Dar­ing minds


Dare Pro­toPlay showcases the next gen­er­a­tion of de­vel­op­ers

Dundee is go­ing through a pe­riod of ag­gres­sive re­gen­er­a­tion. De­mo­li­tion sites pock the land­scape sur­round­ing the city’s his­toric cen­tre, each scar en­cir­cled by tem­po­rary fenc­ing and di­ver­sion signs. It’s a suit­ably tu­mul­tuous back­drop for Dare Pro­toPlay, Aber­tay Univer­sity’s cel­e­bra­tion of new de­vel­op­ment tal­ent and the UK’s big­gest in­die game fes­ti­val. The four-day Au­gust event, which hosted 15 stu­dent projects en­tered in the Dare To Be Dig­i­tal com­pe­ti­tion as well as 30 in­die devs’ games, took place in the city’s Caird Hall and ad­join­ing City Square, and at­tracted over 13,000 at­ten­dees.

The lineup was led by for­mer Un­charted de­signer Richard Le­marc­hand, now at­tached to the Univer­sity Of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where he works as an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor. In a key­note ti­tled Games And Play­ers: Fu­tures And Pre­dic­tions, Le­marc­hand looked at the emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies cre­at­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for cre­ators, ex­plored some ideas for how such tech could be used, and ex­am­ined who play­ers – and cre­ators – might be in the fu­ture.

Aber­tay’s Pro­toPlay fes­ti­val con­tin­ues to grow as it showcases up-and-com­ing de­vel­op­ers

Vir­tual re­al­ity fea­tured heav­ily, ty­ing in with Le­marc­hand’s grow­ing in­ter­est in “ex­pe­ri­en­tial games”, such as Among The Sleep and Fract OSC. He con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­i­ties of re­al­ity hack­ing and cre­at­ing pres­ence via mo­tion-cap­ture tech­nol­ogy, giv­ing the ex­am­ple of Nonny De La Peña’s sim of a Syr­ian refugee camp, which you can ex­plore by walk­ing around.

And he sug­gested that now is a good time to spe­cialise for any­one look­ing at get­ting into the in­dus­try, specif­i­cally cit­ing the in­creas­ing need for skilled an­i­ma­tors, physics and AI pro­gram­mers, de­sign­ers and pro­duc­tion spe­cial­ists, and ex­perts in sim­u­lated ma­te­ri­als. But for small stu­dios, whose mem­bers must be mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary, he held Capy­bara up as an ex­em­plar of a stu­dio will­ing to rein­vent it­self.

Le­marc­hand also hosted an ex­pert panel, which took in such top­ics as how you go about fos­ter­ing a de­vel­op­ment scene, learn­ing from other dis­ci­plines and be­ing pre­pared to di­vide your ef­forts be­tween work-for-hire and orig­i­nal con­tent. The panel in­cluded Quar­tic Llama pro­gram­mer and game de­signer Erin Michno; Colin An­der­son, founder and MD of Denki; PlayS­ta­tionFirst head of aca­demic de­vel­op­ment Maria Stukoff; Dr Wil­liam Hu­ber, who lec­tures in com­puter arts at Aber­tay Univer­sity; and Clive Gill­man, di­rec­tor of Dundee Con­tem­po­rary Arts.

“Univer­sity was great, and I got to use all the tech I wouldn’t nor­mally have ac­cess to,” said Michno, who be­lieves that a lack of com­mu­nal spa­ces for de­vel­op­ers needs to be ad­dressed. “But there’s a gap when you leave. What do you do? Find­ing ways to fill those lit­tle gaps – and since there’s so many of us mak­ing games, it would make sense to do that com­mu­nally – that would re­ally help foster the cre­ative scene.”

An­der­son, mean­while, para­phrased UB40’s as­ser­tion that Top Of The Pops and un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fit were the two key fac­tors in in­vig­o­rat­ing the UK mu­sic scene. De­vel­op­ers, he con­tin­ued, need the same kind of free­dom to hone their craft with­out money or job wor­ries, and cited Denki’s own prac­tice of tak­ing staff

The Dare Pro­toPlay en­tries on show were an in­no­va­tive bunch. There was a heavy fo­cus on lo­cal mul­ti­player

off of work-for-hire projects pe­ri­od­i­cally to let them ex­per­i­ment with­out stip­u­la­tion.

Stu­dents have this lux­ury to at least some de­gree, and the Dare Pro­toPlay en­tries on show were an in­no­va­tive bunch. There was a heavy fo­cus on lo­cal mul­ti­player projects, in­clud­ing sin­gle­screen brawler Ally, asym­met­ric ac­tion plat­former Don’t Walk: Run and the exquisitely ex­e­cuted Cham­bara. Sophia George, the V&A’s first game de­signer in res­i­dence, was also at the event and show­ing the re­sults of that part­ner­ship: a game called Straw­berry Thief, which al­lows play­ers to nav­i­gate and colour in Wil­liam Mor­ris prints us­ing an iPad.

“Dare Pro­toPlay is al­ways a re­ally ex­cit­ing time for Dundee, as thou­sands of peo­ple of all ages come along to play new games,” says Chris Wilson, Aber­tay Univer­sity’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager and one of the team be­hind the fes­ti­val. “Pro­toPlay is a re­ally im­por­tant cat­a­lyst for young chil­dren start­ing to de­sign games, but also for older chil­dren think­ing about ca­reer choices and univer­sity, for stu­dents want­ing to break into the in­dus­try, for indies to test games on a huge au­di­ence, and for any­one just in­ter­ested in find­ing out more about the world of games. It’s some­thing the whole team at Aber­tay is ex­tremely proud of.”

The 15 stu­dent Dare teams ex­hib­ited their games to the pub­lic in a gi­ant mar­quee set up in Dundee’s cen­tre

The Univer­sity Of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Richard Le­marc­hand

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