asteroids. What they’re actually doing is helping scientists to read gene microarrays, cutting countless man hours out of the quest to cure cancer. Download it through here and help this most-worthy of causes.

Squares_of_black_space

Squares Of Black Space: Alpha Square out now
Pixel Sword’s wonderfully titled Squares Of Black Space: Alpha Square is out now on Windows Phone for free. It’s a fast-paced arcade game that sees you obliterating squares of empty space using a colourful stream of magic. It’s got a neat retro visual style and is also bloody difficult if you’re looking for a challenge that doesn’t involve flapping birds. Watch the release trailer here.

XBLgamerhub

XLBGamerHub relaunches, offering reviews, community events & more
Scottish gaming site Xbox Live GamerHub has relaunched with a new look, new team and a ton of new content. The site is dedicated to Xbox platforms and focuses on events within the community and bringing players together through their love of gaming. Stop by, pay them a visit and leave them some love.

Moray_game_jam

Moray Game Jam poised for March 14-16
Moray College UHI, Hunted Cow Studios and Screen Hi have teamed up to launch an all-new game jam in March, with the promise of the winning game being brought to market. Hunted Cow will mentor the project to sale, which presents aspiring game-makers with a rare and potentially fruitful opportunity.

I’m on the inaugural judging panel, along with other key figures from the Scottish games industry and press, so expect a full report after it’s done. For now though; you can get more details over at the Moray Game Jam site.


Panel session: Educating Scotland

This month I’m joined by Daniel Livingstone, Programme Leader at the Digital Design Studio, Glasgow School of Art and Gregor White, Director of Academic Enterprise at Abertay University, Dundee.

We look at the topic of education in Scotland, and the options available to aspiring game developers looking to get educated and seek work within the games industry. More and more young people want to become game creators and there has never been a better time to seek the skills needed to achieve that dream.

From teaching yourself coding using Game Maker and Unity, to applying for course in coding, art, music production and more, we touch upon this increasingly broad route to market, and we even discuss what happens after you graduate – from setting up your own studio, to seeking employment. If you want to work in this industry, you’d do well to watch our discussion panel.

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Developer interview: Too Easy Games

In keeping with this month’s theme of education and gaining the skills to work within the industry, I spoke with Trap Mansion developer Too Easy Games, a team formed in 2012 by graduates out of the University of Abertay in Dundee. I spoke with co-founder Bill Rountree about the team’s experience of being educated in game development in Scotland, and the trials that awaited them at the end of their course.

Bill himself admitted that Too Easy’s respective members were in “no way prepared,” for setting up their own company, but today they continue to create games on their own. Such autonomy is permitted in today’s industry thanks to the wealth of readily-available game creation tools, start-up support and vast banks of shared knowledge online, yet; this is still a difficult industry to succeed in.

“I think we all agree that this was the most enjoyable project during our time at the Uni as we were actually working in a studio style work environment. The group projects in our courses directly led to the founding of our company since we enjoyed working together so much.”

Regardless, I was keen to pick Rountree’s brains as to just how effective his education has been since he and his colleagues set up shop, and to perhaps offer some advice to those looking to break into the industry. He explained that he started at Abertay in 2008 after finishing a Game Development college course in Ireland, and that his tutors were helpful in explaining his options. Since then he has seen game education in Scotland and indeed the wider UK blossom.

“I can only really speak for what I’ve seen in the 5 years I’ve spent [in Dundee],” Rountree said, “but even in that time the course I studied – Games Design & Production Management – has grown and improved. Some modules have been refined, some removed and new modules have even been added, all of which seem to have helped to improve the course in some way.

“There are definitely more options out there too, more courses have popped up all over Scotland (and the rest of the UK) since I moved here. As for doing things better: The games industry is a completely different monster from the one that existed when I first started at Abertay.

“We worked in groups and built prototypes over entire semesters. With the way the industry is now, I would love to see those modules require student groups to develop smaller scope projects and bring them all the way to the market, releasing them under the University’s name.”

Rountree added that the one aspect of game development that was overlooked during his course was the process of actually releasing a product at market. Developing a prototype was a key part of his studies, but then what? Naturally, the ability to effectively sell games, understand monetisation, the way the market works and how to effectively communicate that your product exists are vital to gaining a return on investment.

