The very fact that I’m sitting here writing this blog for ‘Develop’ is one big part of why ‘Dare to be Digital’ is so important to me. It gives you these kinds of chances and opens doors that allow us, aspiring Designers, Artists and Programmers, to show case our skills on what has become a world stage.
Dare is a competition that has evolved over many years, each year becoming bigger and better than the last. As a student of the University of Abertay Dundee for 6 of the last 8 years this is an evolution I have watched with eager eyes, waiting for my chance to compete. I’ve seen what it has done for the career of many friends and colleagues; it really is a game changer.
At a University like Abertay the clamour to be in Dare is huge. Every year a large selection of 3rd, 4th and Masters students apply to compete in Dare, and only a small percentage are successful in getting to the interview stage, let alone getting to the actual competition.
Once you’re in, jubilation is replaced by a brief trepidation before belief sets in. I will win this competition. It’s a mindset from Day 1. This is something continually pushed by the helpful, constructive and sometimes critical industry mentors, people that you see from week 1. People from Sony, Sega, Ubisoft, Rockstar North & Rare, companies that have created some of the corner stone games of our industry, they come and give time to help you make a better game, that is something that just doesn’t happen anywhere else. Being able to pitch your game to people who have worked in the industry for many years, some even decades, people I respect, and people I envy.
But the biggest benefit comes from being in Dundee, with two big companies like Ruffian and Real Time Worlds, who come to see you week in week out, who see the development of the game as it takes shape. This in invaluable to the development progress of the title and helps you keep on track.
Then after nine and half weeks, you pack up, leave Dundee and put your game in the hands of what will become you’re fiercest critics, the mass audience. 'Protoplay is a great experience which I have attended as a player for many years. I’ve experienced playing a wonderful range of games. But this year I will experience the rush as a developer. This is my game that the public are grading. Determining whether it is fit for continual play or to be passed over as another also ran.
For me, Dare is all about Protoplay. This is the showcase. Yes I’ve learned many new things from peers and mentors alike, yes the chance to work in a dedicated environment, one as close to the industry as possible, and yes I’ve gained invaluable experience as a team leader, the delicate balance between the core aspects of making a game, when to say yes or no to wide eyed excited colleagues, and to know that decision could be the difference between a winning game and just another participant. But despite all that and more, Protoplay is where everything comes together, the result of the experience, the lessons learned, the hard work, the late nights, the one determining factor of why I chose this industry, to bring and see the challenge, commitment and focus on people’s faces when they play my groups game.
Dare doesn’t begin in week 1. It begins months before with planning for your game. I had the advantage of having seen the previous years’ winners, to see what each title had, why it won. It was almost always universally something that was enjoyable to play but challenging. Designing the game takes total commitment from everyone involved.
Planning is key, it can’t be stressed more vigorously, this is not a 9 – 5 job. You need to plan each step, and constantly review that plan, don’t add things half way through, but don’t sacrifice your idea because a mentor says so, but take on board what they say, have conviction to go through with what you and the team feel is right.
Dare life is a hard life, survived by those who have the determination to succeed. It isn’t about your large 3D worlds, or great animated characters, you simply don’t have the time. Research and devise a concept, something that you think will work for your target market, then cut about 80% of it away, then you might, just might, have something that is Dare worthy.
And to win, well I guess I’ll find out.