Ubisoft Reflections Playtesting

On the 10th and 11th, I went to Ubisoft Reflections in Gosforth, Newcastle Upon Tyne to be a playtester. I am spoke to one of the staff members there to ask if I was able to write this blog post … Continue reading

Industry Contract Types

Freelance they are self-employed or are part of other companies they often look after their own tax and National Insurance contributions (NICs) they might not be entitled to the same rights as workers, eg minimum wage you’re still responsible for … Continue reading

The Evolution of Home Game Consoles.

Video games have been around since the 1950s, they were played on massive computers connected to vector displays, not analog televisions.

In October 1958, Physicist William Higinbotham created what is thought to be the first video game. It was a very simple tennis game, similar to the classic 1970s video game Pong, and it was quite a hit at a Brookhaven National Laboratory open house.

Ralph H. Baer conceived the idea of a home video game in 1951. a bulky rectangular brown wooden box with two attached controllers, and thus the name “Brown Box”. Invented by Ralph H. Baer (1922 – ), also known as “The Father of Video Games”, he developed the brown video game console such that it can be hooked up with any ordinary TV sets. There were only six simple games for the console, namely ping-pong, tennis, handball, volleyball, chase games and a light-gun game.

The demonstration of the “Brown Box” led to the licensing of the technology by Magnavox in 1972, resulting in the release of the first official home video game console – Magnavox Odyssey. Just as the earliest films do not feature recorded sound, the first video game console is silent as well, with graphics which we would consider very primitive by today’s standard.

In 1973, Atari has produced an arcade version of pong, and it was that popular that they decided to join the home video game market and made their own console two years later in 1975.  The take-home version of the game that started it all, the Atari Home Pong console contained one of the most powerful computer chips in a consumer product when it was launched by Sears in 1975. The controllers were built into the console itself, allowing player’s to slide their Pong paddle up and down by rotating a single dial.

In that same year, Magnavox decided to improve its Odyssey system and released not one, but two different improved versions of the original console, the Magnavox Odyssey 100 and 200.

From 1976-77, a series of Magnavox Odyssey consoles were produced, with each new console only slightly better than the previous one. The consoles basically had the same games within, but with some modification to the graphics, controllers and digital on-screen scoring.

The Atari then included more games, such as the Video pinball, stunt cycle in order to compete with the Magnavox.

Soon after everyone wanted to join the market, with new companies such as Fairchild, RCA and Coleco creating their own consoles just like everyone else. These however, seemed to be the same as the other consoles, where the Wonder Wizard was the same as the Odyssey 300 by Magnavox, but with just having a bigger controller.


Magnavox 300

Wonder Wizard

The first of the “second generation” consoles finally moved controllers on from built-in dials and knobs. Although medicinal in appearance, the black controllers of the Fairchild Channel F were remarkably more sophisticated than the offerings of the previous generation: the thumb operated “cap” was an eight-direction joystick, which could be pushed in to fire or pulled out to… do something other than fire. The cap could also be rotated, offering the same functionality as the former generation of controllers.

Fairchild Channel F (1976)

While other second generation consoles were trying new and bold things with their controller designs, the RCA Studio II looked to have taken something of a backward step. The console housed two number pads that gained different control functions for each of its five inbuilt games – some of which used the numbers layout as a direction pad. It was discontinued after two years. Why the new PS4 isn’t available in a similar 70’s bathroom plastic hue is beyond us.

RCA Studio II (1977)

Then in January 1978, Nintendo joins the battle, releasing its first series of colour consoles in japan. The games followed the footsteps of the atari with similar games available to play.

During the start of the 1980’s, technology was starting to advance, meaning that the games consoles also started advancing as well. Meaning that they were finally moving on from pong style games, and began making games in other genres such as fighting, platform, adventure and RPG games. This era was able to release some of the all time classic games, sich as Pac-man (1980), Mario Bros (1983), The Legend of Zelda(1986), Final Fantasy (1987), Golden Axe (1988), etc. There was also a major shift from dedicated consoles (with built-in games) to cartridge-based video game systems.

Sega and Nintendo became the dominating companies within the video gaming scene. With Segas lesser known SG-1000 in 1983, this paved the way to their successor of the Sega Master System. The SG-1000’s game library comprises 68 standard cartridge releases and 29 Sega Card releases. All of the SG-1000’s games play on each model of the console, though 26 of the cartridge releases require the attached keyboard accessory or the SC-3000.

