Why schools and colleges love the FXP Festival
North Cambridge Academy teacher Neil Matthews and Year 11 pupil Chloe Langford talk FXP and computer gaming
The annual FXP Festival is a great opportunity for pupils and students to discover more about the computer games industry, says Neil Matthews at North Cambridge Academy (NCA).
Mr Matthews is a computer science, science and geography teacher at the academy. In 2016, NCA Year 9 pupils, making their debut at the annual FXP gaming festival, took third place for the combined category.
“It was great exposure and it really helped to be part of that,” he says. “The competition uses two gaming engines, GameMaker and Unity, and they provide an environment to run the game. The year we entered was primarily in design and content – we took two teams, I was the resident teacher.”
The experience made a positive impact at NCA’s Arbury Road campus, and the academy has continued to enter teams for the FXP Festival, a computer/mobile game design and development competition for school and college students.
“We put in one team last year for design and competition,” adds Mr Matthews. “It won the ‘Best Team in Competition’ award, not ‘best game’ but but the concepts they were putting in were really well thought out. Some of the big game studios are there, so there’s always the possibility they’ll support development or even buy an idea off the team.”
One pupil who enjoyed the gaming festival was Chloe Langford, now in Year 11 at the Academy.
“I went in June 2016, it was fun and it made me realise I wanted to get into the computer business,” she says.
Chloe originally applied for a place at The Manor, which then became North Cambridge Academy.
“The whole county had had devastating results in English because the grade levels had changed,” says Mr Matthews. “That had huge fallout, and a budget was put in place to build a new £10million building and that’s where we are now, on what was The Manor’s playing fields.
“Chloe came into Year 7 at that point of change. Our budget facilities are now good – one computer room still has some older equipment but that’s due to be changed over in the summer. Some stuff for computing is free, so for instance Python (a programming language) is a free download from MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) website.”
“Mostly I’m coding in Python,” says Chloe, who did a work placement at Arm last year.
“Mr Campbell [principal Martin Campbell] recommended me to Rosalie Tribe at Arm.”
Rosalie is corporate responsibility senior coordinator at the chip firm.
“The idea is to work towards achieving an equilibrium in STEM subjects,” says Mr Matthews.
“So I did a week’s work experience,” continues Chloe. “I went to Fulbourn and I loved it there, it was great, such a chilled-back environment.”
“It’s really good to hear that,” says Mr Matthews, “that the office environment in this sector is so good. You get into that and you will enjoy every day you go to work.”
“I was working in corporate responsibility,” says Chloe. “They have pilots. Mainly I was getting things ready for the work experience the next week, so I made up a quiz to see how many – girls mainly – get into computer games, for the 20 people coming the week after. I was the first ever to do work experience at Arm.”
Chloe will be at this year’s FXP, but not as part of the team. Something of a brand ambassador, perhaps?
“I guess?” she answers.
“You’ll get a bigger view of what’s going on,” says her teacher. “So, one of the key things is, I’d like to ask: has the FXP experience helped with you GCSEs?”
“Yes,” replies Chloe straight off. “It’s made me more committed and more inspired as well.”
“If you think about the characters and pathways in computer games,” says Mr Matthews, “it’s a key to life in my view because the ability to solve a problem will take you a long way.”
So what sort of computer games does Chloe play?
“I used to play games – mainly World of Warcraft – and it was great fun, though I’ve got exams to focus on now.”
“One thing I’d say about Chloe is she’s the fastest student typist I’ve ever seen,” says Mr Matthews. “For me there’s a strength of character to be able to look at what you’re doing in your life that lets you put aside everything and focus on what you’re doing and focus on what’s important, and that’s not common enough.”
Mr Matthews, who spent 30 years in the computer industry – one role took him to California – launches into what may best be described as a heartfelt and very pertinent public service announcement.
“What’s that new one?” he asks rhetorically. “Fortnite? It’s a boring runaround shooting game, one of those that pop up very quickly, and some of the lads are staying up all night playing it. Lock up your computers until after the exams! I don’t know whether it’s the parents’ responsibility or the schools’ responsibility, but there needs to be that sort of focus.”
Chloe’s smart enough to see the trail and where it leads to, but maybe she had some help at home because her older brother Jake “works for Abcam on the coding side”.
“Jake was taught here as well,” says Mr Matthews. “There’s a huge number of doors open for someone like Chloe, because most big corporations have some element of managing their data. It’s impossible to see what’s ahead but teaching children to analyse algorithms is important – if you’ve got that basic skill it’s fairly future-proof.”
Chloe has another Arm work placement due this summer before heading to Hills Road, all being well.
“Building relationships for careers through projects like this is really impressive for people like Chloe and schools like this sort of facility,” concludes Mr Matthews. “It would be nice to establish relationships with some other companies on the Science Park. I’ve got a leaning towards pharma, there must be an outlet for work placements with a company like, say, Astra Zeneca, and lots of smaller companies in the area too.
“A lot of our work experience goes into vocational or construction experience, for instance at Marshall’s or Wates, which is good because there are careers there but, given the wealth of firms in the area, I’d like to see students get more work experience.”
This year’s FXP Festival takes place at CRC from Saturday, July 7 to Monday, July 9. Visit fxpfestival.com to register: it’s first-come-first-served. There are categories for Years 8-11 and further education students.