Epic Games have bought games design students at Staffordshire University a “state-of-the-art” lab, and filled it from end-to-end with 85 PCs - all “sufficiently cutting edge” to run the latest version of UDK and game development software. In a year or two, they’ll buy 85 replacement GPUs to keep them up to scratch.
Why are they doing this? To ensure that the next generation of Unreal developers are ready to be better than the last.
“The intent is that what they teach here will be what’s out there in the world,” says Epic European territory manager Mike Gamble.
The partnership is currently set for two years, during which Epic will provide hardware, software, teaching time and access to key personnel.
“There’s a lot of talk about the need for the industry to get more involved with the academic process and have a greater input into how games design is taught,” said Mike Gamble, Epic’s European Territory Manager.
“This collaboration will enable Staffs students to have a direct link with Epic and a direct line to the heart of the industry. In turn, Epic and its developer partners will have access to these world-class facilities along with a new generation of game makers totally immersed within the world of Unreal Engine technology.”
The Epic Games Centre will first host an Unreal Engine 4 Developer Day in April - a programming and art track where licensees can get up to speed on developments with the engine and how best to use it.
For the university, says Dr Bobbie Fletcher, the Centre will mean “exposing our students to the industry, and the industry to us and what we do.”
“One of the hardest things about breaking into the games industry is knowing people,” said Fletcher. “On Developer and Indie days, we can have 120 developers coming from all over Europe here to the university, where students can have coffee with them and socialise with them in the evening.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to get their faces known, get their work known, give out business cards that link with their portfolios, and get people to see their work.”
“It puts the eye on us, makes us visible,” said student Leon Field, tech lead on a 2D pirate platformer named Plunderbuss. “We were going to make a great game anyway - now we’ve got people watching us, it’s a motivator. And it’s shining a light on good games students at places like Stafford.”
It’s hoped the Centre will educate developers too - who too often, says Fletcher, “don’t really know what academia does and what universities do.”
“We do 3D modelling, engines, how to work in Scrum, how to produce games and be a project manager - some of these students are giving each other appraisals that you would at work,” she said. “So that when they actually go into the industry and go into some kind of meeting, they understand all the words that are being said.
“All of these developers will now know about Staffordshire university and the quality we deliver.”
On either side of Epic events, the 85 “very capable” PCs in the Centre will be used for second and third year projects. Students work in teams of around 25 between September and May to design and finish a game - and the new digs will allow them to experiment with management structures.
“That’s the great thing about that physical space. There’s plenty of room for cross-pollination and helping each other out,” Gamble told PCGN. “They’ve got to get used to being a team and how that works, and understanding why projects need to be managed - because [otherwise] they just spill out of control.”
Wandering about the Centre yesterday afternoon, we spotted staff from Bizarre veterans Lucid Games, DmC’s Ninja Theory, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing's Sumo Digital - the current generation of UK developers. What would you like to see from them next?
Two teams from Staffs uni made it to last year's Make Something Unreal Live finals, which we covered from start to finish. Check out their work at the Make Something Unreal Live 2013 tag.