A few weeks ago, GamesNI got the chance to exhibit at a Stemettes event called Monster Confidence. Stemettes is an organisation that encourages young women into STEM fields, and Monster sponsor them to take their show on the road UK wide.
GamesNI reps arrived at 8am that day and set up several machines showing off what Northern Ireland has produced in the past few years, including a VR headset kindly lent to us by Enter Yes. It was a productive day of explaining to girls ages 14 to 20 the options available to them in video game development in Northern Ireland.
The day itself contained multiple workshops, speed dating with specialists as well as talks from industry leaders in Northern Ireland. It was incredibly inspiring to see female leaders in the tech industry talk about what it’s been like for them working in STEM fields, including our very own Gareth Grey (honorary lady?) who took part in a panel at the end of the day.
It was an honor for GamesNI to be able to participate in such an event and we hope to conduct many more like it in the future.
Contiuning our series of Gaming Aim High Diaries, Chloe Gowdy talks about working at company Outsider Games
For my first 4 month placement I was chosen to be with Outsider Games run by Stephen Downey. For my first month there, the crew were all busy completing their game Wailing Heights, a body hopping musical adventure 2D game, so I spent most of my time helping them out by play testing the game and writing down any bugs throughout the game that I later gave to the programmer so that he could fix them. It looked pretty stressful for everyone as the release date was getting closer and closer and everyone wanted the game to be as perfect as possible so we were all over the place trying to get any possible bug or issues that happened in the game fixed, and finishing up any last minute assets that still had to be put in the game. On the day of the release (27th of april), we all took the day to relax in the studio and played lots of board game as we constantly refreshed the Steam page to see how the game was doing on the first day.
Even though the game was released I wasn’t done with the game just yet as Stephen wanted to have Steam achievement icons for his game as well as Steam trading cards and badges. After discussing what the achievements will be, I went into Photoshop to make several icon versions and showed them to Stephen who then gave me some advice on how to make some icons look better and once we were all happy with the icons, Stephen put them on Steam to be approved. It was fun to see the achievements appear in the game as I was testing it to make sure they were all working properly and appearing when I completed an achievement. We didn’t have any issue with making the achievement icons, but when it came to the trading cards, I had a lot of trouble getting everything to be approved by steam, especially for the badges. Stephen and I did a lot of research on how the trading card system on steam worked and how the badges are not allowed to look too similar, but even so I had to make the badges several times before they got properly approved on steam because they said our badges still looked too similar. But we eventually got there and it was still fun to come up with all these different ideas for what the trading cards and badges should look like and see it come to life on steam.
After I had completed these tasks, there wasn’t anything left to do on Wailing Heights, so I started to work on their other project Jennifer Wilde, a point and click adventure game. They already had their 2D artist working on all the main stuff for the game so I mainly took care of designing UI for the game, think about what the main menu should look like and any other smaller 2D tasks I could help with. I am mainly a 3D artist so I wasn’t very confident in my 2D skills but Stephen was very helpful and was always there to come over when I asked for help r advice on something and he would correct me in any perspective issues I was having with my drawing and gave me advice on making my art better, which was very helpful and taught me a lot.
I finished my placement with Outsider Games at the end of July, and started my next placement with The Design Zoo. Overall I had a great time learning 2D and it was a great experience to see a game in its late development about to get released, and I look forward to learning more in my next placement.
Putting compelling storylines, picturesque artwork and a captivating soundtrack to one side, a modern game is a masterpiece of software development. It is just as likely to contain as much serious research and development as that undertaken in a laboratory.
The video games and interactive entertainment industry has a clear strong link to high-tech research and development (R&D). Playing an integral part in the development of original intellectual property, R&D has helped the UK become recognised globally as a leading source of original computer games concepts and design.
With access to finance being a priority for the industry, HMRC’s R&D Tax Relief scheme actively encourages developers to engage in technological innovation that can bring huge benefits to the sector.
In order to qualify for relief, HMRC wants to see R&D being used to create an improvement in a field of science or technology. Even if the R&D in which a company has invested does not have the outcome hoped for, it may even still be able to qualify for R&D tax relief.
With this in mind, Games NI held a discussion with R&D tax experts Jumpstart at the Northern Ireland Screen offices to chat about what the R&D Tax Relief scheme actually means for gaming companies here. R&D tax expert Jumpstart was on hand to explain that game development and interactive entertainment companies should take full advantage of the potential financial gains.
“From designers to producers, it was great to chat to a real mixture of gaming companies. You see, I’m not an accountant; I’m a software developer,” says Mark Westwood, a Technical Analyst at Jumpstart, who has over 30 years’ experience in software development.
