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Be the Master of the Game

game-chaosWhat to study

School of Computing, National University of Singapore,  offers a wide range of courses covering both the design and development aspects of gaming. Students will get insights into all phases of game development. You can specialise in 3D modelling and animation, game development, digital media production, computer vision and pattern recognition, graphics rendering techniques, digital special effects, networked and mobile gaming, general-purpose computation on Graphics Processing Unit, advanced computer animation, game design and projects on game design and development. Other options abroad include University of Central Lancanshire, UK, London College of Communication and Brunel University, UK. Closer home, Bangalore-based Asian Institute of Gaming and Animation (AIGA) offers a BFA in Digital Design, Professional Diploma in Game Art, Diploma in Game Art, Diploma in Game Programming, Professional Diploma in Digital Art and Design, Professional Diploma in Animation, Certificate in 3D Visualisation, Certificate in Game Environments and several short-term courses. You can also look for courses from Arena Animation Academy and DSK Supinfocom.

Who can become a gamer

There are many opportunities at the entry level. Gaming involves both art and programming. Sunil Thankamushy, Creative Director, DEEPBLUE Worlds Inc, US, says, “My advice would be to learn a bit of everything. When you are at school, learn both programming and also appreciate the artistic side of gaming. A strong focus on the subject is essential.” Thankamushy is into creating interactive games for children called XPLORE PANGAEA. Details at www.deepblueworlds.com. The 43-year-old has worked with DreamWorks (his first job) and Spark Unlimited. He helped co-create mind-blowing games such as Medal of Honor and Call of Duty.

Inside the classroom

Anand Bhojan, who teaches Game Development at School of Computing, National University of Singapore, says “The module exposes students to various stages in the game development life cycle. The objective is to introduce techniques for electronic game design and programming and covers a range of important topics including 3D maths, game physics, game AI, sound, as well as user interface for computer games. Furthermore, it gives an overview of computer game design, publishing and marketing to students. Through laboratory projects, students will have hands-on programming experience with popular game engines and develop basic games using engines like PC Consoles, Mobiles and Playstation.”

Things to look out for on the job

As a constantly evolving field, innovation is the watchword. Gaming is anything but an old economy job, where you just do the same thing over and again for years. “Keep an open mind and adapt to needs. To be a successful gamer, you need to be mentally agile,” advises Thankamushy. From personal experience, he recommends being up to speed on how game engines work, as you don’t get much time to learn and experiment.

Industry-academia connect

NUS’ courses have a strong tie-up with the local game industry as vouched for by Bhojan. “Industry partners deliver guest lectures on industry practices and help review student projects at the design, prototype and final stages. The module introduces various modelling tools and game engines, followed by common algorithms and techniques used in game engines focusing on Artificial Intelligence, physics, 3D maths and networking. Lab exercises and practical assignments are designed to give hands-on experience in implementing these algorithms in a given framework. Through these set of exercises, students acquire skills progressively to complete their game development project. You can view student-developed games at www.arivu.d2.comp.nus.edu.sg/game.”

Things are no different at AIGA. “We always have the industry on our mind. Besides internships, we really get to the bottom of our students’ training and teach them even basic things like how to save a file. When they are ready to step into the industry, they need to be well-rounded and understand how things function, starting from the basics,” says Hanif Mohammed, Director of Corporate Affairs, AIGA. “Even the assignments we give our students are linked to one another; them creating a complete product for their portfolio is our aim,” he adds.

Opportunities

“Graduates will be able to create games independently. They can work in the capacities of game designer, level designer, game software engineer, game software architects, level scripter, tools programmer, game play programmer, programmers specialising in graphics, physics, Artificial Intelligence and networking,” says Bhojan. Thankamushy touch bases upon the Kickstarter method of procuring funding for games, which is “a big thing now. More and more independent studios with a team strength of five people or less are using crowd-funding methods such as Kickstarter to fund their dream games.”

Scope for entrepreneurship

A creative field always has entrepreneurship potential. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Bhojan takes us through the entrepreneurial efforts of his students: “Some of our graduates start small game development studios while they are studying and continue working on it even after graduating. For instance, Touch Dimensions (www.touchdimensions.com) is one such studio with commercially successful titles. Autumn Dynasty, a mobile game, is their first commercial game. Autumn Dynasty’s innovative natural user interface is modelled after painting brushstrokes and is the key to its success. Placing the player in command of an army on a Chinese painting, each gesture or ‘stroke of the brush’ moves the units in this oriental themed real-time strategy game. Autumn Dynasty was released in May 2012, reaching 34,000 paid downloads within its first month.

Wired Magazine called Autumn Dynasty, “A beautiful, clever strategy game for the iPad”. Bhojan also says that even before the game’s public release, Touch Dimensions’ flagship game gained global recognition within the game developer’s community. In 2009, it won the Best Student Game Award at the Independent Games Festival in Shanghai and was one of the Microsoft Code 7 contest winners at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.

How to derive inspiration

Inspiration is what really drives a creative field. With continuous challenges, there’s always a constant need to look back. “Most people derive inspiration from their love of playing games. As for me, I focus on creating interactive experiences where art and technology meet,” says Thankamushy.

Challenges

“This is definitely not a stable environment — market, technology, people’s interest… they change and evolve continuously. You need to constantly reinvent and push your horizons. Sometimes, it can be intensive and at times nerve-wracking. Even for someone who loves games, this is mentally an unstable environment,” says Thankamushy. People love games and there are always going to be plenty of opportunities. “However, things are not going to be stable always. Abroad, there are hundreds of studios cropping up and closing down quickly,” he adds.

Movies Vs games

Pretty much like the question on ‘whether the chicken or egg came first’, opinions are divided on which inspires the other. Thankamushy dismisses it all, passing on the burden to marketing. “When a big-budget movie is slated for release, to boost its popularity, games based on the movies follow. In nine out of 10 occasions, they are bad. Sometimes, they turn out to be good. But the best of the games are the ones that have stood on their own,” he explains.

Asked about movies inspired by games like Mortal Kombat, Lara Craft: Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, he says, “Of course, in recent times, you have films like Total Recall (remake), Sucker Punch and Wreck-It-Ralph, where even the way the camera moves, has a feel of a video game. This is again business, as games have redefined the way we visualise the world. With more than half of the planet hooked on to games, its a money-spinner.” According to him, the movies score highly because of the first-person view (primarily from the video games) they endorse — the view as if you are in the scene, and are walking about with a camera attached to your head. “You see the world through the character’s eye,” he adds. Before parting, Thankamushy recommends to watch out for Dreamland Chronicles and Dancers of War made by his friends Scott Hyman and Scott Eaton, respectively. Van Partible, the creator of Johnny Bravo is also on board of Dancers of War.

Date: April 7th, 2014

Source: The New Indian Express