A focus on core programming skills is the best way to prepare students for the demands of game industry recruiters, says De Montfort University’s Ralph Birkenhead.
He is interim head of the School of Computing and Informatics at the Leicester-based institution, and told us: “Games programmers have to be thoroughly schooled in computer science. Our Computer Games Programming course is not a jack-of-all-trades. It’s not a bit of level editing, design and programming. We really push the programming side and get students working on real 3D world simulation and artificial intelligence. The fact is industry has incredibly high demands of programmers when they recruit.”
Birkenhead also sees graduates’ firm grounding in code as a passport to a range of careers, which is important given the challenges of getting work in games.
“Our students go into a variety of jobs. Basically, the better students will be recruited by games companies. The ones who are keen tend to get their first job in games, while some get their second job in the industry.”
As well as their programming course, De Montfort also runs a Game Art Design degree programme. And there are plans to bring art and coding students closer together to foster stronger ties between the disciplines.
“We are looking to make our courses even more exciting and to generate a buzz from students,” says Birkenhead. They have a small amount of crossover already, with art and programming students taking part, side-by-side, in the Global Game Jam which took place between January 25th and 27th. And while the formal cirricula will remain largely separate, De Montfort academics hope to generate more contact between students in different disciplines.
“The coders are there to ensure they can take the ideas of creative people and make them happen. They will always need assets and the art students will always need help with script.”
And Birkenhead promises a warm welcome at De Montfort, he cautions that students must have a serious interest in making games, as well as playing them, to thrive at the university and beyond.
“It really helps if they enjoy coding,” he says, adding: “We have a lot of people who come on the course because they enjoy playing games, but that is not necessarily an indicator that they will be good at making games. I suggest when people come on the open days they can get involved with the modding community for a game. The should load up Microsoft XNA and see if they can play around in the tutorials. It’s about getting hands on.”
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