“The fact that everyone knows about the Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR) is great to hear – I was very impressed by the knowledge the NI gaming sector has of it,” he continued. Mark also revealed that opportunities exist to claim both VGTR and R&D tax relief, but advised that care is required as HMRC are very particular about what is eligible.
Continuing, Mark says: “However, I found that knowledge on the R&D Tax Relief scheme was a bit sketchier. We have found that some people have looked into the scheme, but it really is under-utilised across Northern Ireland. Which is a shame really, as it’s not often HMRC actually offers you ‘money on the table’!”
Kitty Crawford, Deputy Chair of Games NI, thought the event was highly informative for both herself and other companies in attendance: “It was superb to get a good overall grounding on the R&D Tax Relief scheme, as well as the opportunity to ask specific, technical questions which was very useful. Even though some companies may not be in a position to claim relief now, it is of huge benefit to know about it for the future.”
If there was one thing that the gaming sector in NI should know about the R&D Tax Relief scheme, Ian Wolfendale, Jumpstart’s Client Engagement Manager, said: “Take a look into it. Don’t ignore it and think it’s not for you, as you could be pleasantly surprised.
“After all, analysis of HMRC’s latest figures shows that NI companies – across all sectors – account for just 2.7% of total claims and a mere 1.6% of the total tax benefits claimed from across the UK. This tells me that the R&D tax relief scheme is massively underutilised here.”
Continuing our Gaming Aim High series, Mark Skelton talks about the group visiting Liverpool with Northern Ireland Screen for the International Festival for Business.
After a successful trip to Amsterdam for the Unite Europe 2016 Unity training day it was safe to say that the Aim High crew were very much looking forward to our latest excursion to Liverpool.
Joined by Paula Campbell and Donal Phillips of NI Screen, we caught a flight from Belfast City Airport at 7:10am (we were all fresh as daises!). We arrived at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool at Kings Dock for UK Trade & Investment at the International Festival for Business 2016 for registration at 10am. The talks were scheduled to begin at 11am, which gave us time to get our bearings and explore some of the exhibits that IFB2016 had to offer.
There was a smorgasbord of genres on show, including a VR arcade experience, a word based platformer, a community driven football manager game and an outer-space based racing game. We all got to talk with the creators of each game to gain an insight into their backgrounds, development stories, experience with the business of games and have a general chit chat.
The event kicked off with a welcoming message from Tony Hughes of UKTI followed by keynotes, most notably from Peter Moore of Electronic Arts. It was especially interesting to hear Peter’s viewpoints on future opportunities for business with the European gaming industry following the recent result of the EU referendum. We then had a quick coffee break at noon to recharge the batteries and network other attendees of IFB2016.
The afternoon session saw us receive talks from leading players and investors from three major international games markets; the USA, China and Korea. Much was learned from these presentations, such as localisation challenges faced when entering Korean and Chinese gaming markets, the huge scale of popularity for mobile games in these markets and the many similarities between the UK and USA gaming industries. From 3:30 – 5:30pm we partook in break-out sessions with experts from the overseas markets. We were split into groups for each international games market. Those of us in the USA group were able to directly ask questions to intelligent and captivating figures such as Peter Moore, William Hummel and Fred Schmidt. Topics of discussion included investment, pricing strategies and funding models and we were able to hear brilliant viewpoints from such experienced heads of the gaming industry.
The day was rounded off with a final networking session from 5:30 – 7:00pm, giving us a chance to further discuss what we had learnt throughout and gain potentially important connections for the future. All in all the trip was a huge success and I can safely say that we are all thoroughly looking forward to Aim High’s next adventure!
The six Aim High Gaming graduates from the Game Development Academy were given the great opportunity of travelling to Amsterdam for Unity’s annual event, Unite 2016. Our main aim was to complete the Unity Training Day, a comprehensive series of tutorial sessions that would see us through the steps of making the core mechanics for an adventure game in the Unity engine.
The morning of the event we enjoyed a dander through the park to the Westergasfabriek, a complex of old gas factory buildings, arriving bang on nine o’clock to find a hall buzzing with keen developers of all nationalities and backgrounds. Unity’s setup was as impressive as the venue itself, with a centre stage straddled by neon lights and two huge screens flashing up welcome messages in various languages. The six of us strategically dispersed ourselves amongst the crowd for maximum networking potential, lanyards and Unity branded flash drives in hand.
The seating was quite intimate, I was nestled between an architect from Belgium and the company owner of an indie development team from USA. We hadn’t much time for small talk as business began immediately and moved along quickly. Tasks were broken down into six sessions, with the relevant assets for each included on the pen drive and each step demonstrated before us on the screens by two charismatic Unity reps.
