Brains Eden's 10th game jam is international success story
35 teams, 175 students at weekend design epic
Brains Eden, celebrating its 10th anniversary as the UK’s largest international student games festival, took place mid-month.
Hosted by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), the anniversary event boasted 35 international student teams competing in a 48-hour games jam.
ARM, PlayStation First, Sumo Digital and Frontier are among the returning supporters of the festival.
Acting dean of hosts ARU’s Faculty of Arts, Law and Social Sciences, Dr Apurba Kundu, said: “Brains Eden has significantly shaped the future of games creation in Cambridge and beyond. It’s great to see where creativity and drive can take you, and we are proud to host the event for the tenth year in a row.”
In the run-up to the 4pm deadline for completed games on the Sunday, participants were working at a hectic pace. The team from the Communications University of China consisted of Fan Fu, Chunhui Ban and Zuezhu Wang, who all study game design at the Beijing-based university.
It’s their first Brains Eden. “We’re having a good time – but we’re tired!” says Chunhui. Their game is called 20 Apples. “It’s a trick game,” says Zuezhu. “There’s much more that we didn’t have time to finish.”
Like most Brains Eden games, they’re written in C# for the industry-standard Unity game development platform, which the trio are clearly very familiar with.
“We have to make games in our school so we’ve done a lot of demos,” says Fan, adding that in China the top formats are PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
“It’s a good event,” she adds. “Everybody here is very talented.”
There’s jobs in the games industry in China too?
“Yes, we’re thinking about taking jobs in games, yes,” says Chunhui. “Mobile is big in China, and the games sector is really big.”
On the next table are home-grown talents Liam, John and Veselin, who are part of a team called ARU Team 1.
“Our game is called Bill n Buck’s Great Western Escape,” says Veselin.
“The game is an endless runner,” says John. “It only ends when you fail.”
“This year’s theme is ‘Unreliable’,” adds Veselin. “The first stop for us is human sensors.”
Liam adds: “Human beings are clearly unreliable. Everyone has the same theme, and there’s different categories – for the best PC game, the best mobile game, the best game overall.”
So what are you going for?
“A finished game!”
On the next table there’s five good folks from the University of the West of England in Bristol – Sam, Vivien, Harry, Tim and Toby. It’s their first Brains Eden: their game is called Vaporise. So how does that relate to ‘unreliable’?
“It’s up to us to write it how we think it should be made,” says Harry cheerily. “Vaporise is a game where gravity might switch, or the screen lag might go slower or faster – or get hazier. It’s a multi-player arena shoot-out in 2D.”
“We’ve all just graduated in game technology,” says Tim, apart from Toby, who has an audio degree.
“I really want to do game audio but I can do broad,” he says. “I’ve added sound effects and coded it into the game, with some help. I write in FMOD (a sound effects engine). It adds a lot.”
Tim: “With the audio we focused on making it fun to play. It’ll be playable but some features may not be working.”
Was the development process OK?
“We wanted to get a lot in but sometimes it just doesn’t get there,” says Sam. “We had to bang heads together.”
“We’ve got a solid game though,” says Vivien.
Other teams at came from the University of East London and London Metropolitan University. The guys from the Met – their game is called Far Far From the Best – are “a bit pissed because we got booted out of the room and couldn’t work through lunch”. These crews are nothing if not dedicated – and hard-working.
There’s also a team from the University of Alacante in Spain. Their game is called Path’logic. Adrian, Laura, Louis, Alexei and Pablo have all done games jams before, though not in Cambridge.
“This year the college sent a group,” said Laura. Have they had time to see the city? “We looked around,” she said. “It’s very compact.”
Pablo and Adrian are finishing off the programming.
“The game is completed, we’re working on the user interface and adding extra players,” says Adrian. “Plus Louis has written a script, in pictures, which has to be added to the background.”
Last up is a team from the Glasgow Caledonian University, whose game is called Void. “We’re really enjoying the experience,” they say.
Outside I have a chat with one of the team helping organise the event, which is orchestrated by Conscious Communications. ARU lecturer Matthew Syrett says the weekend is going well.
“There’s 35 teams, and 175 students,” he says. It’s Matthew’s third Brains Eden. Does it sometimes get a bit, you know, full-on?
“The teams all need to get on with each other,” he replies. “Dutch, French, Belgian, Chinese – and the rest from the UK. The next couple of hours is where you might see it get intense, it’s make or break for the teams. There’s been no fallings-out so far this year, the teams are very professional – though we’ve had a couple of mix-ups in previous years.
“It’s grown through the years – the first one we had only five teams. The career clinics are bigger than ever too, and there’s more sponsors including Codemasters – they’ve sent people to help with the mentoring. Codemasters has also helped us the ARU’s BA in Computer Games Art, which fpcuses on the art side of game development – the characters, props, environments and animation – everything that makes the game look pretty.
“It’s good that lots of people who have previously competed have come back and mentored this year. One team has four past participants, and three from ARU.”
Keep comning back they do: they’re still an advance cadre in a fast-developing digital industry which has a great foothold in Cambridge.
Mark Green, development director at Codemasters, said: “The careers clinic at Brains Eden is a great place for students to seek industry input and advice on their portfolios. Equally, I’ve found it incredibly useful over the years to meet students and I’ve taken on several who I first met there.”
The event offers one of the biggest new talent recruitment opportunities in the industry and over the years, Brains Eden has seen 37 students placed in internships and 12 full time positions secured.
The winners were:
Best PC Game: Walker’s Texas Developers by Pole IIID (France)
Best Mobile Game: Wasted Horchata by the University of Alicante
Judges Choice: Team Cabal – NHTV Breda Uni of Applied Sciences (Netherlands)
Tech Team Award: Bitz Box by the University of East London
Cambridge Assessment English award for Best Storytelling Without Words: Digital Arcade Enthusiasts by Howest (Belgium)
HyperX – Best in Class: Digital Arcade Enthusiasts by Howest
Frontier’s Game Innovation Award: Team Memory by Huazhong (China)