The lure of the seaside is reason enough for some to choose to study at Bournemouth University. But for those considering games development, its courses – BSc and MSc in Computer Games Technology – aim to impart technical and transferable skills that will give students the best possible chance for gaining employment in the games industry.
Bournemouth’s focus is firmly on technical skills, such as programming, predominantly in C++, the university’s senior lecturer in creative technology Dr Christos Gatzidis tells Develop.
The undergraduate course covers all major parts of the development pipeline for a typical games studio from the first year onwards. For instance, C++ is introduced from day one, before building on API programming and beyond in the second and final year respectively.
Other subjects covered include 3D modelling, texturing and level design in the first year, moving on to more advanced concepts, such as high polygon modelling or digital sculpting and scripting within a game engine.
“There is also a healthy dose of mathematical content in the first two years of the course as we feel that too is integral for a fuller understanding of related programming concepts,” says Gatzidis, something which many developers will be pleased to hear given comments from the creative industries about graduates’ basic maths skills.
In the final year, students pick the area they have excelled in, out of the ones mentioned above, and specialise in that before progressing to the industry or postgraduate study. An optional work placement is also offered. Gatzidis says it has had students go onto non-games development placements, such as IBM, because of their technical abilities.
Bournemouth University has built sound contacts in games development itself, and regularly has guest talks from Ubisoft Reflections, SCEE, EA Criterion and others. Alongside these talks, it has an advisory board, which offers advice and guidance on course content, and for the last couple of years has been a member of TIGA.
The latter has helped it to network more efficiently and keep track of the changes affecting the industry, such as tax breaks and the shake-up to ICT, Gatzidis explains.
“We constantly strive for more industry engagement, both for the academic members of staff and for the students themselves, as we feel it is an essential part to education,” he says.
As the current course covers art and programming, it uses a fairly wide variety of software. Microsoft Visual Studio is its main programming platform, with DirectX and XNA being its main API choices, while both 3ds Max and Maya are used for modelling and animation.
More recently, it began using ZBrush, though mostly for a final year unit. Its primary choice of game engine for level design work has been the Unreal Development Kit (UDK), but it has used Unity in the past.
Gatzidis affirms that it is constantly on the lookout to make sure the software and hardware it uses are to industry standards. The university’s investment in facilities is a testament to that, as it has just added another specialist games development lab for the new academic year.
Student numbers for the undergraduate games course have grown for the 2012 intake, which has prompted Gatzidis and his faculty to write a new course titled Games Programming. This will focus on programming skills even more closely than its existing course at the request of the industry. Units focus on object-oriented game engines, graphics and computational programming.
Bournemouth plans to continue to increase its course engagement with domestic and international games developers, and will be investigating Skillset accreditation in the near future.
“We believe that we are producing high-quality graduates who can be employed by domestic but also international games developers, and become crucial parts of the projects they have been assigned to,” Gatzidis says.
“Moreover, as we also have a dedicated professional development strand of units, we believe that, other than joining existing studios, our graduates could move into the area of setting up their own independent companies, a possibility which offers huge potential today and many of our current students find very enticing.”