It was an intense course. I strived alongside my newfound acquaintances to keep up with the programming, taking screenshots with our phones and helping each other to make frantic fixes to scripts where possible. At the end of each session there was the option to abandon your current project and pick up the next scene from the drive, yet we were determined to keep our own projects alive to the end.
The tutorial had covered a lot of ground by the time we finished up. We picked up some tricks for setting up the UI canvas, scripting collectables to be counted in an inventory, dealing with persistent changes across scenes, creating nav meshes, and general workflow tips to help know our way around the engine. All the while I was gaining a renewed respect for my code writing colleagues! We took some time to make new contacts and scrounge what was left of the complimentary chocolates, bumping into the Coffee Box Games team from NI just as we left the Westergasfabriek buildings.
Heres hoping next year I’m able to make the pilgrimage to Unite 2017 and stay a little longer for some of the seventy or so presentations from a whole range of Unity professionals. Big thanks to NI Screen for the chance to be there. If you’re a Unity developer looking to brush up on some skills I recommend checking it out.
In our continuing guest posts, Conall Mac Canna writes about Games NI and NI Screen’s Diversity in Games event last month.
Last month, myself, David and some of the Red Spear team had the pleasure of attending a workshop run by Brenda and John Romero ahead of a series of talks ‘Diversity in Games’.
Brenda, formerly Brathwaite, is renowned as a games designer for her work on the likes of the Wizardry and Jagged Alliance series, her teaching and broader substantial work for the improvement of the industry. John, meanwhile produced games with his Id Software, that went by the names Doom, Wolfenstein and I think Quack.
We began with a wonderful segment on forming a development team by way of Black Sabbath, a follow-up about good leaders according to Star Trek from Brenda and a Q&A with them on taking a project to market. After that we were joined by other local developers at the ‘Diversity in Games’ section of the day.
The talks in the afternoon were varied, with one from Specialisterne NI on supporting those on the autistic spectrum in gaining employment in the industry, another from John, giving a rapid-fire history of the fantastic early days of Id Software and the third from Brenda on diversity in the industry in general. From her refreshingly sensible perspective as someone the press have labelled as a #FemaleGamesDesigner (she prefers, rightly so, #GamesDesigner) she noted that, while people should strive to be great in the industry, role models from various backgrounds are vital. The impression she presented was that while we should strive for that – to be something people can aspire towards – we should do so without making our background something that defines how they, sharing said background, perform in their role. This was highlighted with John and his Cherokee / Yaqui / Mexican heritage which, while never a focus in his depiction, is something that provides great inspiration to some of those who are fans of his work.
Overall as well as a great day of insights into the industry from the Romeros, it was fantastic day of meeting and hearing from inspiring veterans of the industry.
Double Jump Studios will host a 4-day training course to suit beginners and self-taught users of After Effects from 8th-13th August. It is available for creatives working in screen-based industries who are looking to up skill their graphics, compositing, animation and visual effects skill set. The course will be delivered both in groups and on a one-to-one basis.
The course will be broad tour through all the features and toolsets of After Effects CC starting with the basics of animation through to more complex projects including particle systems and 3d camera tracking. Course notes and work files will be provided with practical examples to work through. The course will include broadcast level motion graphics and compositing. Students will also be tasked with learning the basics of Adobe Photoshop and illustrator. All training media and project files will be supplied to students for future reference.
Preparing Assets using Photoshop
Compositing with Photoshop layers, selections and masks
Learning the After Effects interface
Animation using Effects and Presets
Using text effects
Creating video compositions using assets
Create a campaign ad using Parenting, Track Mattes, Slideshows and Audio
Animating Photoshop Layers
Working with Masks
Compositing using Roto brushing, Puppet Tools and Custom Expressions
Keying, Colour Correction and Clone Stamping
Creating a 3D Scene using 2d layers
Animating Cameras, Lights and Shadows
Tips and tricks using the curve editor.
Using the 3D Camera Tracker
Stabilising Footage and Multipoint Tracking
Using Mocha for Planar tracking
Getting started with Particle Systems
Integrating Cinema4D / Element3D
How will this benefit your Career?
This course will give you the skills and tools to create broadcast standard motion graphics, animation and compositing and is ideal for those working in 2d/3d animation, visual effects, post-production or games development. After effects is the tool of choice for motion design and animation for broadcast. This course will instill best practice workflows and techniques that are used widely within the industry. An excellent opportunity for those looking to push their skill set further.
Price – the standard course cost is £1000 (excluding VAT)
This will be the first in a series of entries following the experiences of trainees on NI Screen’s Aim High Gaming Placement Scheme. First up is David Freebairn.
