Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of taking part in an industry review panel at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) here in Melbourne. The AIE specialises in video games education where students can learn from a range of skills, including programming, 3D art, animation, game design, and production. The review panel provides not just a chance for students to showcase their projects, but for a range of industry professionals to be exposed to them too, providing an important future pathway.
The projects themselves were a variety of games, which students presented in teams as part of teams for their final semester of work. The industry panel was brought in for the Proof of Concept phase, in which the teams needed to present a concept video, as well as a playable prototype.
Each team had 3 weeks to put their presentations together, and depending on how well they presented their concept (as well as its feasibility), they were either green-lit to go into full production, or the project was cut. No pressure!
Teams that are green-lit will now have roughly 4 months to produce a final product.
There were 25 teams in all with each team having 5 minutes to present their game followed by 5 minutes of feedback from the panel (meaning well over 4 hours of judging). It made for a long day, but it was interesting to see what each team was making and the issues and challenges they faced working on their first ever video game.
It was great to see a large range of diversity in the projects being presented. From VR games to first person shooters, to open world survival horror, to beat ‘em ups, and gardening games. The stand-outs for me were a space rail shooter (think Star Fox), and oddly, two kitchen based games.
The next indie hit is always just around the corner, so seeing how a variety of game ideas can come together in such a short time helps you remember that the core passion and spirit behind a game is often just as important as the final packaged product.
Concept art for Alanis and the Great Eastern Wind by second year AIE Game Art student Irma Walker
While each team had their challenges to face, there seemed to be a number of issues that popped up on multiple teams, regardless of their development.
The three issues that teams consistently struck were:
Scope - almost all of the products were too large and were not going to be achievable in the time frame. Some games were bigger than others, a couple of teams wanted to make AAA quality games that usually require hundreds of people over the course of years to make. All teams needed to reduce their scope in some way and ensure they allocated time for final polish. The last 20% usually takes as long as the initial 80%.
Core Vision - a lot of teams talked about how their game would have a range of different features. But they often lacked the ability to define the one core mechanic that the game was built upon, the thing that would set their product apart from other games in their competitive space.
User Experience - each team needed to ensure that the most basic experience was engaging to play, before moving on to more complex mechanics. For example, in a fighting game a simple punch needs to feel rewarding to the player. If the foundation isn’t solid, the rest of the game will suffer.
As part of a company that works in the gaming industry, it was great to have the opportunity to provide some useful insight and strategies to help them along the way. There is a tremendous amount of talent coming out of AIE, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final products December.