“You teach computer games? That’s an actual degree? Wow, they’ve got life easy these days; I actually had to work for my qualifications!”
I allow myself a minute to imagine just what my students would like do to this guy if they ever heard him spouting such rhetoric. Manhunt and Postal spring immediately to mind.
The truth is, computer games degrees are far from being a soft option. I teach game art and design at the University of Teesside in the UK. In just three years our Game Art and Design students are expected to learn as many aspects of games development as possible. This ranges from traditional drawing skills, modeling, texturing, lighting and animation in 3DS Max and XSI, level design and front end interface creation through to developing an understanding of narrative structure, marketing and project management.
In the meantime, the Games Programming students are studying subjects such as AI, C++, graphical mathematics, console programming, APIs and networks. In the final year, artists and programmers get to work on a team project to create a polished game as well as individually complete assignments for several other advanced modules whilst working on a self managed final project and dissertation.
|3D Studio Max in Action|
These don’t exactly sound like the kind of degrees that someone looking for an easy ride would choose. Such subjects can hardly be classed as ‘Mickey Mouse’; many are serious vocational courses serving a growing sector of the economy. Our students have the option to spend their third year on placement at respected games companies such as Blitz Games, Eutechnyx and Rebellion who are often pleasantly surprised at their level of ability.
In fact, some of the aforementioned companies have offered placement students full time jobs on completion of their degrees. I’m teaching people who spent last year working on hit titles in the making such as Reservoir Dogs and here I am listening to someone telling me that computer game degrees can’t possibly prepare anyone for a job in the real world.
The organisation Skillset has recently turned its focus to Computer Games degrees and is setting up an accreditation system to ensure that students are being taught the skills that the industry wants, and to a suitably high standard. Skillset's team of industry evaluators includes representatives from EA, Sony, Codemasters and Climax.
They will be visiting universities in the UK and reviewing their courses over the next few months to identify and ultimately support higher education courses that provide the skills, knowledge and experience needed for individuals to confidently enter the games industry. This means that as educators in the field of computer games we need to work hard to stay ahead of the game.
Many universities in the UK look to employ industry experienced lecturers. The University of Teesside has been doing this for some time now. My colleagues and I have worked in the industry as artists, producers, designers and programmers on everything from Vic-20 to Xbox 360. It is vital for students to be taught by people that understand the games industry in order to provide them with a good working knowledge of the industry and the working environment and structure of a typical games development team. Between us we aim to ensure that our students are graduating with the knowledge and skills they need to hit the industry running.
|We can't stop staring at the hat.|
What drives these students is their passion for games. They’ve played and analysed everything from Pong through to Half Life 2. Many of them have had a go at working on their own mods or Unreal levels while still at high school and continue to do so throughout their degrees. They have dreamed of working on computer games for a living and most are willing to work hard to get there.
I’m learning a great deal through teaching. For one thing, thanks to my students I hear about any new developments before my friends in the industry. Before a product or tool has even left the testing stage I have students begging to be taught how to use it.
If I don’t know enough about it yet myself, they simply go away and teach themselves and each other, then come back to me and we share our findings. This is far from the image some people have of lazy students sitting round eating pizza and playing GTA when they should be at a lecture…… although I’m not quite naïve enough to believe that this never happens!
leave Mr X to his mutterings about Mickey Mouse degrees preparing
today’s youth to join the ranks of the unemployed, and think back to
when I took my first steps into the industry, fresh from a Graphic
Design degree armed with only a strong knowledge of Photoshop and
illustration skills. I’m so glad I didn’t have to compete with today’s