EGX Rezzed 2014

EGX Rezzed 2014 gave us the chance to haul out the Gamer Camp pop-ups and splurge on some new promo material for our brand new Interactive Entertainment Undergraduate courses.

The GamerCamp Stand at Rezzed

Our home from home for 3 days. We “annexed” the neighbours for our pop-ups…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What excites us about the Birmingham show is that it is there to showcase the Indie PC and Console arena. That means we get to meet some real enthusiasts and some old friends.

Enola from ArtCodeStudios

Enola, a great little product from ArtCodeStudios – all the way from El Salvador to Birmingham.

 

 

We met some guys from El Salvador who run a series of course under the Art Code Studios banner and had brought some nice work over with them including a game called Enola which is definitely worth a look for it’s dark content.  They are producing some real talent on negligible budgets.

 

 

It was great to get the chance talk about the Interactive Entertainment undergraduate program with students and tutors from a number of FE colleges. We must be on the right track as we were constantly being asked which modules would work best to allow progression through to us. Chances are we are going to be busy taking the product on the road to showcase in the coming few weeks.

We spent a lot of time having some inspiring chats with young game enthusiasts who were eager to gain some insight in which A-levels to chose and how to progress into the industry. The calibre of questions we were fielding really make sit seem that the industry will have some superb new talent over the next decade. Even better is that parents seem to “get it” too. Regardless of the games, this made the 3 days more than worthwhile.

We did get chance to leave the stand and get a feel for things – actually we got rescued and given respite by a lot of the current GamerCamp guys who had come along to the show and were more than happy to spend some time giving their personal insight on the courses to anyone who was near the stand!

Special Effects charity stand

The guys from charity Special Effects had brought along some really cool interface devices designed to improve inclusivity in gaming.
– photo Mara Cruzado (Leftlung)

 

One of the more interesting stands at the show belonged to the guys from the Special Effect who are a charity designed to bring gaming inclusivity to those with disabilities. They were showcasing some really quite cool interface devices and it got us thinking about how we could maybe factor these devices into future products.

 

 

The 80s Classroom

New in the Replay area was the 80s Classroom. It was very popular.
-photo by Mara Cruzado (Leftlung)

 

The one area that we love, mainly because it gives us a deep sense of nostalgia, is the Replay area. Some of us grew up on 48K and dodgy tapes so it’s always fun to see the reaction the old tech gets from Generation Playstation. This time round they had added an area called the 80s Classroom. It seemed VERY popular.

 

 

 

We had a prime view of the Game Jam area on Saturday and watching the smoke of intense hard work coming from there was frankly knackering for us. Our own Alex Darby was in the thick of it and we swear he didn’t change his position at his laptop all day. Given half a chance he would probably have been there Sunday night with the hall being dismantled around him!

GameJam zone

Probably the most intense part of the whole NEC on Saturday. The GameJam area.

Did we enjoy it? Yes. Did we spend far too much on coffee? Yes. Did we see cool stuff? Hell YES. Were we glad that we were slightly less busy than the guys from Yogscast? Probably… Were the people that came and showed interest in learning nice? Yes, they were. Maybe we will get to see of them here at NTI in the near future.

 

 

If you are interested in our fab new Undergraduate INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT course or our GAMERCAMP Masters then click the links and have a chat with us.

Roll on the September show. We will have some new, even more sexy, pop-ups and swag…

Big thanks to Iain, Steven, Zuby, Matt, David and Mara for all the hard work.

By John Seedhouse
All photos by permission from Mara Cruzado (Leftlung)

Art Director Iain Harrison, Develop Interview July 2013

Recently Iain was interviewed for Develop Magazine, the article is in this July’s copy of the magazine.

The published article is an edited version of the interview, the full version is post here.

GC07

What differentiates your course from other courses in game design and development?

I see Gamer Camp more like your first year in the video games industry and less like a year on a degree course, that’s what attracted me to joining the staff team here. The Gamer Camp course differs from traditional degree courses in that we focus heavily on work based learning, with the prerequisite skills for a project being taught in teaching sessions at the beginning of each dev cycle. We then allow the students to use these skills in ‘real’ situations, which we achieve by running a mock games studio environment. There are three postgraduate courses at Gamer Camp specialising in code, art and production, the students work together full-time in a studio environment to develop three video games in one year.

