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