Leading developers have pledged to work with students on a new games art course which launches in September with the aim of priming graduates for a game industry job.
Blitz Games Studios, Codemasters and Pixel Bullies are among the companies supporting the Foundation Degree in Games Art at Warwickshire College in Leamington Spa, UK. The two-year course includes drawing tutelage and training in industry-standard design software and is accredited by the University of Gloucestershire.
“The game companies have helped us write the course," says course manager Mike Irvine. "I am confident our people should be in a good position to get a job.”
Alternatively, graduates will be able to study for a third or fourth year at a University to top up their qualification to a BA degree which could help them into an entry-level position on a career path that potentially leads to lucrative, creative jobs.
“There are plenty of games art courses, but we need more that deliver for students and the industry," says Blitz Games Studios R&D art director Jolyon Webb, who advised on course content. "Our ambition is to support something that is local and that will benefit us in the long term.”
And Webb believes the new course at Warwickshire is one to watch with its strong mix of core skills, industry input and teachers with industry experience.
Webb, who has been involved with education for 13 years in a teaching support and advisory capacity, added: “Back in the day I wanted to get involved because there was a shambolic fallout from multimedia courses elsewhere.
“Students who had energy and potential had been poorly served by courses that tried to do everything.”
Webb is clear on the qualities he and his colleagues are looking for in potential employees. “We are looking for decision makers. We want to be involved early on to help ensure students are constantly questioning their work and making value judgements.”
The new course is targeted primarily at talented artists and one of the three and a half days of contact time per week will be dedicated to live and observational drawing.
Leamington MP Chris White (centre) with consulting game industry professionals, Warwickshire College staff and prospective Games Art Foundation Degree students.
Irvine continues: “You can teach someone to use software, but you can’t teach them to draw well. We are looking for strong artists."
The full list of collaborating developers also includes Kwalee, Pixel Bullies and Supersonic Software. Modules have been carefully advised by these companies with further help from SEGA Europe, Codemasters and Fish In A Bottle.
The firms will give live briefs to students who will be taught 3D Studio Max, Mudbox and Adobe Creative Suite. Knowledge of these tools should help students into a career in game art in the USA, UK or overseas.
The path from Warwickshire College to industry is well-trodden. Harry Gladwin-Geoghegan, R&D Technical Animator at Blitz Games Studios, studied BTEC Media (Games Development) and followed up with a degree in 3D Digital Animation. “It’s great to see that a new foundation degree course in games has started at the college," he says, "and it will also be a wonderful opportunity for us to provide input to upcoming students as they try and work their way towards getting into the industry.”
Seven studios looked over the course’s 16 modules, with feedback shaping content delivery. In some cases industry partners suggested a major alteration. SEGA Europe, for instance, wrote a two-sided A4 response which included direction on plans to ask students to write an extensive design document. They argued such documents are outmoded, suggesting instead the inclusion of more frequent updates from students working on projects.
Warwickshire’s Leamington Spa location places it in the centre of a pocket of development studios. “Because of the location I decided we should run a foundation degree,” says Irvine, “I tentatively sent an email to the big studios who are usually quite secretive. The response was very positive and Kim Blake at Blitz Games Studios said, ‘I don’t know why we haven’t done this before’.”
Irvine believes industry involvement in the course is as far-reaching as it is crucial. “Blitz Games Studios is sending in staff members, Jolyon Webb wanted to be there from the first day," he continues. "It shows they are behind it and that they are there to motivate the students not just to set briefs.”
Partner companies are understandably cautious about throwing trainees into the development deep end, but they are providing workplace experience and opportunities to showcase student work. Codemasters, for instance, has taken on some pre-entry students for playtesting. Kwalee has cleared the way for Warwickshire students to pitch new game ideas.
“One thing studios are reluctant to do is allow students to produce assets," explains Irvine. "They have strict deadlines so can’t rely on students. That might change once we have proven our worth.”
As accreditation for the course was only confirmed in May, numbers will be limited to ten students for the September intake, though that will rise to 16 in 2013/14. Students can apply for the course via clearing if they are already in the UCAS system, or can contact Mike Irvine directly.
The course will cost £6,500 per year. “That’s considerably less than university fees of up to £9,000 a year,” says Irvine.
For more information, including entry requirements, see the college’s course details page.