Students are supported in their development activities by industry experienced teaching staff; Alex Darby is the Technical Director, ex Codemasters and FreeStyle Games and Zuby Ahmed, ex EA and Warthog supports the business and production students, I am the Art Director & I’ve previously worked for Free Radical Design and Eurocom. The team was assembled by Oliver Wiliams, the Gamer Camp Studio Director who had the vision to take a new approach to games education. He has over 15 years experience working in education and training within the private and education sector having worked with BT, Microsoft and Apple. It’s a strong and dedicated staff team.

With regard our teaching ethos, we focus quite heavily on what we term ‘T skills’. According to the Strategic Skills Assessment for the Creative Media Industry (Skillset December 2009), there is a shortage of new people in the industry equipped with ‘T-skills’ – highly specialised in one core field, but with broad skills and knowledge to utilise their specialism across teams and platforms. The term T-shaped People is also used in the Valve employee handbook.

Consequently, the Gamer Camp course considers that the students need an overarching understanding of the games industry and their place within it. They need an awareness of the entire game development process, and a critical understanding of their own discipline and its relationship with the other disciplines. The students are also required to learn how to use highly technical software to produce game assets and code whilst also having the ability to understand and articulate the complex game development process, the scope of their colleague’s roles and the relationship between the various specialisms.

Can you briefly describe the course structure (if you haven’t already) OR what a typical project would involve for students?

At Gamer Camp Studios we believe the best way to learn the skills needed to make games is to make games. The courses at Gamer Camp are split into three distinct phases. Each of these is a development project aimed at a different platform. The first project is often the students first ever experience of working as part of a multidisciplinary team using defined project management methodologies and industry practices such as stand up meetings and using source control. We therefore try to ease them in. With this in mind the platform is a PC game and the team sizes are small, only three to four per team. The development cycle however is very short and this creates a very intense learning environment, this initial phase was described by one of this years students as a 10 day GameJam and I think that’s quite a good description. It can actually help if students make mistakes at this stage as it provides great learning opportunities, Gamer Camp is set up to be your first year in industry but with a safety net, mistakes on Gamer Camp don’t mean financial penalties from publishers for a late milestone delivery or a trip to HR for a written warning! In our studio the students are encouraged to reflect and learn from their mistakes making them better professionals in the long run.

The second project is an iPad/tablet game and this mirrors the development experience they might have in a small indie studio. The teams increase in size to around eight individuals with outsourced testing and sound.This year the students released these games which are available on the Apple App Store as a free download.
Totem Rush
Baggage Reclaim
Tubby Toucan  (there’s also a trailer for this game http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32AbomSDqhM)

Finally the longest project of the course is the last and the most challenging. Where as the first two projects give students experience of indie development the third project is a AAA development for PlaystationTM 3 with PSFirst and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) as the client. They provide the students with potential concepts to be developed (the images provided are from this project) The students then work together as a simulated external development team to create a PlayStationTM 3 game prototype and pitch the game to SCEE ‘s Vice President Studio Group, Mick Hocking.

What partnerships do you have with games industry studios or industry-related companies, and what do they add to the course?

Gamer Camp was founded in 2009 by Oliver Williams and Guy Wilday. Guy was formally the Studio Director for the SEGA Racing Studio and is currently the Development Director for Sony’s London Studio. Gamer Camp has support from several large local studios including Codemasters, Blitz Games Studios, Rare and FreeStyleGames with TT Fusion and Crytek joining most recently as partners.

The early vision for Gamer Camp was centred around Guy’s experience of recruiting graduates. In his experience no matter how good the graduate it was only after they had completed a full development cycle that they would become a really productive member of the development team. They needed to gain an understanding of the ethos and processes required in each of the development phases. To that end Oliver and Guy started to work with the key local games companies to define the common techniques, processes and knowledge that would be most beneficial to form the Gamer Camp curriculum.

By the time detailed cirriculum development started Alex had joined Oliver and Guy, between the three of them and with plenty of external assistance they put the Masters courses together. Phil Hindle, Technical Director at FreeStyleGames and Mike Rutter, Art Manager also from FreeStyleGames were very influential at the curriculum definition stage. Since launching, Codemasters and BlitzGamesStudios have both been into set briefs, deliver specific sessions and review student work. Gary Rowe, VP, Digital Business at Codemasters and Jolyon Webb R&D Art Director at Blitz Games Studios have both been involved with Gamer Camp delivery and we are very grateful for their input. The input from local studios helps to keep the course relevant and ensures we are producing employable graduates.

Our biggest partner is SCEE and we are proud to be part of the PSFirst Academic Game Development programme. PSFirst provides the studio with all eleven of our PS3 development kits and also the brief for the final stage of the course. Through PSFirst London and Evolution Studios provide us with templates for concept development, reporting processes plus face-to-face mentoring. Further to this, PSFirst has set up a scholarship programme in collaboration with Gamer Camp that champions top talent. Every year they provide full funding for two students and part funding for a further two.

