It’s seriously entertaining

Lead designer Matt Duff from Climax Studios.

Lead designer Matt Duff from Climax Studios.

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Have you ever dreamed of battling fearsome monsters, searching ruined temples for hidden treasure or saving the world from certain disaster?

All these adventures and more are just a button press away with the latest computer games.

Concept art from Climax Studio's Rocket Knight.

Concept art from Climax Studio's Rocket Knight.

To many people computer games are seen as a lightweight entertainment, but the growing cultural impact of this medium cannot be denied.

Featuring mature titles, complex plots and well-developed characters, games have made massive leaps and bounds since their inception in 1947 with the creation of the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device, patented by Thomas T Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann.

This first-ever games machine allowed players to control a single dot on a screen that looked much like an old-fashioned radar display.

The dot simulated a missile and players had to try and manoeuvre the dot to hit targets which were drawings fixed to the screen.

The modern video game has come a long way and nowadays players can expect complex physics engines, immersive stories featuring thousands of lines of dialogue, top-notch voice acting and meticulous graphic design that pushes games into the realm of art.

The video games industry is now big business, drawing budgets that rival Hollywood movies with games such as Grand Theft Auto V being developed for £170m with projected profits in excess of £1bn.

In addition to its financial might, the games industry has a widespread cultural impact in the form of films, toys, board games, theme park rides, books, graphic novels and even soundtrack albums.

Jake Dalton, 19, is a student from Drayton, Portsmouth whose job makes him the envy of many of his peers – he’s a professional gamer.

‘I’ve been a pro-gamer for about five years now,’ says Jake.

‘It wasn’t a case of setting out to be one.

‘The average teenager plays games and I realised that I was a lot better than other people.

‘As a result I got into it, started playing a lot more and realised you could actually make money from it.

‘At 14 I got into playing at competitions for money and I got better and better.

He adds: ‘It was just a hobby at first.

‘But when there’s money on the line. it makes it a lot more fun and exhilarating.’

Jake first competed by playing the hugely popular Call of Duty 4, a first-person perspective shooting game.

He had to work hard to reach the top levels of professional gaming.

But surprisingly, his succes actually means he plays less now.

‘When I first started competing I played quite a lot, pretty much every day.

‘But now I ‘m at a top level I don’t have to play as much because I’m just looking to maintain the standard I’m at.

‘So now I probably play about three or four nights a week for two or three hours.

‘There are enjoyable parts to training. I probably wouldn’t play if it wasn’t enjoyable.

‘But at the same time there are times when it’s less enjoyable, where it’s a lot more tactical and it’s definitely work rather than the stuff you want to do. But it’s necessary.’

Jake gets to travel quite extensively to compete.

He explains: ‘I’ve been to America four times, I’ve been to Spain, France, Germany and all over England.

‘The best place I’ve been to is Los Angeles for the MLG [Major League Gaming] competition where I was playing in a Call of Duty competition with a $100,000 prize pot.’

MLG hosts regular events attended by thousands of game fans.

Jake says: ‘Tournaments usually run for two or three days.

‘The most I’ve ever won individually is £2,000, but in the next month there’s another tournament in LA and the prize pot is £1m for that.

‘You get pressure at big torunaments because you need to perform and you want to win.

‘The biggest tournament I’ve ever played in had 4,000 spectators, which is quite daunting.

‘It doesn’t really get to me though because when I’m playing I get into my zone and blank it out so that I don’t really notice it that much.

‘The thing that gets to me the most is just the desire to win.

‘ I’m definitely a naturally competitive person!’

Pro-gamers might be the rock stars of the gaming world.

But without game designers there would be no virtual arenas for them to compete in.

Gunwharf Quays in Portsea is home to Climax Studios, a game development studio which has worked on major franchises such as Castelvania, Eyepet and Silent Hill.

Matt Duff, 30, is a lead designer at Climax Studios and heads up a team of senior designers who work together to create next generation games.

‘I lead the design vision of the game and design it from the ground up,’ says Matt.

‘In general you are looking at 18 months to two years to complete a game using a team of 20 people. It’s a significant investment.’

Although he’s now an established figure in games design, Matt originally planned to work in another area of the entertainment world.

‘When I was growing up I wanted to be a film director, but designing games is much, much better,

‘When people are watching a film they sit back and don’t interact with it, but with games you are involved in the action.

‘There are even BAFTA awards now for games. Maybe one day there will be games Oscars!’

Despite games not being his first passion, Matt is completely committed to his craft and loves the creative outlet it gives him.

‘The best bit about my job is that I get to do what I love for a living.

‘I come to work and create something every day.’

When Matt first started working in games, the industry was very different. Today he thinks there are many more opportunities available for up-and-coming designers.

‘When I went to university, there weren’t games design courses.

‘I left uni and got a job publishing games, but got my break into design when EA [Electronic Arts] hired me as a junior designer.

‘There are so many different ways to get into games now.

‘People can make their own games at home in their bedrooms using software like Unity and the Unreal Engine.’

So what advice does Matt have for aspiring designers of the future?

‘A games designing course is always a good start. The other route is to show what you can do and there are lots of ways to showcase your work online now.

‘Passion is really important to me. You’re going to get better results if you’re interested in what you do.’

Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris: Indie games developer

Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris, 29, is the creative genius behind The Tiniest Shark, a one-woman games development studio that sold 12,000 copies of its first game, Redshirt, a comedy sci-fi social networking simulator.

Mitu studied Computer Engineering at the University of Portsmouth and is currently taking a PHD in Creative Technologies. She also won a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit Award last year for her work.

Mitu says: ‘ Games have always been a passion for me. Basically as long as I can remember I was stealing time on my relatives’ consoles and the first game I can remember playing is Paperboy on the Commodore 64.

‘ It wasn’t until I was about 12 that I realised games were actually something you could make a living from and once I realised that I knew that was what I wanted to do.

‘I got involved in learning to code and making websites. The magic of typing in code and seeing it turn into this thing that other people could interact with, I just got really hooked on that.

‘My first game, Redshirt, was released last year. It’s been doing really well in terms of sales and right now I’m in the planning stages of my next project which I can’t talk about unfortunately!

‘There are so many different types of jobs to do in games so it’s really about exploring what your passions are. It’s a fantastic time to be making games now.’

You can read Mitu’s blog at mitu.nu.

Mark Eyles: Gaming academic

Mark Eyles is the principal lecturer/course leader for the School of Creative Technologies at the University of Portsmouth and is the education adviser for TIGA, the trade body for the UK Games industry.

Mark has been involved with computer games for more than 30 years. He started working with games in 1981 and now teaches the subject.

He says: ‘There wasn’t really a games industry when I started. but the industry has grown quickly, it’s been quite a surprise.

‘That growth is part of the reason that the University of Portsmouth put on a course in Computer Games Technology, which teaches students graphics programming and design skills.

‘We were one of the first universities to offer a course like this. The game’s industry demands special skills. It wants people that are experts.’

He adds: ‘Working in games has become one of those dream jobs.

‘Just over 40 per cent of our students end up working in games compared to the national average of 12 per cent.

‘We have a lot of research that is looking at the health applications of games.

‘The university has a virtual reality lab.

‘We ran a programme with a simulated apple tree where you had to pick apples and put them in a basket on your back, which could be used to increase the mobility of injured arms.’

For more information about the Computer Games course at the University of Portsmouth, visit port.ac.uk.

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