Monday, 27 February 2012

Interview: Dare to be Digital BAFTA team nominee, Daniel Scholes

Uclan Games design Student, Daniel Scholes, is a member of one of the BAFTA nominated teams from the amazing 'DARE to be DIGITAL Competition.

Below is the transcript of a special interview with Daniel as he prepares to go with his nominated team - to BAFTA  
British Academy Video Games Awards on Friday 16 March 2012. 


Q - Why did you first apply to Dare? 
A close friend of mine had heard of a team that needed an artist and pushed me to go for it. I’d always heard that Dare was a fantastic opportunity through staff on the course, but as I was still in 2nd year at the time I thought about putting it off until I’d at least until I finished my degree, giving me the skill necessary to achieve the best I could while I was there. From my friends suggestion, I decided that I may as well and sent an email to the team directly.

Q- How did you source your team?

A friend of mine had heard that they were advertising and passed it along to me saying I should do it. As mentioned above, my team had lost an artist and as such had a gap to fill.  I’d been reluctant to do so at that point, but that push was all I needed to go along with it and send an email through. After a bit of back-and-forth and showing of some artwork we agreed to see how I’d do as part of the team.

Q - Once found - How did you contact and develop your project with other team members?

Most of us were based in Preston.
Three of the members of the team (our incredible programming squad; Mat Stevenson, Joe Hurst and Stuart Brown) were, at the time, 3rd year Games Development students that had just finished their final year. As such, they were all based in Preston, whereas our team leader (Malath Abbas) was a Liverpool Screen School alumni and traveled in from Merseyside. We would meet up once a week before Dare actually started and work on concepts, design ideas and some of the more difficult code to get an idea of whether or not things were feasible.

Q - What work did you develop before the competition started, for example, did you submit any artwork to the team and how did you decide what to include?

The first thing I did when I asked to join the team was submit my personal portfolio website to show that I could work and what I was capable of. This is a must for anyone that wants to join a group as without it people can’t gauge your skill and ability, not to mention whether you can fulfill a necessary role. My personal website at the time consisted of my 1st/2nd year portfolio (3D modelling from concept to completion, level design, 2D art, etc.), as well as the best of my own personal work in traditional and digital media, life drawing and photography.
In terms of work we developed beforehand, for the interview stage I developed a series of four images (two concept pieces, two level designs) in 24 hours to put into our presentation. After our team was accepted we received the standard 40-hour pre-Dare work limit and with that time we tested Unity, some code, some basic level design and generated more concept work.

Q - Was it fun to work in a team in Scotland over summer and what support did you get to develop your game?

I have a lot to say about this, so the short answer is this; “Working in a team in Scotland over the summer was incredibly fun and we had plenty of fantastic support in developing our game”.
Working not only with my team but with other teams was a fantastic experience and Dare was one of the best experiences of my life so far. Team work is absolutely integral to games development, there’s not really any room for a lone wolf in a studio, so getting that experience of not only working with a team day-in-day-out but also living with them 24/7 is a true test of teamwork and whether or not you can be cohesive and productive as a unit over time.
Although Dare is a competition at its core, it was often mentioned by a few people that Dare is quite an effective mirror of the industry as it currently is, but on a much smaller scale.  As such there’s a willingness (which should be encouraged) for teams to help each other out and generally be friendly with each other. There was never a particular rivalry, just 75 people working as hard as they could to make the best games they could, and it’s a brilliant atmosphere there. Due to me being a relentless party animal and occasionally going out with other teams during downtime I was jokingly made ‘party ambassador’ by the team, but in all honesty having a friendly attitude, meeting other people and enjoying the experience of it all is fantastic in of itself.
In terms of support, Dare is one of the best equipped competition scenarios I’ve seen. First of all, your accommodation and bills are all sorted while you’re there, you literally don’t have to worry for any of that. You also get given a grant to get you by in terms of food (read: drink), which is a great benefit to help you stay focused.
To the more techy readers, if there’s software you need (within reason), there’s a good chance they can get it for you. Quite a few of us used it as an opportunity to experiment with new software and learn new techniques. There’s also full-time tech-support on site for your software and hardware.
Finally, the Developer Accord mentors are utterly invaluable. Artists, designers and programmers from studios such as Rockstar, Crytek UK, Codemasters, Outplay, Blitz, Cobra, Sony Computer Entertainment, Ruffian and Jagex come to the competition to give advice, guidance and mentoring to the participants. This happens throughout  your entire project and the experience they have to pass to you is second-to-none. This is one of the only places you can get a hands on experience with fully-fledged industry professionals like that.

Q - What have you gained from your involvement in Dare to be Digital?

