The University of Abertay’s Dare to be Digital games design competition has been running since 1999, starting just two years after the institution launched the world’s first higher education games development degree.
Today the contest has become hugely popular amongst aspiring industry professionals, including artists, designers and programmers.
This year 15 teams were formed from all around the world, even as far as India and China, with devs coming together as they looked to create a game prototype within just nine weeks.
This year’s three Dare winners were Digital Knights, Evolved Ape and Swallowtail (pictured above). As a reward for winning, all the teams were then nominated for BAFTA’s ‘Ones to watch’ award, offering the developers national recognition for their hard work and achievements.
IN IT TO WIN
This year’s top prize was awarded to Swallowtail, for its iPad 3D puzzle game Tick Tock Toys, in which users must alter the position of objects to clear a path for a robot so it can reach the end of the level.
The group’s team leader, Sophia George, who studies at Norwich University College of the Arts, says the students entered Dare as they saw it as a great opportunity to learn more about the industry.
“We wanted to enter Dare to be Digital as we are all very passionate about working in the games industry and saw the competition as a great opportunity,” she says.
“Some of us had not made a game before, so the idea of competing in Dare to be Digital was exciting. The experience has proved invaluable, as we got to make a game that we are all very proud of and got to meet many fantastic people.”
George also says that the nomination in itself has been a great boost to the team, giving them the chance to tour studios in the UK and raise their profiles.
“Since we’ve been nominated for a BAFTA, we have visited Outplay Entertainment in Dundee and Sony Studio Liverpool, both of which would not have happened if it wasn’t for our success in the competition,” she explains.
“The contest itself has been an amazing chance for networking, and we are frequently being asked about our game.”
Chair of the BAFTA Video Games Committee and former head of Sony Computer Entertainment UK Ray Maguire says that the award is important to inspire young students to consider a career in the games industry whilst also providing a platform for achievement.
“When we get to the students actually within higher education, Dare to be Digital is a great way of inserting them into a very intensive course over nine weeks, to really get some output for them," he says.
"I think these are potentially the stars of our industry within the next generation, so I think it’s really important."
Maguire adds that to achieve these aims it is essential the award specifically focuses on students, and is not a special prize for indies of all ages and abilities, to give young devs the experience of working on an intensive project and learning to work well with others.
“I think anyone going through this project and getting to the end will all now have a much better chance of working in the industry because of the heavy interaction they’ve had and the fact that they’ve been deeply engaged,” he says.
Evolved Ape team leader Malath Abbas, whose group create 3D puzzler Dreamweaver, agrees with Maguire’s assertions, stating all developers in the competition learnt invaluable skills through the contest on the work that goes in to creating games.
“The intensity of the Dare experience certainly helped us to cement the basics of teamwork, planning, and communication,” he says.
So inspiring has the event been to nominees Digital Knights, whose team consisted of students from as far as the IT University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the young developers have now even formed their own studio on the back of the contest, to focus on developing their game prototype Joust into a fully fledged title for Xbox 360.
“This isn’t the end of our journey, but only the beginning. Just last week we officially became a Danish company, we are now the Digital Knights I/S,” says team artist Amr Din.
“Currently we are trying to process some funding and invest in the game. From May we will be developing the game and hoping to release it to the Windows 8 Market or on to the XBLA store.”
Applications for the next Dare to be Digital event are scheduled to finish on April 10th, with the contest to take place between June 11th and August 12th, with no doubt many hundreds more young developers applying as they look to break into the industry and maybe even win their own BAFTA award.