Guest blog by Dr Tommy Thompson. University of Derby

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I’m Dr Tommy Thompson, a lecturer at the University of Derby. Since completing my undergraduate degree in Computer Science back in 2004, I have worked as a commercial software developer for a variety of companies while pursuing a career in research; completing an MSc in Artificial Intelligence in 2006 from the University of Edinburgh and a Ph.D in AI applied to games from the University of Strathclyde in 2010.

I’m the Programme Leader for the BSc in Computer Games Programming at the University of Derby and teach our introductory modules in C# and XNA as well as our final year module in AI for games .

The University of Derby recently moved to a 20-credit system and we saw an opportunity to shake-up our curriculum to do something new. This resulted in our new Game Development module, where our students in the Computer Games Programming degree would be working alongside their peers in the BSc in Computer Game Modelling and Animation. The remit of the module was simple; construct a game-concept you could present to a publisher within 12 weeks. We constrained the games to revolve around concepts of ‘Zombies’ and ‘time’, which resulted in a range of games that were completely unique. It was our intent to put students through the creative processes of commercial game development but within a severely protracted timeframe.

The tools and technology used was driven entirely by the students. We are one of the few UK institutions to have both Windows 7 and 8 running on our systems and we provide a range of tools such as Visual Studio and Unreal Development Kit to our programming students on these builds. Given our students intent to develop games that can subsequently be released to a larger audience, it makes sense to start working on Windows systems, which hold the largest market share in PC gaming.

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The teaching of the module was a relatively smooth process; we left many of the technical challenges in the hands of the students, but guided them through key milestones of development such as concept art and documentation, creating their alpha build, testing for quality and refining the mechanics to ensure the fun factor shone through. My colleagues Minsi Chen and Jon Pledger were instrumental in bringing this about and their prior experience from working with large studios in the AAA industry proved vital.   

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Our teaching team have been very vocal about transitioning to Windows 8 on our lab machines and subsequently integrating it into our teaching curriculum. We feel it’s crucial our students across all years are aware of the paradigm shift that is occurring in Microsoft technologies. Thankfully the school management have been very receptive and it has been a very smooth transition.

The main focus of the Game Development module is to produce high-quality portfolio material. At this stage of their academic career it is crucial that they present some work that is a reflection of their technical ability. Having our students showcase this work as part of the Games@Derby expo aids them not only in presenting their work publically, but ensuring they place greater attention to detail and quality in their work. Meanwhile, our CGP students were working on more portfolio material with my colleague Wayne Rippin to develop Windows 8 apps in our Systems Programming module.

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We’re hoping to show off this work at our next Games@Derby event running on 8th February.