What tools and tech do you offer for students to work with?

The art team are required to know Maya, Mudbox and the usual Adobe suite of software. Programmers get to use cocos2D-X and Marmalade for the PC and iPads project, as the core programming language we teach throughout the course is C++. To deliver the Sony project on PlayStation3TM students use Phrye Engine on PS3 dev kits. What we’ve found has been very important and valuable to employers has been that all students use Perforce source control and Hansoft project management software in the studio.

Where are your alumni now? What have they gone on to do?

This year we have already had some success stories with two students having already left to work within the industry. Evolution Studios (SCEE) have taken on one student, while the other has acquired significant funding to enable him to start a new studio in Rome. Previous years students have gone on to work at Sega, Crytek, Travellers Tales, Feral Interactive, Playground Games and other video games companies. We’ve also had a couple of new start-ups form from ex-Gamer Camp students.

In one sentence, why should aspiring games students choose your course?

Gamer Camp Studios isn’t just a course; it’s real game development, in a real studio with experienced veterans from industry as your mentors.

What are your plans for the future of the course?

We are currently looking to extending our course offering to include an undergraduate course which we are working with our partners and the Next-Gen Skills Academy in the development of.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I have worked exclusively in Computer Game Development for twelve years, starting at a small developer called Supersonic Software and moving on to Free Radical Design and eventually Eurocom.

One of my roles, especially once at a senior level was as a mentor to people who were new to the games industry, especially those who were in their first job after higher education. Due to this experience I have firsthand knowledge of the inadequate skills some students were graduating with. Due to this experience I started to find that I had a growing desire to bridge the skills gap that was so obviously evident.

The competition to enter this field is incredibly intense, and due to this, higher educational courses in Games Development have flourished. Unfortunately, we have a situation where some educational establishments promise to educate, but leave the students floundering without the prerequisite skills necessary to really move ahead with their careers.

Clearly there are some good higher education courses in the UK in art, computer science and video games development that really try hard to ensure students have the right skills and experience to succeed in the games industry. I think Gamer camp has joined the established successful courses and hopefully we’re leading the way in changing how games education is delivered.

Recruiting Programming Talent

We regularly hear from our Gamer Camp games industry partners that finding good, able programming graduates is one of the biggest recruitment challenges they face.

If you are looking to get into the games industry as programmer its likely you’ll be interested in the PlayStation First Scholarship scheme

The scheme seeks to spot top programming talent and support them through a MSc in Video Games Development at Gamer Camp and into their first job in the games industry, full details can be found here on the Gamer Camp website.

For more information on the Gamer Camp MSc in Video Games Development course check out this video presentation by Alex Darby, Gamer Camp Technical Director

Posting Questions on Tech Forum – Tips on how to do this better

Alex Darby the Gamer Camp Technical Director sent this message to the code team on how to post technical enquiries to tech forums. It was a good, useful piece from Alex so I thought it would be good to share on the Blog, any student names have been removed from the original message. – Oliver Williams, Gamer Camp Studio Director

I was just reposting this post from a Gamer Camp student onto the PS3 forums, and I felt I had to change it a little to attempt to get a useful response.

After checking with the student, I thought it might be instructional to show you a before and after so you can see how I have re-written it.

Here’s the before:

Hi everyone, I’m currently working with PhyreEngine at GamerCamp. I’m learning it pretty well for the most part, however in our experimenting I’ve got myself a bit stuck.

In the examples, in particular the Animation example, a file is specified to load for the Fella model – “Media/GL/DonkeyTrader/fellanmap.dae.phyre”. Iterating over this using a for loop of type PCluster::PObjectIteratorOfType<PAssetReferenceImport> allows me to find the Fella’s references, which are a standard texture, a normal map, and two shaders, which I can then load.

My next step is extending this functionality such that from a given level file, I can load the entirety of it as a cluster, but then also locate and manage the clusters it references. For example I could then, just from a level file, be able to have full control over everything contained within it, rather than have individual parts of the level declared and added separately.

My problem is that when iterating over a test level that contains a single textured and lit cube, the object iterator IDs return two references, one to TestModel.dae#colladafxShader1 and one to TestModel.dae#pCubeShape1. Obviously these are the shader and geometry, with the hash (and lack of file extension) I assume to be indicating that these are contained within the main cube dae file. However, there’s no reference to load the texture (which I can see exists if I examine the dae file in a text editor).

