The winners of the 2008 Dare to be Digital computer games design competition were announced at an awards ceremony in Edinburgh in August. Two teams from Ireland competed this year. While they did not win any prizes it looks like it was a fantastic experience for them.

Organised and promoted by the University of Abertay, Dundee, in association with Channel 4, Dare to be Digital this year saw 17 teams of five students spending 10 weeks in host centres across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Six teams were based at Abertay University (including teams from India and China), four were based at Brighton, three at London, two in Birmingham, and two in Dublin. In ten weeks the teams worked to develop fully-functioning prototypes of their game ideas.

A panel of seventeen judges, made up of representatives from fifteen different companies including Sony, Babel Media, Channel 4 and Sport Interactive, picked the three winners based on creativity and innovation, use of technology and market potential.

The Irish Connection

The Republic of Ireland’s team came from Dundalk Institute of Technology and was called ‘Infection Vector’ and the game they entered into the competition was called ‘The Manhattan Strain’. The game was compared by Eoghan Carpenter, one of the team members to ‘something like SimCity, but with an element of crisis management. The player acts as the Director of F.E.M.A. and must try to contain the outbreak of a deadly virus in the middle of Manhattan, using the NYPD to control the civilian population and CDC Biologists to treat those afflicted.’ This game used Microsoft’s XNA framework for C# in the production. See for sreenshots, movies and pictures of the team.

The Northern Irish team this year was made up of students from the University of Ulster, including Elijah Blyth and Michael Sheridan from the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems and Mark Quinn and Niall Carlin from the School of Creative Arts, all based at Magee. They were joined by a fifth team member, Alan Monaghan, from Belfast Metropolitan College. Their game was called ‘The Creeping Dark’ and used the Emergent Technologies Gamebryo, engine.

For 10 weeks the two Irish teams were in the Interactive Entertainment Technology lab in Trinity College, Dublin. Trinity provided the team with accommodation in Trinity Halls on Dartry road, and the team worked alongside the IET Masters students, who by all accounts were extremely helpful. Key mentors in Ireland were Brendan Dillon and Tony Kelly of Demonware who helped with Project Management and Marketing, and Pete McNally, of Havok, who helped with 3D modeling, texturing and animation.

The Edinburgh Experience

After that the teams flew to Edinburgh and were put up in the Edinburgh International Convention Centre with the other teams. Each team had 4 PCs and any additional peripherals required to demonstrate the games. Over the next 3 days (sun – tues), the public were invited in to play the games and vote for their favourites. At the same time, people from various parts of the games industry could also try out the games and talk to the team members about how they got on with the development / how they achieved certain things / what they would do differently the next time etc.

According to Eoghan ‘The feedback from professionals was great to hear and being congratulated by professional developers for what we had accomplished gave a great feeling of satisfaction. At the same time, the competition judges were free to try the game with us, or privately in a separate judging area.’

All in all, Eoghan felt ‘the experience was simply fantastic, as we have been told time and again, it is as close as you can get to professional development without actually being professional, and so will be of huge benefit when we go looking for employment ourselves…. Of course, it was also great (if stressful) fun.’

And what now?

Well apparently while working for the Dare to be Digital competition the team came up with another idea for a game and they are now working on it in conjunction with members from the Northern Ireland team (Eoghan Carpenter, Chris Duffy and David Reilly from the Southern team, Alan Monaghan and Mark Quinn from the Northern team, together with Alan Feekery and Anthony Keogh from the games course at Dundalk Institute of Technology).

And what is this game like? ‘Its a completely different style of game from what we were both working on before, so comes as a nice break for us from The Manhattan Strain though we have every intention of continuing work on (that game) in the future.’

Dare Protoplay

The three day public showcase of the Dare games was called Dare ProtoPlay and was staged as part of the Edinburgh Interactive Festival. Over three days around 3000 visitors attended the event, trying out the new games and voting for their favourite.

Contrived (Edinburgh University) were the team to receive the most public votes, for their game Grav, they won the Audience Award sponsored by Microsoft and a prize of £1500. Grav is set in a ‘retro-futuristic’ environment where robots are your enemies and your surroundings are your best friend.

Dare to Grow

For those who wish to go on to bigger and better things this year NESTA and the University of Abertay Dundee have launched Dare to Grow, a pilot project which will allow past participants of Dare to work with an independent games developer for a period of six months.

Eligible Dare participants (ie those who have completed their studies, have no significant prior employment experience and are available for work) will put themselves forward to be considered for the project. Independent games developers will identify and describe an innovation project in their company. The Dare to Grow Project Co-ordinator will work with the potential interns and the companies to try and broker up to six projects to run from October 2008 for up to six months.

See for more details.