My background is in STEM subjects, having graduated with an MEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at QUB before obtaining my Ph.D. in Medical Device Design and Engineering last Summer. That said, I’ve always retained a strong creative streak on the side with Art and Design subjects and a lifelong passion for gaming and the wider entertainment industry.
Initially, I applied for the Department of Education and Learning’s Games Development Academy (GDA) and was selected as one of 16 talented young programmers and artists from a wide range of backgrounds who each shared a common desire – to make video games in Northern Ireland. I couldn’t pass up such a unique opportunity to learn, network, and develop my skills amongst like-minded creative individuals with similar interests and goals. Our ultimate goal was to be selected for one of 6 Aim High “Gaming” placements. Aim High is NI Screen’s flagship training programme designed to grow the film, television and digital content industries (including gaming) in Northern Ireland by funding year-long industry-led placements in conjunction with trips to conventions and training events.
The GDA was an intensive 12-week programme run by the Colleges and local games companies, culminating in a 4-week placement within a company developing their projects. A combination of lectures, workshops, and practical game development, together with our own experiences and knowledge as gamers ensured we all had a good base of skills to create quality games. Put simply, the Games Academy has been a great opportunity for individuals like myself to turn my hobby into a career through a mixture of taught-lectures and hands-on, practical experience.
At the Academy, I worked with 3 other talented individuals, Glenn Osborne, Jack Rafferty and Duncan Foreman to develop Elysium, a first-person exploration game made with Unity. The resultant game and 4-week placement with Iglu Media earned me a spot on Aim High, where I have continued to work with Iglu Media (the first of 3 four-month placements) on their current game, E.1027, releasing on iPad this Summer. Developing games is the perfect cocktail of both creative and technical disciplines; a place where art and tech meet. If you’re passionate about games and interested in art, coding, or just creating cool stuff in general, my advice is to download the Unity engine for free, follow some tutorials and start making games today!
Yesterday marked the start of the first set of trainees to be selected by NI Screen and industry specialists for this 12 month pilot gaming traineeship.
The Aim High Gaming scheme, created in partnership with BBC Northern Ireland, has been developed with the help of Northern Ireland game studios with the aim of developing the future leaders of the games industry in Northern Ireland.
The six trainees, who were selected from the DEL Games Academy, will take part in a year paid industry traineeship completing various placements with different Northern Ireland game development companies, covering all aspects of the game development process.
This traineeship is the first of it’s kind in Northern Ireland for the gaming industry, and Games NI is delighted to welcome it’s first set of trainees to the scheme.
Department for Employment and Learning Deputy Secretary, Catherine Bell, today launched the first Game Development Academy at Parliament Buildings.
The Academy aims to provide 16 talented individuals with the skills and experience required to take up exciting new opportunities in the game development industry, which is a growing sector in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Bell said: “The IT industry and specifically the game development sector has shown significant growth here in recent years. There is now a need for additional skilled people to enter the industry and the Game Development Academy will provide the skills required to allow people to gain opportunities in local companies.
“Delivered through my Department’s Assured Skills initiative, this Academy proves that Government, the private sector and our further education colleges can respond quickly to industry needs by designing a bespoke programme to meet the skills need of the sector. This in turn will help to grow our local economy.”ric
Targeting talented creative individuals, the Academy will offer an intensive 16-week training programme including a company placement. Successful participants will gain an industry recognised qualifications and NI Screen, through the Aim High: Gaming scheme, funded by Invest NI, will offer a 12 month game development industry placement for up to six participants on the Academy programme.
Alastair Hamilton, CEO of Invest Northern Ireland added: “I am delighted to be here today to launch Northern Ireland’s first ever Game Development Academy.
“Gaming is an emerging industry here in Northern Ireland and is worth an estimated £6bn across the UK. Invest NI is supporting many local companies in this area through programmes such as Propel and through our support of Northern Ireland Screen.
“The Game Development Academy, supported by Invest Northern Ireland will build on this momentum, and help shape the growth of the games industry here. It will provide the opportunity for local talent to develop the creative skills to help them take advantage of the opportunities in one of the world’s fastest growing industries.”
The Academy has been designed by Northern Ireland’s game development companies with support from the Department for Employment and Learning, Invest NI, NI Screen and NRC, in conjunction with South West College and Southern Regional College.
Applications to the Game Development Academy will close on Friday 2 October 2015 at 4pm and the training programme for successful applicants will start on 2 November 2015 at Northern Regional College (NRC), Newtownabbey campus. Applications can now be submitted online at: https://gda.mindmill.co.uk/