“There is also the bonus of all the students having a released title on the market before they graduate,” he added, “as well all those titles being a showcase for the talent under the Uni’s roof. I think it’s completely plausible and would be an invaluable experience for the students.”

Digging deep into what Roundtree’s course involved; he explained that he was accepted into Abertay with a ‘National Diploma in Games Development,’ which is the equivalent of three A-Levels. Over the years he learned how to use Photoshop, Maya, Flash, Unreal Engine, Blender and more. The four would-be Too Easy Games founders also worked on a prototype in third year. The experience proved invaluable.

“It is true you don’t need to be able to code, but I don’t think it’s something the industry should shout from the rooftops. In fact, I think everyone should have a little coding knowledge. A designer could prototype a basic concept before approaching others about it.”

“I think we all agree that this was the most enjoyable project during our time at the Uni as we were actually working in a studio style work environment,” he said. “The group projects in our courses directly led to the founding of our company since we enjoyed working together so much.

“Another upside to being in Dundee was the amount of local studios, which allowed me to pursue any work I could find. My tutors were also very understanding and helped in whatever way they could to allow me to continue my studies while working at the various studios that hired me.”

Also; each semester involved group evaluation sessions called ‘Pitch & Crit’ that saw students sharing ideas and giving feedback on each other’s work. Rountree stressed that this group work proved to be the most invaluable aspect of his course, giving an idea of what it’s like to work in a team. “This was a stupidly valuable experience,” he added, “especially for an aspiring designer. If you can’t convince a group of strangers that you care about your own work, why should they?”

‘Why?’ indeed. Roundtree concedes that he is trying to improve his own coding on an ongoing basis, and that his strengths lie more in design. While it is true that graduates can work on game projects without being coders themselves, some knowledge of the process is absolutely advised. He suggested that even designers should have some grasp of coding.

“Well, this a bag of worms,” he cautioned. “I definitely couldn’t code to save my life, but I can’t deny having some basic programming/scripting ability would be incredibly useful and it is currently something I am trying to rectify in my free time. Even if you do a quick search and look at current Game Designer or Quality Assurance openings, the vast majority are asking for applicants with some coding knowledge.

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“It is true you don’t need to be able to code, but I don’t think it’s something the industry should shout from the rooftops. In fact, I think everyone should have a little coding knowledge. A designer could prototype a basic concept before approaching others about it, an artist could write a script to better improve their work flow and make their lives easier. A QA Tester with a better understanding of code could spot and isolate bugs with greater ease.”

I closed our chat by asking Rountree for some insight into how Too Easy Games was formed after its founders graduated and if they felt they had been taught the necessary skills to set up shop. “We were in no way prepared,” he admitted, “but we were very lucky to have met a business advisor through Aaron who took us under his wing and helped us get the ball rolling.”

“I think we would all agree that we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his help. There is a lot of help out there for those who want to start a company of all shapes and sizes. The only problem is that it takes a good bit of googling to actually find what you’re looking for.”

Rountree’s last point about Google is important; because while getting a foothold on any career path or industry may seem daunting, there are always people out there online who have done it before. There’s a wide range of stories, articles rich with advice and cautionary tales out there for those who wish to seek them out. For start-ups, Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway are your friends.

That information is becoming more-readily available to obtain thanks to the continual growth of games education in Scotland today, so it stands to reason that the path to getting a job in the sector – while still dependant on a lot of hard work and grit – has become much clearer. That certainly bodes well for the next wave of graduates coming through the system and beyond.

Next month; we will be taking a closer look at what happens once you graduate and start looking for work within the industry, or if you decide to set up shop on your own. Look out for VG247 Scotland issue #3: ‘You’ve graduated, now what?’

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2 Comments

  1. Cort

    http://static2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20111115203649/sims/images/2/2f/Tumbleweed.gif

    #1 9 months ago
  2. Brizee

    Definitely an interesting point raised by Bill, as an Abertay Grad myself who has now worked on titles to release (and after). I’m inclined to agree that for any discipline (Art, Code, Design etc) It would be really useful to carry a project through to release.

    Apart from the obvious effect on your CV, it teaches you about the standards of your audience and market reception in a way no lecture ever could. Though it’d be interesting to see how the University couldn’t implement it without exploiting teams or individual students. Particularly if monetisation were involved.

    #2 9 months ago

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