In September 2015 Northern Ireland’s Department for Employment and Learning launched the first Game Development Academy. The Academy was the creation of Northern Ireland’s game development companies with support from the Department, Invest NI, NI Screen and Northern Regional College, in conjunction with South West College and Southern Regional College.
The goal of the Academy was (and is) to allow 16 individuals – who possess the necessary talent and experience – to get a foothold in Northern Ireland’s growing game development sector. It offered an intensive 16-week training programme including a company placement. Successful participants were to gain industry recognised qualifications and NI Screen, through the Aim High: Gaming scheme – funded by Invest NI – would offer a 12 month game development industry placement for up to 6 participants on the Academy programme. The traineeships would see the successful individuals complete various placements with different Northern Ireland game development companies, covering all aspects of the game development process.
The Aim High Gaming scheme was created by NI Screen in partnership with BBC Northern Ireland and with the help of Northern Ireland game studios with the aim of developing the future leaders of the games industry in Northern Ireland.
One such potential leader and successful graduate of the Game Development Academy is Chloe Gowdy, who has been on a placement with NI’s own Outsider Games. We went to talk to with her about herself, her experiences of the Academy, her placement and the future.
Hi Chloe I appreciate you speaking with us! So firstly tell us a bit about yourself? Have you always been an artist? Have you always had an interest in game development?
As a child, I was always interested in art and would draw all of my favourite cartoon or anime characters on paper any chance I would get. As I grew older I got a tablet and learned how to draw digitally on programs like Photoshop.
My siblings and I were first introduced to games at a young age when our father bought us our very own PlayStation and got us the Hercules game that we all played and loved so much. As the years went by and we got more and more games I started to become more curious as to how all these great games were able to come to life in the first place.
How did you first get into 3D modelling?
When watching DVD’s like Shrek or Toy Story, they would always include bonuses in the menu options that would show a clip of the directors explaining how these movies came to life by showing people working on the computer messing about with the character models, showing us the animation process which I found really fascinating. After showing interest in the 3D world, I started to look about on the internet for any tutorials that I could find about 3D programs and slowly learned how to use programs like 3ds Max, Maya and Blender.
How did you first hear about and then get involved in the Game Development Academy?
I first heard about it in the newspaper and because it sounded very interesting and a great opportunity to learn more about the games industry, I looked it up on the website to have more details on the course. The application was simple enough; all we needed was to say whether we were an artist or a programmer and then send a link to our portfolios and/or our CV.
The games industry (particularly in areas where it is an emerging industry) is often seen as quite difficult to break into; had you tried to do so before the Academy?
No, lucky enough for me I just got out of an HND tech games development course a few months before I applied for the Games Academy.
You were fortunate – or perhaps more accurately talented – enough to be selected from the Academy to progress onto the Aim High: Gaming Scheme; how did you feel when you found out? Can we ask what the selection process involved?
When I received the email confirming whether or not I have been accepted onto the course I was so nervous and I was a bit scared to read it, but when I saw it was good news I was so happy I told as many people as I knew the second I got accepted.
There were two parts to the application, once you sent your application out before the set deadline and got through to the next round, they gave you a Mindmill test, which is an online assessment system that defines and measures natural ability, interests and motivation in individuals. If we were successful in passing this test we then got through to the interview stage where local game developers would look at our portfolio and assess our work.
Assuming the Academy and Aim High Scheme run again would you recommend getting involved to any aspiring game designers and developers?
Absolutely it’s a great opportunity to get introduced to all the local game companies out there especially if you are new to the industry, and you get to learn a lot in the course not only from the tutors but also from your classmates.
You’re at Outsider Games as part of your placement – how have you been enjoying that?
It’s been great so far, even though I am more of a 3D artist now, I have still been getting a lot of 2D work to do for them which helped my polish my 2D skills more because I haven’t been able to draw much ever since I became focused on 3D modelling. The people who work there are comic book artists so they would give me very helpful advice on how to improve on the perspective of my drawings which is my biggest weakness.
Can you tell us what you have been working on for them?
I’ve mostly been helping out with UI design for their upcoming project, and drawing any extra 2D scenes or assets they need. I also do a bit of 3d modelling for certain objects in their project that I also animated and textured.
I believe you will be at 3 different studios over this year long placement; do you know where you are heading after Outsider? Or where you would like to go?
I’ve just finished my 4 month placement with Outsider Games and will now be joining Design Zoo.
Is there a particular type of game design/genre that you’re drawn to working on?
I’m really into adventure and hack and slash games, like Tomb Raider or Devil May Cry, and my goal in the future is to become a character modeller so I would love to design and make all these interesting characters with nice looking armours and weapons.
Do you have any specific aspirations for your game development career? Would you like to have your own studio one day or is that thinking too far ahead?!
You never know what could happen in the future so I can’t say for sure if I will end up owning my own studio as a game developer but it’s definitely an option I am thinking about, but for now I am mostly trying to focus on improving my modelling skills by learning more advanced 3D programs and keep practising as much as I can.
Finally, what do you enjoy playing?
I love playing adventure games and Tomb Raider has always been a big favourite of mine so I’ve been really enjoying the newest one that came out, Rise of the Tomb Raider. I’m a big Batman fan so naturally I found myself drawn to all the games that came out (Arkham Asylum, Arkham city etc). I also really enjoy playing story based games like the Walking Dead Telltale games and recently got into Life is Strange which was really amazing.
Since speaking to Chloe she has moved on from Outsider Games and we have learned that the game she was working on was their upcoming point and click adventure Jennifer Wilde. We wish Chloe luck in the future and look forward to seeing how she impacts the local game development industry.