Work station to PlayStation

Certain computer games have an almost fanatical following, with midnight launches and nationwide sell-outs of the latest version. To people not in the know, the titles can seem even more baffling than the frenzy surrounding a new game, ranging from Call of Duty through Wii Fit to Resident Evil. But for those in the business, the people behind these games are some of the most skilled artists and programmers in the computing and animation industries.

The University of Wolverhampton has a growing reputation in the area of developing games and animation, and is launching a new Institute to build on this success. The Institute of Gaming and Animation (IGA) is an exciting venture which aims to increase student recruitment, expand applied research, develop consultancy and enhance the student experience. A joint initiative between the University’s School of Art & Design and School of Computing and Information Technology, the Institute will enable students to gain access to industry and academic expertise and the latest technological advances in the field.

Stuart Slater is the Director of the new Institute, and is understandably excited about what the future holds.

“We have a proven track record in the area of gaming and animation and aim to build a national presence in this area.

“We want to demonstrate that the West Midlands can continue to meet the needs of industry through applied research and provide a steady stream of skilled  graduates,” he says.

The University has already worked with some of the biggest names in gaming. A group of students recently won a BAFTA in the ‘Ones to Watch’ category of the GAME British Academy Video Games Awards for their game, Boro Toro. One of the graduates, Adam Westwood, has gone on to work for Rockstar Games, the company behind Grand Theft Auto.

The University also has links with Data Design Interactive, one of the largest  developers of Nintendo Wii Games, and Microsoft. In addition, the University is now a member of the PlayStation Portable (PSP) Academic Development Programme, an exciting scheme which provides access to professional development hardware and  software tools for both staff and students, as used by commercial game developers.

Stuart says that the computer games business is a good one to enter, as it is a multi billion pound industry and one that continues to grow. The University has a good employability rate for its students when they graduate, and they leave with a wide range of transferable skills. But Stuart is quick to point out that studying the subject is not about sitting around playing on an X-Box or PlayStation all day.

“The students can study game art or game programming with us, and it is an engaging experience for them. The people who develop games are some of the most driven and enthusiastic students, who are committed to developing, but not necessarily playing, games. Some of them gain first class honours degrees, as areas such as games programming require maths, science and gaming skills.

“There is a big difference between game playing and games development. We don’t run games playing degrees – we run games development courses in both programming and art. They are demanding courses which attract highly driven students looking for a future career in the games industry.”

The University also supports the social side of gaming, and has an active Computer Gaming Society, which meets weekly, and supports activities such as open days in return for access to the latest gaming technologies.

As well as the triumphant BAFTA winners, knowledgeable staff are able to provide mentoring to student teams in top competitions like Dare to be Digital and the Imagine Cup which have led to national wins. And future higher education students are also encouraged to find out more about games development opportunities through links with schools, academies and colleges.

Stuart has worked on projects including work with the Shelfield Community Academy in Walsall in conjunction with Jeremy Brown of Creative Partnerships, which has enabled 22 students to come to the University to get involved with developing games for  educational use.

Aside from the benefits to students, the Institute will continue to build the University’s applied research profile. Recent research has included work to create emotions for virtual world characters in Second Life. Stuart explains this can include making a character afraid of snakes or happy when she sees a rabbit. The University continues to successfully bid for research grants in this area.

And so what are Stuart’s hopes for the future of the Institute?

“We clearly have a regional profile in games and animation, and at present are working on several projects in the area of applied gaming research. This research allows companies to become more competitive and get access to specialist support including help with funding applications in the area of games, animation and mobile digital media.”

With a BAFTA already in the bag, the future looks bright for gaming and animation at the University of Wolverhampton.