Fast-forward past a lot of paperwork and some marketing to bring people in, and you'll find a department comprised of over 100 games development students in rooms that are in use from the moment we open the doors until the point where we have to clear them out at the end of the day. In our campus studios, within earshot of one of the busiest highways in Britain, you'll find students working in 3ds Max. In another studio, a tutor is talking about how concept art is used in games. In a third, scripts are being generated and new characters born - some basic, but some brilliant. It's a course that shouldn't work when over 90 percent of our students receive financial support of some kind from the government - but work it does.
In spite of (or maybe because of) the low economic status of the area, creativity is booming. Students from more affluent areas are traveling into the city to study - something that was previously unheard of. It's not uncommon to have two students from wildly different socio-economic backgrounds working side by side, finding common social ground in games. "Games Dev" is the accepted shortening of the course title among students and faculty, and it's growing faster than I could have imagined. I hope my wife will excuse this descriptor, but this course really is my baby.
In the first year, students' sessions are devoted to the study of 3-D modeling and animation, script writing and concept art. They develop traditional art skills, work with digital imagery, learn about the development of the industry and start to think critically about games. They learn to use industry standard software, too. All of which makes for a busy year, but our guarantee to them is that if they work hard they could happily sit alongside someone in a games studio and be useful to them two years down the line, or have the qualifications needed to study games further at a university.
It doesn't hurt that the staff that teach them all have some background in the industry as well. For my part, I was originally a full-time games journalist for newsstand publications in the U.K. One colleague has been alpha and beta testing games for years. Another works for a games studio for most of the week, then devotes the rest of the time to the students. It's a strange mix, but one that gives the students easier access to first-hand experience of the industry - handy, when they are as hungry, eager and passionate as mine.
At 21, Joe is one of the older members of his group, and his interest in games stretches back a long way. He explains: "I've been pretty much obsessed with games since I was 5, when I got my first NES. I remember trying to design my own game on paper wishing I could slot it into the NES and it'd work." While the course doesn't make games development quite that easy, Joe and students like him are getting closer to seeing their game ideas become real. Jamie, 17, can't wait. "I just remember being 3 years old and playing Sonic 2. I absolutely loved it. As I got older I got more into technology and computers and digital art. Really since then I've known I want to work in games. It didn't matter how I did it: Games were where I wanted to go."