Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A quick trip to University Campus Suffolk

Ipswich, England

University Campus Suffolk logoIpswich is on the southeastern coast of England, about three hours by train from where I live. It's home to what used to be Suffolk College, and is now University Campus Suffolk. There's a game design program there, and I went to critique the students' projects and give a lecture. I was really pleased to see that the students had all been asked to work on something educational. Several groups just grafted questions onto simple action games, and clearly were more interested in the action part than the education part, but one or two had tried to create an experience in which education was really part of the adventure.

My kind hosts also took me to an excellent pub, the Lord Nelson, in which the great admiral himself was reputed to drink from time to time. True or false, it's everything an English pub ought to be!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Flying through Innovation Week '07

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Innovation Week logoInvest Northern Ireland is a government organization that tries to promote (surprise) investment in Northern Ireland. A good many of the province's historical troubles have been due to underemployment and a poor economic climate, and they're hoping to change that. Every year they run a show in Belfast called Innovation Week, and this year I was invited to address the crowd on the subject of video games. I was pretty busy at the time, so I couldn't stay the whole week; I had to fly in and fly out the same day. But they laid on a car for me and made all the other arrangements, and it went very smoothly. I gave them my lecture about the future of computer entertainment, looking out to about 2050 or so.

The show itself consisted of a number of rooms, each devoted to a different aspect of starting a business in Northern Ireland. If I had any reason to, I would certainly consider it as a place to set up. They offer tons of help on all kinds of subjects -- finding employees, looking for investors, doing the government paperwork, and so on. Labor costs are comparatively low and land prices aren't too bad -- not nearly as high as they are in Dublin, for example. Anyway, it was a fun and informative, albeit short, trip.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Accessibility Contest Featured on KQED TV

When I was at the Game Developers' Conference earlier this year, I took part in Accessibility Idol, a competition to design a game for a quadriplegic player. During the competition, San Francisco public TV station KQED was filming for a segment of their Quest series, which would address accessible games. The segment has now aired, and you can see it here. I only appear in it for a few seconds -- the majority of the time is given to Reid Kimball, a hearing-impaired developer who explains the issues very eloquently. I think it's an excellent piece.

University of Ulster Game Design Goes National!

University of Ulster Magee, Derry, Northern Ireland

University of Ulster logoDare to be Digital is an annual game design contest for students from throughout the UK. During my last trip to the University of Ulster Magee as a visting professor, I took an hour or so to pass on some advice to a team that was entering the competition. I'm really pleased to report that they've made it through the first round of qualifications, and will now be representing all of Northern Ireland in the national competition.

The game is called Bathroom Buccaneers, and the premise is based on tiny pirate ships fighting one another in a bathtub. In addition to their own battles, they have to look out for storms (caused by someone bathing), fog banks in the form of soap bubbles, and of course the dreaded Rubber Duck.

The final awards for Dare 2007 will be handed out on August 16th at the University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland (another place I've visited a few times), and I hope they make it!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Big fun at DeVry University!

Arlington, Virginia, USA

DeVry logoThis weekend I flew to the USA to give a couple of workshops at the Arlington, Virginia campus of DeVry University. DeVry is a nationwide career-oriented university with campuses all over the country, and they were using my visit to promote their new Games and Simulation Programming degree. They had a reception and dinner for me among the current students on Friday night, and then the workshops were held on Saturday in conjunction with a whole lot of other fun events to encourage prospective students to apply. I got a chance to sit down with the faculty and look over their curriculum. It looks good. I'm normally a bit suspicious of schools that are heavy on the training, but their degree includes some psychology, literature, and other humanities courses to help turn out a more well-rounded graduate.

The workshops went well, and the prospective students showed promise. I had them work on some new, never-before-tried game ideas, including "Confront the Whaling Ships." One team created a simple action game for mobile phones called Moby's Revenge. The player controls a whale that head-butts the ships. Pieces fall off and you can collect them up to make armor, which enables you to bash larger and larger ships as the history of whaling progresses from the 19th century to the present day.

The biggest fun, though, was at the reception the night before. I seldom encounter such a friendly, engaged, bright bunch of students. It helped that they were self-selected, of course, so the only ones who turned up were the ones who really wanted to be there in the first place; but even so, it was an outstanding group of people. The other thing that really struck me was their camaraderie and positive attitude. You often run into game development students, especially young males, who are just too cool for words, or aggressively competitive. Not this crowd -- they seemed really supportive of each other and excited about learning. There were only three women out of probably sixty people there, but a little observation showed that they weren't being shunted aside or given minor roles on their development teams (as happens all too often).

Anyway, the whole thing was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to going back, even with the jet lag.