Dare to be digital

Games are a perfect way to relax after work or an excellent means of keeping ‘bored’ teenagers occupied. But for a group of University of Wolverhampton students, creating the next big thing in video games could lead to a hugely successful career.
 
A team of talented School of Computing and Information Technology (SCIT) students put all the knowledge and skills they had gained during their studies to enter Dare to be Digital, a national games development competition run in conjunction with Channel 4. Pitching their wits against other top students over ten long weeks, Dark Matter Designs came up with Boro-Toro, a platform puzzle game.
 
The long hours and hard graft paid off for the four Wolverhampton students and a colleague from the University of Birmingham. They were named as one of the three winning teams in the competition, receiving £2,500 and a prestigious BAFTA nomination.
 
Project manager Adam Westwood, who graduates this year, says spending the summer concentrating on one project was well worth the time and effort.
 
“It was really great to focus on one thing for 10 weeks,” he says. “We used our interest in physics in games as the inspiration.”
 
Players of Boro-Toro must control and manipulate various objects on screen to successfully navigate the environment. Using an innovative control system using Wii technology, the player navigates through a variety of puzzles using physics-based principles to progress. Often there is not just one solution to the problem. The game is set within a strange and magical land presented in a dazzling and distinctive visual style, and the ultimate aim is to help Boro find his way home and help his friends.
 
Boro-Toro, which has tagline ‘Control the world, Control your fate’, is aimed at a broad audience, with youngsters aged four or five years old enjoying it as much as their parents and experienced gamers.
 
Adam, 23, says: “We were insulated for ten weeks while we were developing it, and we did not know what the overall reception would be so it was great to see different age groups enjoying the game. It was great to see people playing our game and noticing the little things we had created.”
 
Adam completed a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science, specialising in games development. His fellow team members were Owen Schwehr, who also graduates this year, Graham Ranson and Yves Wheeler, who are still studying at Wolverhampton, and Matt Booton, from Birmingham.
 
Adam believes the modules studied at University really benefitted the team’s work on the game.
 
“The classes I took in graphic visualisation and artificial intelligence (AI) really helped with the project, and my dissertation was focused on AI in video games, which was useful. Our lecturer, Stuart Slater, told us about the competition and advised us about software we could use to develop the game – the University was really supportive,” he says.
 
Stuart, Principal Lecturer (Digital Media Business Champion), is delighted with the team’s success. He says: “This was a top national competition and the team really  excelled. These five guys gave up their summer for ten weeks and worked exceedingly hard to produce a commercial quality computer game and the whole of the School of Computing and IT is proud of their commitment and success.”
 
There has been a lot of interest in the game and it could be developed and expanded, possibly as an independent game for download. The Dare to be Digital judges were looking for games that met three criteria – marketing potential, creativity/innovation and use of technology – to award the top prizes to, and Boro-Toro was particularly praised for its marketing potential.
 
The competition win has certainly opened doors for the team members. Adam says they have been ‘bombarded’ with job offers and opportunities and have been encouraged to apply for graduate schemes with top names in the games industry. They also have the BAFTA awards to look forward to next March.
 
Nominated in the ‘Ones to Watch’ category, the team will have a series of challenges to complete before the winners are decided.
 
And Adam would advise students following in his footsteps to grab the opportunities available while studying at the University of Wolverhampton.
 
“I would say to students – if you are serious about games development, get involved in Dare to be Digital, it is the competition to enter. University is a great place to gain the theoretical knowledge and it is also great to put this in action, working on a ten-week project and making links within the industry.”
 
For further information about the School of Computing and Information Technology, visit: www.wlv.ac.uk/scit.