But soon after the Nintendo Entertainment System was released and merged victorious as the best-selling console of that generation. It is even fair to say that the NES single-handedly raised Nintendo to a company easily identified with gaming. when it was introduced to the US and UK market a year after the 1984 video game industry crash. As a result of the crash, ColecoVision ended up as the last console released by Coleco.

By the 1990’s, it was hard to shift Sega or Nintendos dominance of the games industry, each releasing new consoles to compete with the other. Sega releasing the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1988 and Nintendo releasing the SUper Nintendo Entertainment System, just for Sega to release another console just two years later. The Master System II.

This was the start of a major console war.

With the dominance of sega and nintendo, Atari slowly started slipping away, their new consoles becoming less and less popular, the only upside to their new console, was that it provided backwards compatibility.

DUring the first few years of the 90’s, a lot of consoles shifted from cartridges to discs, meaning there was an increased capacity for games. This shift in technology allowed consoles to move from 2D to 3D Graphics. This then allowed a new competitor to join the war. Playstation.

Dreamcast was the pioneer back in 1998. Two years later, Sony progressed on with the next Playstation, the Playstation 2. In 2001, Nintendo switched its cartridge-based Nintendo 64 to a DVD-ROM GameCube. That very same year, we saw Microsoft entered in the video game console industry in 2001 with its well-received Xbox.

Between 2005-2011 the current generation of video game console only has room for three major competitors: Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. With full 1080p HD graphics for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and Wii’s innovative remote for sensing 3D movements, it seems that video gaming had indeed came a long way.

Most of the companies were already phased out – Atari, Coleco, NEC, Sega, etc, but there are currently still two adventurous companies who dare to compete head-on with the Big Three. Mattel is back with its Hyperscan console after disappearing from the industry for three decades. Marketed to young boys of the age of five to nine, it was only available for a year before they were taken off the shelf in 2007. The PC World Magazine ranked it the 7th worst video game system of all time.

And finally, with the newest generation of consoles, come the Playstation 4, Wii U, 2/3DS and the Xbox One. The playstation 4 being the most sold console out of its generation, selling over 36 million units, compared to 12.6 million for the wii u and a measly 3 milion for the xbox one.

The Importance and Value of Transferable Skills

Skills Developed within animation, vfx and games design are pretty much all transferable. meaning that no matter which sector you go into, these skills all apply one way or another into the other sector.

These skills include:

  • Specialist Skills- be a generalist with specialist skills. Be able to work in other groups and cover a range of functions, but be able to be a specialist in one sector.
  • team work – team work is key within all the sectors above, as you all work together to produce one thing, whether it be a movie or a game.
  • creativity and efficiency – you must be able to think creatively to overcome problems within design and in general.
  • the ability to think about the big picture – VFX is about the overall pipeline and not just one shot, so you must be able to thinking about all aspects of it rather than just one
  • meet deadlines – deadline are a massive thing within these industries, if you miss the deadline, the game or movie may not get published or released, meaning people may not get paid.
  • working to a brief – in the industry, you need to get the shot right for your customer, not for you, so you must be able to change things based on your client.
  • respond well to criticism – criticism may come in the form of your client not liking a certain shot, and so you may need to change it in accordance to their liking.
  • presentation skills – ideas will always need to be presented, whether to another colleague, your boss or to the client to show how you will do certain things, or just for certain ideas. You need to be able to explain yourself concisely and clearly so everyone can understand.
  • knowledge of cultural references – VFX is about making photo real characters or images. These need to be believable so that it feels like they are within that world.
  • observation skills – being able to mimic vfx or an animation is key to making a great scene. So we need to be able to observe movement and then apply that to the shot to make things seem as real as possible.
  • planning – being able to plan ahead is great, in case you come into any problems, you will have a plan to try and over come them.
  • be able to draw – drawing isn’t essential, but it is a great way to get your ideas across to others
  • be proactive and self motivated, always learning – no matter where you work, you will always learn something new, whether it be a new piece of software, or a new way to tackle a problem!
  • be confident – ask questions – asking questions is essential to over coming problems, this will help you learn how to do it later, and it may also help you to help someone else in the future
  • know the language – within any sector, they use a certain type of “language” to help clearly communicate between each other and companies.
  • awareness of cinematography – you will need to be aware of key terms, how certain things are produced and be able to analyse shots
  • maths – trigonometry, matrices, vectors, applied mechanics, algebra, scripting, physics – maths is always going to be a big part of games and animation, whether it is keyframing, physics, blast radiuses or other things, maths isn’t essential to an artist, but you will need to have an appreciation for this section, just like how a programmer doesn’t necessarily need to be able to draw, but needs to have an appreciation.
  • computer literacy- this is essential to be able to navigate within computers, applications, files and understand how to use shortcuts.
  • film theory – Film theory is always helpful, in case you can apply it to a shot later on, and how narrative and structures work.
  • knowledge of vfx history – VFX has come a long way, be looking into the history, you may be able to learn from the past and apply it to new shots
  • knowledge of editing – editing is a big part of the shot, this can be removing boom mics, cables, or other things that shouldnt be visable within the scene.Although your career choice may not require editing, it is good to know the basics.
  • style and vision – each sector may require to work to a certain style. Whether is being photo-realistic, cartoony or just another style, you must be able to work with different ideas to produce the next movie or game.
  • understand optics – optics is how the eyes work. By being able to know how your eyes work, VFX can be used to trick the viewer into believing something is there, or to make them look to a certain area of the screen.
  • be innovative. – although vfx and games have been around for a long time, everyone is still learning. These skills and ideas are being improved everyday and may lead to new ideas in the future.

