The resources/courses/index.php?article_number=13Higher National Certificate in Interactive Computer Entertainment(ICE) programme began in September 2003. An introduction to game programming – with classes in C++, 2D graphics and engine tools, mathematical concepts and techniques – progressed to 3D graphics, music production, and a journey into the heart of Torc’s Instinct Engine. “I enjoyed the course’s design aspects, in particular,” said graduate Emma Robinson. “From researching games to creating final models, levels, etc. It was rewarding to see the game evolve from ideas to something that you could actually walk around in.”

“The course offered a taste of all aspects of the computer game industry, from business through to 3D Modelling,” continued Sean Ward. “The most enjoyable aspect was the inclusion of a project in which we created a basic tech demo in tandem with our course subjects. This created a real world scenario as it highlighted the importance of pre-planning, in research and in creating an efficient game design document. It allowed us to apply each topic of the course practically and gave a real insight into the work and effort that is needed to create an enjoyable (and profitable) gaming experience.”

Robbie Hegarty had been negotiating the slippery path to ICE as far back as the mid-1990’s. At that time, he sought funding via Northern Ireland’s Peace Programme. Although the proposal reached economic appraisal it was eventually turned down because, at £20,000stg a workstation, the Programme’s pockets simply weren’t deep enough. Last year’s HNC was eventually bankrolled by Co-Operation Ireland using Peace II money.

“For years all I’ve done is apply for outside funding,” said Robbie. “The set-up costs for equipment, space and staff training, are very expensive. There was also cynicism about the nature of the course. People who were to approve this project were saying, Games? What do you want to be making games for? The initial programme was called GAP – Games Application Programming – so I ended up removing the word games and calling it Interactive Computer Entertainment. As soon as I did that, I got funded!”

According to another graduate, Kyle Gilmore, Robbie was decisive in ICE’s success. “I think one of the main requirements for the course is enthusiasm, Robbie certainly has a lot and that helped drive most of us on when the workload was piling up.”

Torc’s Instinct Engine proved a crucial element to ICE’s structure. Instinct is at the standard of Doom III’s engine, yet currently costs about €2m less, and gave the students first-hand knowledge of a technology likely to cause major ripples in the market. The Torc team are also based in nearby Donegal, which proved helpful in terms of advice and support. This mutual arrangement between developer and educational institute also sends a message to the rest of the world: not only does the North West of Ireland offer one of the finest game engines, but it’s also nurturing experts who can use it.

“The first time I saw the tech demo Torc did for Havok I was blown away,” said Kyle Gilmore. “The engine was great to work with, even though it wasn’t a finished version we were using. I think the problem most people in the class had was that after seeing the tech demos we were trying to make levels that looked really, really good and weren’t concentrating on gameplay. It’s all a learning process though. I thought the xml integration for impact sounds; lighting etc. was easy to use, though I understand they’re working to make it even more user friendly.”

The upcoming incubation project is a brave attempt to bring contracts into Ireland (in line with Torc’s Engine), and create an indigenous industry much like the one Scotland’s Dundee currently enjoys. At a cost of £50,000stg per person – funded by business support – it is a colossal capital venture. However, both Robbie and the students are quietly confident.

“During the course we all realised that our level of skill was extremely high,” contended Sean. “If not yet at a professional level, then definitely a stone’s throw away from it. The incubation will give us a chance to hone these skills and I expect some very rewarding work to be produced both visually and financially. I also expect that the success of the incubation will encourage growth and co-operation within the sector in the North West.”

A new intake of students will start the HNC course in September, alongside a new feeder course called CREAM (Computer Rendered Entertainment and Animated Media) for students at National Certificate Level. Under a new Northern Irish Peace scheme, the Institute is also receiving £50,000 in funding for the creation of a game to be handed out to schools in promotion of peace and reconciliation.

The graduates are vocal about the course’s teething problems and are quick to propose ways in which it might be improved. Suggestions include a module on planning the development of a game, more in-depth level editing and character modelling. Guest speakers from within the industry were also considered a bonus.

Kyle Gilmore is quick to add that, on the whole, the course proved a huge success. “It’s given me great base knowledge as regards getting into and working in the games industry. I use the analogy of people who are really good at, say, 3D modelling. It has probably taken them years to get to the standard they’re at, but if you put them in front of a level editor they probably wouldn’t be as good as someone who has been concentrating on level design for the same amount of time. Anyone who has passed the ICE course can work well in all fields… It’s certainly given me the base knowledge to pursue a career in the games industry.”

Anyone interested in ICE or CREAM, contact:

The North West Institute of Further & Higher Education is hosting IGDA’s Awakenings 04 event in October. For more info. on this event keep an eye on the IGDA’s thread on the forums. See