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Thoughts on Games Development and Education

May 23, 2011

I’ve been doing a bit of teaching on the Games Technology BSc at UWE this year. The students there were what made the whole thing for me, a really good bunch. However the University sector is something under pressure – fees going up and competition increasing. Teaching games is quite a new thing – I sound like an old man now – but when I learned games design back in the day there were no games courses. I feel my education in games design came from running paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. It gave you a feel for designing levels, getting a grasp on the stats that run under the hood of the games system and more. Indeed I still think its worth doing (start here with a free download of the Basic Roleplay System from Chaosium). The problem for any games education course is how to spend 3 years teaching stuff to students that stays relevant after they leave. The games industry is changing so much and so fast, that keeping what you teach relevant is going to be hard. The industry is changing as it stratifies into huge 200+ teams on AAA titles and into small micro-studios. The skills needed for each do overlap but also diverge (e.g. I think teaching some basic business skills is a help for micro-studios, but that won’t be of much use in a huge studio).

I also found this article on teaching at Uni courses of interest – it talks about how, even with a degree, you are going to have to fight to get a job in the industry. Yes, or create your own thing. What University should provide is a space for experimentation and the like without needing to worry about the bottom line. This quote is from an inspiring article about MIT:

When Machover was developing the instrument, he found that the sound it made was distorted by Ma’s hand as it absorbed electric current flowing from the bow. Machover had a eureka moment. What if you reversed that? What if you channelled the electricity flowing from the performer’s body and turned it into music?

Armed with that new idea, [MIT’s Tod] Machover designed an interactive system for Prince that the rock star deployed on stage at Wembley Stadium a few years ago, conjuring up haunting sounds through touch and gesture. Later, two of Machover’s students at the media lab had the idea of devising an interactive game out of the technology. They went on to set up a company called Harmonix, based just down the road from MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from which they developed Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

Sure, we can’t all go to MIT – I didn’t – but we can all experiment, mess about and mashup.

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