Games Industry: Level Designer/ Editor

“Defining and creating interactive architecture for a segment of a game, including the landscape, buildings and objects”

Skills and Experience Needed:

  • have good spatial and layout design skills
  • have knowledge of 3D modelling and a firm grasp of game design principles
  • have the ability to visualise layouts
  • have a practical understanding of programming and scripting language to work closely with artists and programmers
  • be able to train the QA Testers to play the game
  • have IT skills and competence in the use of world-editing tools
  • have knowledge of different platforms
  • be very well organised
  • be able to work both independently and as part of a team
  • be able to accept and give direction
  • be imaginative and creative
  • have excellent communication skills (both verbal and written)
  • pay close attention to detail and be able to evaluate quality
  • have a passion for games and knowledge of game design theory
  • have knowledge of the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures

Relevant Qualifications:

You don’t need a specific qualification to become a Level Editors, however most people entering the industry are now graduates. Degree subjects vary, but you could study design, engineering or software development.

Best Route in:

There is no set route you can take into this job, but it is rarely an entry-level role. You’ll normally need to have industry experience and to be educated to degree standard. You will definitely need an understanding of the conventions of game playing and an awareness of the target market.


Level Designer Salaries
Job Title Salary
Take-Two Level Designer $79,322
id Software Level Designer $68,187
Terminal Reality Level Designer $54,478
Treyarch Level Designer $67,686


Contract Type:

6 Month, temporary or seasonal.

Role Specification:

  • The Level Editor defines and creates interactive architecture for a segment of a game, including the landscape, buildings and objects.
  • They must be true to the overall design specification, using the characters and story elements defined by the Game Designer, but they often have considerable freedom to vary the specific look and feel of the level for which they are responsible. They define the environment, general layout of the spaces within the level, and lighting, textures, and forms. The define the characters and objects involved, whether they are player-controlled or non-player characters, and any specific behaviours associated with the characters and objects.
  • They also develop the gameplay for the level, which includes the challenges that the characters face and the actions they must take to overcome them. The architecture helps to define those challenges by presenting obstacles, places to hide, tests of skill, and other elements to explore and interact with.
  • The setting and atmosphere devised by the Level Editor can also give the player clues about different ways of progressing though the level and the game as a whole.
  • The Level Editor first sketches ideas on paper or using 2D drawing software. They have to imagine the playing experience, putting themselves in the position of the player, mapping out all the possibilities.


Games Industry: Lead Artist

“A lead artist is an artist brought in at an early stage of the design process to contribute to the design of a building or the development of a Public Art Strategy. The lead artist’s role may be to contribute creative ideas and proposals as part of the overall design.”

