Students are no strangers to playing games, but how about making them? We interviewed a few talented student developers to find out some of the intricacies of game development while at university.
Dimitrios, a PHD student with Horizon DTC, found his love of creating games whilst he played them, “but not just play them, try to see how they work,” he told Impact. “Even when I was in high school, I would look at files and think ‘that’s pure text, I can change that… this gave me my first taste of how games were made.” Alexandru, a second year computer science student, on the other hand, discovered his creative spark when a teacher gave him his first glimpses of programming; “he tried to do something extracurricular and teach us visual BASIC”, he tells us, one of many programming languages Alexandru would go on to teach himself.
“Even when I was in high school, I would look at files and think ‘that’s pure text, I can change that… this gave me my first taste of how games were made.”
Regardless of how they came to programming, they represent an endangered species at the University of Nottingham. We asked Joe, president of newlyformed Hacksoc, how Nottingham compares in national and international programming competitions – his response? “It doesn’t, at the moment we don’t at all. We aren’t low ranked in computer sciences, we’re relatively high, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be represented there.” Hacksoc are hoping to change this: “we’re planning to do a weekly practice for four hours on a Wednesday afternoon, treat it like a sports team, and get higher in the rankings”. This will be alongside fortnightly ‘hackathons’, events where avid programmers are able to meet up, share ideas and advice, and work on developing software in a casual environment.
Game development isn’t just about making that dream game you’ve always wanted. I met with Martin, Kyle and Steven, all Masters students in computer sciences, to discuss where the entertaining and the academic blend. The team are working on a voice controlled game that has you navigating a train from point A to point B, whilst trying to outwit an opposing computer player. It’s aimed at training speech recognition software to recognise different accents and better understand different voices. “Our product is looking at trying to make that a little more of an interactive experience”, they explained. The results of their game will feed into another system being developed at the university, namely a healthcare application that will allow psychiatry patients to have a conversation with a computer avatar and, based on how the system detects emotions, facial expressions and how the patient speaks, be diagnosed.
‘Hackathons’ are events where avid programmers are able to meet up, share ideas and advice, and work on developing software in a casual environment.
Surprisingly, despite a shared passion for creating games, none of the students we talked to saw themselves working in the games industry professionally. Dimitrios scorned the lack of creative freedom in a medium dominated by profits and publishers. “Why is it not a good idea to go into the game industry? It’s horrible. You’ve got people like Activision and Electronic Arts saying ‘lets make our stuff as fast as possible and for the lowest common denominator’. You remove creativity and make it a cookie cutter business”
Martin expresses similar fears: “The problem with the games industry is it’s very profit focused.” His team also vent concern over the competitive nature of securing jobs in a declining industry. “Getting into games in Britain certainly isn’t that easy, if you do want to work even in one of the smaller games companies you really need experience from another game company in Britain,” Steven tells us, and Martin adds that “it’s quite a hard industry to break into, and people in the industry tend to stay there.”
Amid these fears though, the developers we spoke to seem certain that their enthusiasm for game development will endure. Alexandru confesses: “I’m sure it’s always going to be part of my life; it’s a great achievement to see something you’ve created, and to see that other people like it”.
Image: Quasic via Flickr