There were two ways it could go, really, bringing a man with Peter Molyneux’s reputation in to help judge Make Something Unreal. The Peter of the popular imagination would leave the final four teams scrambling for pens, I imagined, scrawling a torrent of new ideas on nearby desks, walls, faces. He’d swamp their polished, six-month genetics-themed demos with suggested new features – a real-time egg-hatching system there, a whispering genome there.
In reality, of course, he sat in studious attention as the exhausted students rattled through their final presentations, asking the odd question, before secreting himself in some corner of the hall to deliberate with today’s judges. As we waited, and waited, I heard one Epic staffer explain that we’d know the winners just as soon as the judges themselves knew, “like the Pope”. And, eventually, we did.
About four hours earlier, I made my final circuit of the teams to get updates on their work. They were noticeably jittery, and I spent much of the morning batting away questions about their competitors’ progress.
Brett Whitehead hoped that revamped HUDs and chicken models in Mendel’s Farm would demonstrate Static Games’ ability to iterate their way to perfection. “We haven’t stopped all week”:
Team Summit were convinced that the second level of their puzzle game for pre-teens, Beings, would impress with its options and wow with its scale:
Polymorph’s Dennis Foster wrestled with the idea of “selling” his 3D platformer to judges, rather than merely talking about it:
And Dead Shark Triplepunch unveiled the rather dramatic impact bad weather can have on play in Epigenesis:
About four hours later, Epic Games’ man in Europe returned from whatever cove the judges had been smuggled away to. There were no smoke signals; no scrolls unfurled. Just four names, read out by Mike Gamble in reverse order.
4. Mendel’s Farm by Static Games
“I would like to say that whilst you are fourth, that really doesn’t reflect badly at all,” said Gamble. “The game you have is very, very different, not a typical Unreal-powered game and for that we are very thankful, because you push the technology in ways that are unusual.
“And actually, we think if you can continue working on it and nail it, it probably has the biggest commercial potential. But that’s some distance out. Don’t let the hard work you’ve done go to waste.”
After judging, we found Static’s Ryan Pinfield what they call ‘philosophical’ in defeat. It’d be fairer to call him ‘gracious and considered’:
3. Beings by Team Summit
“It’s been a very hard decision,” admitted Gamble. “You’ve got a game there that is unique amongst games generally. You’ve got a sense of fun and whimsy that is unusual, and an art style that is fantastic.
“I think you have great potential, and we’re going to try and see if we can get a connection for you with Nintendo, because we think the game might be good for somewhere like that. Well done, guys. For a team of four, I only have respect for you.”
Afterwards, Gaurav Pant and team found solace in the possibility of a relationship with Epic Games’ Japanese division:
2. Polymorph by Kairos Games
Said Gamble: “You guys have a game there which you know is very commercial, and you’ve been told is very commercial. You can finish and publish that game in a variety of ways and you have the licensing to do that now, which gives you a very strong bargaining position. So don’t be downhearted.
“You have done so well.”
We caught up with a visibly deflated Dennis Foster, who has led his team through a series of brave iterations over the course of the week:
1. Epigenesis by Dead Shark Triplepunch
“Okay, enough bromance,” Gamble warned the team with a wink as they celebrated their win. “You’ve created a game and a potential eSport. You’ve done incredibly well. From the first pitch, you were a bit of a punt for us. We weren’t sure whether you were going to be able to deliver such a complex title with the networking, etcetera, so well done.”
Tobias Johansson swayed violently in the immediate aftermath of Dead Shark’s victory:
“I would say that the quality of the games this year has been absolutely phenomenal,” concluded Gamble in his closing words. “I would never have expected the games to be so good.”
I expected to find four good games when I arrived at the Gadget Show early this week. What I didn’t expect were the four teams behind them – every bit as professional, in their drive, their behaviour, and their abilities, as the established studios they seek to emulate. Any one of them could set up shop tomorrow.
For now, though, these students will do as they always have. They are second year undergrads, for the most part, and many have long-neglected assignments to work on. Of the four teams, at least two will stick together. One or two, I suspect, will break into their constituent parts to make their respective ways into the games industry as individuals. But you should look for all of them on Steam, in the credits of the games you play, and in the articles on this site.
For all of this week’s coverage from the Gadget Show floor, check the Make Something Unreal Live tag.