This is another long one, so the short answer without foul-language is this; “Lots”.
Firstly (and most importantly for my CV) our team was one of three winners from the Dare to be Digital competition, which is a huge achievement. In addition to that however those three teams all get nominated for a BAFTA, namely the ‘Ones to Watch’ award.
Our team; ‘Evolved Ape’ is there among the giants of the industry, and that’s absolutely astonishing. As a personal point, the artwork on the right hand side in the “Game Awards Features…” is my own promotional artwork for our game, DreamWeaver. Seeing my work used for that is incredible.
Not only that but it helped me build a much stronger portfolio and created visible improvements in both the quality of my work and my work ethic. The amount of work you generate at Dare in the two months you’re given is absolutely huge, so not only dealing with the long hours (it’s crunch time from day one) and the exhaustion that such work entails, but dealing with redoing work, removing work, reworking, fixes, deletions, expansions and lots of other pipeline fiascoes that you simply won’t come across in a classroom environment is a huge boost to learning about industry workflow and problems.
Lastly (but most importantly to me, as a person), the Dare experience itself is something I really took to heart. It is utterly unique and as I’ve mentioned earlier it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I can’t stress that enough. It’s very hard work; strenuous with long hours (certain studio professionals told us to take it easy to stop ourselves burning out) and at times, even tedious. I won’t lie and say every moment was enjoyable, but when you look at the work you’re doing, the people you’re spending summer with and the results you achieve, none of that matters anymore; it’s replaced by one of the best feelings you will ever get.
I can summarize this anecdotally with a short story from Protoplay, Dare’s own games festival featuring all the participants as well as Developer Accord studios (at 2011, Crytek UK were a big name in attendance showing off Crysis 2):
Toward the end of development we decided to introduce scores into the game to give a competitive air to it. At the event itself we grabbed a whiteboard easel and drew up a quick scoreboard. We kept a running top ten (as well as an all-time high score earned by someone from another team, who I’ll refer to as ‘Ultimate Champion’) and when these kids played it, they would come back a little later and see that someone had beaten them. They’d line up and play again just to smash the scores and be the best. Having the parents and the kids ask if they could buy the game there and then to play it at home coupled with the constant traffic to play was vastly rewarding.
Although having a 12 year old kid ask “Is this game anything like Saint’s Row?” and then silently walking away when you say “No, not really” is humbling, but hilarious.
It’s the life of Dare that I took the most from; the height of Scottish summer with great people alone is great, but coupled with the work it’s something else. The attitude has stuck with me and definitely shaped my abilities and personality as it is and I would highly recommend it to absolutely everyone with the talent and the drive to achieve their full potential.

Congratulations to Daniel and all of Evolved Ape.
We will all be supporting you and sending GOOD LUCK on the big day :)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Game for Kirsty Henshaw of Dragon's Den fame.

 Saija Sipila, a second year Games Design student studying at UCLan has designed a game especially for Kirsty Henshaw of Dragon's Den fame.

 Kirsty Henshaw  first launched the Worthenshaws food range that is free from; dairy, gluten, soya, egg, nuts and artificial flavours or colours; due to Kirsty's son Jake (4 years old) having a nut allergy and being dairy intolerant. The reaction to the products was extremely positive so Kirsty and designlab developed the brand, producing an identity and professional packaging.

Kirsty then appeared on Dragons’ Den securing investment from Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne, thus the Freedom range was born.

designlab is aware that it is important to keep up to date with advancements in the ever-changing world of new media. Entertain your customers by providing a fun advertorial game, grasping viewers’ attention and increasing brand awareness.

Kirsty enrolled the help of Bev Bush, Course leader, of BA (Hons) Games Design at Uclan to identify and mentor a 2nd year Games student, Saija Sipilä to produce a game to be featured on her website. This was managed by John A. Hunter through the Unite with Business scheme at Uclan.

designlab introduced their programmer, Dongjie Xu, who added interactivity.
Music was composed by Chris Bush, MA student at York St. John University.
The creative team gathered regularly to design and produce the Hungry Hedgehog characters and this fun little game for children.

Kirsty Henshaw visited the School of Art Design and Performance on Wednesday 8th February where she celebrated the launch of the game in Victoria Building. This was an exciting event for students on the BA (Hons) Games Design course who heard Kirsty talk about her collaboration with their course.
Read more on our Uclan news page ....

Click above for Music samples

Course Leader Bev Bush had this to say about the game’s launch:
“This is one of many live briefs this year where students on the Games Design course at Uclan have had the opportunity to design for local businesses and work with real clients. I have mentored the students through several of these projects with support from John Hunter of ‘Futures’ and Uclan’s ‘Unite with Business’ which is a great scheme.

The students are paid at an hourly rate and learn how it feels to produce work on a freelance basis. It’s really helpful for student work experience but we are also building up good relationships with clients and forming a network of friends in business around the north west which is great to see.”

If you would like to have a try at playing the game yourself please use the following links to Kirsty’s hedgehog game:
Fun and Games
Game play

Saija Sipila

Timur Mohamad MA Games Design

Timur Mohamad, 23-year-old MA Games Design student talked about Games design from his point of view as a deaf student at his recent MA Final Show.
Timur explained that many games rely heavily on sound to create a mood in a game and how this isn't helpful for a deaf gamer. 
Timur's aim is to create games that will give a good an experience to both deaf gamers and those that can hear.
Timur also wants to see more subtitles on games to give a more inclusive experience for deaf players.

For his Uclan MA project Timur created ‘Omega Boost – Next Chapter,’ which is a futuristic game with robotic characters.
Timur also successfully gained a BA(Hons) Games Design degree at UCLan last year.
He aims to design and build games that widen accessibility for all gamers.

Read more ....