It’s an annual fixture in the Cambridge dev scene calendar, and this year’s Brains Eden festival was the biggest yet with 150 competitors taking part in the showcase game jam.
Teams from all over Europe – including Spain, Sweden, France and many from the UK – attended the event at Anglia Ruskin University this weekend to compete in the jam. Four-week internships at Sony’s Guerrilla Cambridge studios were on offer for the winners. Brains Eden is run by Games Eden and Creative Front Cambridgeshire, a network set up by Anglia Ruskin to incubate, grow and support creatives from a range of industries.
Creative Front manager Clare Denham says the festival is designed to stimulate the relationships between industry and academia and improve the quality of students entering game development from university. “Initially we found there was some communication that needed to happen before people were graduating, so Brains Eden was set up to look at the skills gap,” she explains.
Students are invited to the event to engage in detailed conversations with industry professionals. They are also given ten-minute sessions to show their portfolios and pose questions to pros who offer their time and advice for free.
“We are still looking for the same thing that we were years ago, except there are more people coming through,” explains Mark Green, a senior producer at Guerrilla Cambridge. Green, who was involved in the advice sessions, reflects on the polarisation of skillsets which he sometimes encounters. “If we look as art as an example, there are quite often people who have technical knowledge to create a model, but who don’t have the artistic nous to make it great. Some people have an artist’s eye, and some people are technically capable of modelling a box,” he says.
“If someone comes to and all they do is play games, then the only thing they are going to create is more of the same sort of games. That’s why we like it if they draw upon anything outside games – whether that’s music, films, manga or ballet…”
For Brains Eden this year, a host of industry professionals gave hands-on help mentoring the students in the game jam which provides the finale for the weekend festival. The theme of the contest was mountains, though the winning entry came from the lowlands.
There Will Be Mountains by the Breathing Bits team from NHTV University in Breda, Holland picked up the BE Mobile prize sponsored by ARM for the best game on a mobile platform and the overall gong for the second time running. The runners-up, Last Stand, from Howest University in Belgium win a tour of sponsors studios – including Guerrilla Cambridge, ARM, Jagex, Frontier and Geomerics.
“It was great fun as always,” says Nils Ruisch, the Lead artist and team lea for Breathing Bits. “With 31 teams competing, it was a much harder fight this year against some fantastic games – I believe our edge comes from being taught by ex-industry professionals (at NHTV University) who stress initial pipeline structuring that allows enough time for final polish and gameplay tweaking… roll on next year for the hat-trick.”
Guerrilla Cambridge’s Green, who was involved in judging, saw the winning entry. “It looked pretty impressive – a spinning globe game in which you manoeuvre the world and collect money – the faster you spin it the faster it goes. My colleagues said it looked very polished and it’s the kind of the thing you could see on sale on the app store for 69p right now.”
Jonathan Skuse, from Cambridge developer Popleaf, who facilitates the jam every year explains: “It’s incredibly exciting to see a small event we started on a whim four years ago grow to a slick, pan-European event. So many of these students are incredibly talented, filled with enthusiasm and brilliant people to boot. It’s easy to get cynical about games, education and young people, but this event is an annual reassurance that the future is bright.”
“It was also hugely gratifying to see so many friends from across the games industry generously giving up their time on a glorious June weekend. It strikes me that this spirit of openness and collaboration represents everything that the games industry should aspire to be.”
The game jam is only part of the festival, which kicks off with a symposium. This year BAFTA brought their Question Time panel hosted by Ian Livingstone to Cambridge for the first time as part of Brains Eden. “That incentivised a lot of the industry and indie community to come along and it was great,” says Denham.
The panel featured Frontier Developments’ David Walsh, Mark Gerhard from Jagex, indie developer Terry Cavanagh, Nizar Romdhane from ARM and Mark Green.“There were lots of questions about how to stay creative and a good level of debate from the panel and that’s a format we would like to take forward into next year’s event,” adds Denham.
The lines of enquiry from the students reflected a growing interest in the indie route into the industry. “When we first started Brains Eden it was all about getting placements and internships and experience,” she says. “That was drive from students and from the studios who had opportunities and a need. But over the past two years the rise in teams arriving and wanting to work collaboratively with their peers or start their own studio has increased.”
That’s a positive development, says Guerrilla’s Green. “We’re entering a golden age because not that long ago people couldn’t see a way into industry, except by working for a big studio. They have a different route now. Sometimes they don’t think they can get into a studio and it’s great that so many people are able to find opportunities to get into the industry.”