Develop takes a look at a uni that's consistently helped its games students to shine

Training Spotlight: Staffordshire University

Staffordshire University’s games courses are intend to give students a tailor-made experience directed at clearly defined roles within the industry.

Its flagship award is the Skillset-accredited BSc Computer Games Design, which is supported by courses in Gameplay Design and Production and Games Technical Art.

Staffordshire’s track record in educating the next generation of games creators stretches back to 2004, and its current students have demonstrated what can happen when talent is aided by experienced staff. Two full teams successfully made it through to Dare to be Digital 2012, with one team being selected for the final at the BAFTAs.

And in April, Kairos Games – a team fielded by Staffordshire students – came second in the Make Something Unreal Live 2013 competition, and was awarded an Unreal Engine 3 licence for its efforts.

“At Staffordshire University we are constantly striving to build connections and engage in ongoing dialogue with developers and our contacts in studios, to ensure we are constantly meeting the recruitment needs of the industry,” its senior lecturer in games design David Edwards tells Develop.

“By teaching real skills and not software, we can ensure that our students can be a real asset to employers. By encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning to develop self-motivation and a willingness to constantly improve, we push every student to leave the course with a positive exit trajectory.”

The first year is intended to help students find their feet, giving them a taste of everything from modelling and texturing to level design and animation. Team-based modules in the second and third year allow students to gather experience in an industry-like environment.

Students have the opportunity to work in large groups to produce up to three titles, all with original content. Third year students work in senior roles, with second year students fulfilling the junior roles.

“This not only builds team working skills, but also gives the students ownership over their projects and encourages collaborative learning and team reflection,” says Edwards.

As for its technical kit, the university stays up to date with the latest software and hardware, with a clutch of licences for Autodesk Creation Suite, Pixologic ZBrush, Adobe Creative Suite Create, UDK and 3D Coat. It primarily uses Unreal Technology, but also has access to other engines such as Unity and CryEngine. And a rare Vicon Motion Capture Studio is also used to produce realistic animations in the group games development projects.

Staffordshire’s roll call of alumni includes Mike Knowland, lead character artist on The Last of Us at Naughty Dog; Adam Spriggs, Ben Jackson and Tom Laird now at Rockstar North; and Ben Wilson at Playground Games, to name just a fraction. The university is now looking to develop its course further with more accreditation and partnerships.

“We are constantly reviewing our course content, and will continue to do so, to keep pace with the world’s fastest moving industry,” Edwards explains.

“Unreal Engine 4 and the latest consoles will provide a challenge to all aspiring games developers. The course has recently been redeveloped to further focus on artistic skills, and Unreal Technology to ensure the transition to the new technology is as seamless as possible. Hopefully our work with Epic on Make Something Unreal Live will give us access to a large knowledge base who will have experience with the new upcoming technology.”

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