How to be a good game developer (Peter Caddock, Studio Liddell)

The relationships between university, government and industry, the “triple helix”, has been extensively studied in social sciences. It is believed that the knowledge infrastructure of a knowledge society can be explained in terms of the dynamics emerging from the changing relationships between the institutions involved. For example, Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz (2001) point out that “Arrangements and networks among the three institutional spheres provide input and sustainance to science-based innovation processes.” They believe that “In this new configuration, academia can play a role as a source of firm-formation, technological, and regional development, in addition to its traditional role as a provider of trained persons and basic knowledge.”

As a believer of research-informed or even research-driven teaching, I have been keen on trying out different methods of engaging with local creative industries and communities (here in the northwest). I have been inviting practitioners to deliver guest lectures to my students doing different modules in different programmes as a way of exploring potential collaboration as well as of bringing in fresh industry knowledge and experience to the teaching and learning at Salford.

Peter Caddock from Studio Liddell and his daughter Hollie Caddock who is doing a degree with FutureWorks came to MCUK to deliver a guest lecture to my CVG students on 1 November.

I met Peter Caddock at one of the “Accelerating Your Innovation” workshops that the FIRM project organised over the summer. Peter’s enthusiasm, experience and knowledge in new media technologies and in developing interactive games for different platforms immediately made him such a good speaker. He started by introducing the history of gaming technologies. He brought an actual Atari 2600 (VCS), a classic USB Joystick Controller. From Atari VCS to Kinect, he pointed out that the 0 and 1 “binary” is the thing that has been consistent over the past 40 years or so in the gaming world.

Peter then introduced the IPs he and team have produced, including the ss Great Britain Navigation Simulator in Bristol, quantum sheep. Peter used Quantum Sheep as an example to detail the process from drawings, through design, development to final implementation and installation. When producing Quantum Sheep, they needed to do lots of research (understanding the history and the appearances of the period objects and architectures in order to recreate the setting in the game), line mapping on the actual farm, do lots of testing (for example after lots of testing the team found out highlighting the treasures / bonuses is the way forward so that players won’t miss them).

Peter also talked about the new business models Studio Liddell is exploring: “free to play” or “in-app purchase”. Recently, to capitalise on the Halloween season, they developed a new mobile phone game Spook’em 2. Within a week, they have got lots of downloads (more than expected, epsecially when it being an app people have to pay). So that encourages Studio Liddell to further explore a new business model.

The advices he gave to students when asked how to secure a job and get noticed in today’s very competitive gaming industry:

1. Find out what top tools are used in industry and be good at them, know the tools inside out.

The industry standard tools used to develop these interactive games are Unity and UDK. For example, the game Roary the racing car game was developed by Unity. When asked how to secure a job in today’s very competitive gaming industry, Peter suggested students to master one industry-standard tool at least – “Find out what top tools are used in industry and be good at them, know the tools inside out.” Bear in mind that all software have their pros and cons – need to understand their strengths and weaknesses and how they affect your workflow.

2. Go see what others are doing.

He also suggested students to see what’s on at some big creative festivals such as Edinburgh International. Go see what others are doing and learn. For example, many social networking sites have 13+ age policy, but young audience would so much like to network and play with other young children. A game company thus created Moshi Monsters, a social networking game that children can adopt a monster (like online Picachu) and chat with new friends. You get inspirations when seeing these sort of things.

3. “Show me what you’ve done. Don’t tell me what you’re going to do.”

Asked how to get noticed, he replied that “Show me what you’ve done. Don’t tell me what you’re going to do.” Perhaps doing SEO manipulation would help a bit, but without evidence, people won’t be able to admire or comment on your work.

4. Work in a small team with people you trust, and have lots of contacts so that you can manoeuvre resources (quickly compose a team of animators, renderer, modeller, people do texturing, lighting etc.).

5. Work closely with customers, know their requirements and know the brand well. Do lots of research.

Peter has got lots more to show to students on his iPad, including the augmented reality games they developed. Unfortunately, without Apple iPad’s very unique 30pin Digital AV adapter, Peter was unable to do so on a big screen. But that didn’t lessen the richness of his talk.

This semester, we have also had a guest lecture from Steven Craft and Antony White from Paw Print Games (20 October), and there are more to come. By sharing their experiences and work, these industry partners enrich the teaching and learning activities in the programmes we have been delivering at Salford. And I hope this form of collaboration will result in a win-win situation – even if it’s in an inconspicuous way like Peter merrily said to me afterward: “Thanks again for inviting me to speak today, I really enjoyed it.”

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