Skills and experience required:

  • be able to inspire and motivate a large team of creative talent
  • have a distinctive and original style
  • understand all the roles within the art department and also of any outsourced contractors
  • be able to build good working relationships with other departments
  • be able to communicate clearly with senior managers, designers, programmers, testers and other personnel in their own language
  • have excellent communication skills, including tact and diplomacy
  • understand of the technology used in game design and development, its capabilities and limitations
  • have traditional and computer art and design skills
  • be able to manage people, time and resources
  • have knowledge of 2D and 3D modelling and animation packages
  • have conflict resolution and problem-solving skills
  • have a passion for games and a good understanding of what makes a game visually appealing and fun to play
  • have knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures


Relevant Qualifications:

Art education in the form of a a fine arts, graphics or animation degree to undertake this role. Experience is key; Lead Artists need at least five years’ experience in the games industry. You will also need to have gained experience in a leadership role


Best Route into the Industry:

This is not an entry-level role. To become a Lead Artist, you will need considerable games industry experience, usually gained in various roles within the art department, building up to a senior or team leadership role.

You will need to be able to use the various software packages and have a thorough understanding of games technologies, especially with regard to what can and can’t be achieved for any given delivery platform.



This is the highest paid position in the art department, reflecting the skills and experience required.

Lead Artist Salaries
Job Title Salary
CrowdStar Lead Artist $92,356
Disney Interactive Studios Lead Artist $91,885
Activision Lead Artist $143,344
WMS Gaming Lead Artist $90,955


Contract Type:



Role Specification:

  • They produce much of the initial artwork themselves, setting creative and technical standards and determining the best tools and techniques to use.
  • In conjunction with the Producer, the Lead Artist puts together and manages the team of Artists and Animators who produce most of the art assets for the game (including environments, characters, objects and effects) under the Lead Artist’s direction.
  • The Lead Artist must ensure that the art and animation team works to schedule and within budget. They also work closely with the programming team to make sure that all art and animation assets produced can be easily imported into the game engine.
  • The styling is often communicated through concept art. The Lead Artist will supervise, if not actually undertake, the production of material which illustrates the visual atmosphere and graphical design for the game.
  • They also research and test out different modelling, texturing, animation, rendering and lighting techniques and tools appropriate to the games technology, with input from the Lead Programmer.
  • They supervise the team’s output from a creative and technical point of view, and also ensure that the work gets done according to budget and schedule, alongside the game’s producer, anticipating problems and planning for any contingencies. They are also usually responsible for overseeing any outsourced art production.


EA Chillingo Pitch

Last week, we had to pitch our games to Stephen Hey from EA Chillingo.


Image Featured in the Sunderland Echo on 30/11/15

Stephen Hey has been involved in the interactive entertainment industry for more than 20 years and has been instrumental in launching games such as Call of Duty, Star Wars Lego, Battle Copters, Worms and the hit mobile game Iron Force.

Stephen first came to talk about working at EA Chillingo as a marketing director and about their newest game Battle Copters.

He started with him going to University to study PR, and moved on within the marketing business to get a job within Ocean Software, where he worked between 1993 – 1999 (6 years).

Now stephen works in EA Chillingo in Macclesfield as Marketing Director.

Chillingo is a subsidiary of Electronic Arts, is a leading mobile games publisher with numerous award-winning hits around the world including Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Iron Force, Perfect Kick, Catapult King, Pixel People and countless others. The company publishes games for iOS and Android platforms.


After Stephen presented to us, it was time for us to present our Unity group games to him.

There were a lot of really good games, some I would have liked to have played.


“Game ideas included everything from deadly jelly cube experiments and robotic spiders through to medieval knights and a horror puzzle set in a hospital.

Stephen said: “The facility at Sunderland College was really impressive, but the work of the students was even more so. I saw several games that I really wanted to play more and others that had real potential.

“The attitude of the students was really commercial, which meant the game concepts in development were not only creative, but were being made with real consumers in mind.””

Source:  http://www.sunderlandecho.com/news/education/students-pitch-gaming-ideas-to-dragons-den-style-panel-1-7598215#ixzz3sz0tJd8I

I feel as though our pitch went really well despite being one person down for the pitch. We received some really great feedback and will include or change some of it in our game due to the feedback given.