It’ll take you about an hour and a half from Dublin to get to the Institute of Technology in Carlow, or so I was told. That didn’t take into account the road works and the rain. Drive into Carlow and follow the signs for the Kilkenny Road. It is a fairly unassuming place from the outside but inside there was art works on show for the Éigse art festival, lego robots on the floor and transition year students being taught how to programme simple games. There is a nice buzz about the place for a college during the summer.

The people behind the degree in Computer Games Development include, Joesph Kehoe, acting head of the Department of Computing, Physics and Mathematics, Ross Palmer and Noel O’Hara, both lecturers in the school. The obvious question to ask them is why a games course and why in Carlow?

Ross – ‘Well it was Joseph’s idea originally. We were having a department strategy meeting I suppose about a year and a half ago and we were generally talking about the drop in numbers … so Joe suggested we run a course in computer games. We were aware that there were plenty of courses in the UK but there didn’t seem to be anything in Ireland.’

So along with many other Schools of Computing in the state the IT in Carlow was experiencing a drop in numbers entering their computer courses and saw games as a way of addressing this. They also felt that they had the networking, software engineering, maths and physics skills to run such a course. None of the current full time staff have any research or teaching interests specifically in games but it is hoped that any knowledge deficits can be addressed through in service training.

L-R: Head of School, Joseph Kehoe and Ross Palmer.

If the course is approved this week by the Department of Education it will take in 30 students this Autumn. Interested students can use the direct entry facility of the CAO to apply to the course even for this year and basic entry requirements are 2 Hons and a B in pass Maths. If accepted students can expect to study programming, computer architecture, computer graphics, applied mathematics and computer games in first year. It is quite Maths heavy but a course called ‘Computer Games’ – now what does that course entail?

Ross again. ‘They play as many games, different genre games on different platforms, .. as possible. They do critical reviews of these games that they play from the point of view of the interface, playability, all aspects really. I think this is the one real subject that they will really like in first year. It is a heavy enough going course, there is a lot of maths in the course so computer games is a way of getting a balance in there.’ Unfortunately there are no play rooms with comfy couches being planned. And will the staff be playing all these games? Well one of the recommendations of the review panel was that there should be gaming sessions for staff.

After year one, there are three more years. Programming (C++) is a subject in all years and games engineering is studied in year two and three. There is a visual stream which offers 3D graphics and audio in year one, two, and three and AI in year four. Applied Physics, Human Computer Interaction, Online Gaming Technologies and practical projects will keep the students busy while in year four a module called Programming for Games Devices will give students a taste of mobile and other gaming platforms.

In year 3 students go on a six month work placement. Do they have any worries about where the students will go on work placement and where they will find jobs on completion of the course given the size of the industry in Ireland? Ross explained that people coming off the course will have three main skills sets; graphics, programming and maths and people will be able to work as dedicated programmers in any type of games company when they graduate. The first job placements will be needed in three years time and if the industry is as small as it is now Ross admits they will clearly have to look to companies abroad.

The design of the course is based on a lot of consultation with game companies in Ireland and analysis of game courses abroad. They received a letter of support from Havok and Microsoft’s Xbox team in Redmond examined the course proposals and made recommendations. In addition industry professionals were involved in the accreditation process with HETAC, who approves all courses in the ITs.

There is no major capital investment being made for this course as there is sufficient computer equipment currently for an intake of 30 students. By year 4 a dedicated laboratory will be made available to students. The main expenditure will be on gaming platforms, new journals, books and training. When asked about software and engines it was pointed out that a lot of the software needed for the course is freely available on the Internet.

In a college of 3,000 students the School of Computing has almost 600 students. They already offer certificates, diplomas and degrees in computers and networking and they see a games course as a natural development of their existing courses. And why would you do this course in Carlow? Well it is the only degree course with a programming focus available if you are coming out of secondary school this year and they are pushing the fact that Microsoft has been very supportive and will be taking some of their students on work placement. Anyway, it is all up to the Department of Education now- and we will let you know very soon how that goes.

Further information:

Address: Institute of Technology, Carlow,
Kilkenny Road, Carlow.

Contact person: Joseph Kehoe, Head of Department of Computing.
Tel: 059-917 0435