The university of Abertay is renowned around the world for offering some of the top games programming and development courses in the world.
To further improve upon its standing and continue to equip students with the fundamental skills they need to be a success in a competitive industry, Abertay runs a Professional Masters in games development.
Launched in 2009, the course takes on 40 students every year, and aims to provide pupils with practical experience of game development by tasking them with creating three titles during their time on the degree.
This emphasis on hands-on experience was a key reason why the course was started, as course lecturer and former DMA developer Ken Fee states.
“The whole professional element of the title comes from the fact that we’re looking at your professional practice rather than what other courses may look at,” says Fee.
“You’re assessed on your ability to work as part of a team, your effective skill level, your ability to take feedback and to communicate these sort of things.”
The aspect of teamwork is another important facet of the course, as Fee says too many prospective students can be very skilled programmers or artists, but have never worked with professionals from other disciplines.
He explains: “What we’ve seen in the past is that if you get someone from an art college, for instance, you might be really good at art, but you’ve probably only ever worked with artists, so you’ve most likely never been asked to do something in a game or put anything in a game engine.”
Over the course of the three semesters the program is split into, the scale of the projects ramp up, with larger teams gradually formed, with each one representing a different development model.
The first semester often involves two or three man teams working on a game that can be uploaded to a platform such as iOS. During the second term students are tasked with pitching a game as if they were looking for funding, whilst in the final months large 15 member teams are formed. Here the pupils develop titles on an idea created by the course tutors and they must work together and make it.
Fee says this idea of development experience is also a key component on the program, with the course cramming in as much practical work as possible to give students more experience than they may have received from paid work.
“The original idea was to give you more experience in a year than you could get in the industry in a year,” he explains.
“That’s easier to do than it might sound, because the chance of completing three games in a year in the industry is pretty slim, particularly if you are at a bigger studio when it might take a few years to complete just the one title.”
A rounded education
Fee says that the course’s students are also encouraged to take up optional modules, such as product management, design, audio and business.
He states that learning business skills in particular can be especially important, as even if students don’t become experts in this area themselves, it can be vital to have an awareness of what it takes to bring a game to market.
He sums up: “One of the things we’re trying to push is we’re not a production house churning out people to go into any particular big company; we’re trying to just make you very skilled postgraduates who can go and work anywhere.”
He adds that a full education in games development is given, as they want students to leave with a good grasp of the process, rather than the simplified methods brought about by game engines such as Unity and CryEngine.
“The problem is we want to get the students showing what they can do in a more detailed way. We don’t want them to be glorified amateurs.
“Whilst Unity is a brilliant package, it’s almost too good, and we want programmers to show they can actually do it, and not just edit stuff. Last year we looked at Unity and this year we used Marmalade and occasionally things like Flash and all encompassing packages like UDK, but we try and avoid that if we can because its almost a bit too easy.”
Fee claims that due to the team focus and high work ethic process of the course, all its students have found careers and success in the industry and related sectors, not just in the bustling local industry that supports the course, but around the world.