A development competition which offers students and recent graduates a shot at BAFTA glory is once again open to entries. Dare To Be Digital, run by the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland, is looking for teams of artists and programmers to pitch game concepts and win professional mentoring and funding to put their ideas into practice.
The contest has a proven track record of getting people into the industry, with many alumni going on to work in major studios or setting up on their own. Malath Abbas is one such success story – he spoke to us on the eve of jetting out to San Francisco as part of a Scottish trade delegation touting for business from tech firms, having already been on a similar trip to Toronto, Canada. It’s a world away from how Abbas’ career might have developed before Dare To Be Digital.
The co-founder of indie studio Quartic Llama started working life at advertising firms. As an aspiring games animator, he pictured himself working for a major studio, but that changed when a friend introduced him to Dare To Be Digital. “I studied in Liverpool and I’ve always had a passion for games development. I did a degree and a Masters in animation for games and worked briefly at advertising agencies because I wanted to stay in the Liverpool area. Then, by chance, a friend-of-a-friend was going to be doing Dare To Be Digital. I’d never heard of it at that stage,” explains Abbas. “I was invited to join a team and as I was a bit older was asked to be team leader. I met up with the guys and we came up with a game idea and pitched it in Sheffield when we were interviewed by industry people.”
“The interview was a success and the team, Evolved Ape, headed to Dundee for the development bootcamp stage of the contest,” continues Abbas. “In Dundee we were very motivated – we wanted to gain as much experience as possible and to meet industry contacts. We did Dare To Be Digital with the idea of getting jobs in games so we just wanted to do something as impressive as we could.”
And impress they did, winning a a nomination in the BAFTA One To Watch category by being one of the three best games in the competition. Though they didn’t win the ultimate prize, the competition changed Abbas’ life and recalibrated his idea of what he could achieve in the industry.
“Ultimately we all landed jobs off the back of that experience,” he continues. “It was a very intense period. We were looked after, we got accommodation, a small salary to cover food and expenses and we were really focused on developing the project. Every week we got to speak to different industry people in senior roles. They gave us feedback and we even got to socialise with them and become friends.”
Abbas returned to Dundee to work at game dev startups, but his taste of project management soon saw him accept an invitation from Dare To Be Digital rivals to setup Quartic Llama. Having completed a phase of work-for-hire output and moved into some light and airy new offices, judging by the Twitter updates, Quartic Lllama have just cleared the decks for four or five months to work on their next project, Dama.
The game is a turn-based strategy set in a universe where natural spirits fight a corruption threatening to cover their world. Dama offers players the chance to create and collect characters by extracting elements from the game world and combining them through alchemy to strengthen their team, and share their creations or play against friends.
“We are preparing a pitch to the big publishers and the hardware manufacturers,” explains Abbas. “We have spent a year and a bit developing prototypes. We’re in a good place right now – alot of that started with Dare To Be Digital. It was a very good proving ground, I was expected to deliver in a very professional environment and setting. I was given an amazing opportunity.”
Dare To Be Digital competition entries are open until April 21, 2014 and the next stop on the Dare roadshow is University College London on March 12, with tickets still available for those who want to find out more about taking part.