Essentially: I’d like to know how to get individual clusters out of the .plv in such a way that we can manage those objects ourselves using just the level file.

Thanks in advance for any assistance!

From Gamer Camp Student

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it at face value…

It’s well written, coherent English, it explains the problem succinctly, and asks a specific question – these are all Very Good Things.

However, believe it or not this communication via email / forum posts is actually harder than you’d think; so hard, in fact, that Activision run compulsory internal courses on effective email communication for team leads and managers…

So, here’s my take on the same material which is what I’ve posted to the PS3 developers PhyreEngine forums:

Hi,

 We’re currently trying to write some code that will recursively iterate a .plv file and individually load all the asset files it references – this is because we want to sit an asset manager on top of Phyre (e.g. to stop the same asset trying to load > once even if it’s in multiple .daes etc.)

 The first thing we tried was to load “Media/GL/DonkeyTrader/fellanmap.dae.phyre” (as used in the animation example) manually instead of loading the assets via the header generated from the assets.xml file.


By hunting about in the samples, we found that Iterating over this .dae using Cluster::PObjectIteratorOfType<PAssetReferenceImport> would allow us to find the files referenced by it (i.e. in this case a standard texture, a normal map, and two shaders)

 Importantly, the references contain the paths to the referenced assets, which we can then use to load them individually.

We have a test asset – a real time lit cube with a single texture – that we exported from maya to test the pipeline and this works fine (i.e. renders fully textured and real time lit) if we put it into an asset .xml and load it in the same way the samples load assets.


When we try to load this test mesh in the same way we loaded fellanmap.dae (by loading and iterating the cluster to find out its references) the object iterator finds just two references:

 * TestModel.dae#colladafxShader1

* TestModel.dae#pCubeShape1

 Obviously these appear to be the shader and geometry, but there’s no reference to a texture; and no path information.

 We’re assuming that the # and lack of file extension indicate that these are contained within the data in the dae file.

 If we look in the xml version of the collada file for TestModel.dae we can see that the texture is clearly referenced within it.

 We’re wondering if this means the differences between the asset references in TestModel.dae and fellanmap.dae might result from differences in the way they’re being handled by the asset processor or something…

 We’re at a loss as to:

 1) why the content of our TestModel.dae might be so different from fellanmap.dae

 2) why TestModel.dae works with the asset.xml -> auto generated header technique when it doesn’t seem to contain any reference to the texture it requires 

 3) why the assets seem to have been embedded in TestModel.dae

 4) why the .xml version of TestModel.dae clearly contains the texture, but the platform specific data produced doesn’t

 and wondered if someone could point us in the right direction?

 Sorry if this is obvious and we’ve missed the relevant documentation / sample code!

 Any help appreciated,

 Alex

So, what’s different?

  • Well, firstly I’m stating what we’re trying to do, and why, clearly and right at the start. This sets the context for the rest of the information, so it’s important information to have before reading the rest of it.
  • I’m also using way more paragraphs than you would in regular prose – more or less one per sentence in fact.
  • This is sort of an un-bulleted bullet point – it says exactly one thing, and leaves space before the next bit of information to make sure it’s not lost in the reading of it.
  • Whenever I might use a comma separated list, but I want to be 100% clear about the elements of that list, I’m using bullet points.
  • When I get to the end, my “summary” is a very clear multi-part question that is very specific (numbered bullets!) about the information that doesn’t make sense to us and that we’d like explained.
  • Finally, I’m signing off in a way that says we’re friendly, and acknowledge that the people on the forum are basically doing us a favour – politeness is always good 🙂

All of this is geared up to make the key information I’m sending to them clear, and make it as clear as possible what I’m hoping for in a reply.

I hope that all makes sense (and that I get a useful answer from the dev forums after this email 😉

 

Quote

…Some examples for different formal models for understanding games.

One of the most famous and most simple is probably Sid Meier’s: ‘a game is a series of interesting choices.’ Here’s another one: ‘anything in a game that a player has no control over is bad.’

Some more just off the top of my head: ‘Multiplayer games are contests of skill, and any significant luck in a multiplayer game is bad’. Or ‘games are a set of interlocking systems or games are large, ambiguous math problems or a game is a set of rules and a goal.’

I like that last one a lot, and I want to talk about it in another post at some point.

It’s surprising how little serious critical or journalistic writing is published about video games.

So it was a pleasant surprise when we stumbled across this article, which touches on how mathematic tools such as game theory can impact on how games are designed and developed.

Formal Games Writing | In Machinam