We met with Edward Burton, now in his final year of BA (Hons) Games Design, to find out a little more about his very busy summer.
Edward explains: “ProtoPlay is a huge international gaming festival based in Dundee, a subsection of which is called Dare To Be Digital. I actually found out about it on Twitter, having only ever really taken part in small London-based gaming events before, like Video Brains.
“A group of us talked about applying to be part of the festival. We had already been working on a game as part of our end-of-year assessment, but at that stage all we really had was an idea on a page. I think we all thought ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ and so applied with a pitch video that a friend helped us make.
“As with a lot of these things we still hadn’t heard back two months later and so thought nothing more of it, presuming we hadn’t been successful. However, right in the middle of the LCC Summer Shows we received an email from Dare To Be Digital saying that not only did they love the game, but they loved it so much that we had bypassed the interview stage and had been chosen to exhibit – which is practically unheard of!
“Considering that other exhibitors were professional gaming studios, and we were just four students, this was an enormous compliment. It was also really daunting. We had limited technical resources over the summer, and whilst the game had come a long way in the two months since our initial application, there was still a lot of work to do!
“We had been given a fairly open brief, with only two criteria set: to make a game that goes from A to B and that is set in the 1900s.
“Our initial ideas morphed and evolved quickly. Firstly we wanted to create a point-and-click, noir-style, detective game. This quickly developed a scenario and became about a mother who was searching for her lost child. Eventually, however, we moved away from this narrative and started to think more generally about the message of the game.
“The game ‘The Wall Shall Stand’ is loosely based on the idea of starting a revolution in an abstracted 1960s city.
“To begin with we wanted the game to be set in Berlin, but we decided to take away any features that pin the landscape to a specific place or time. We really wanted to avoid offending anyone by referencing an exact period or location, and this way the game has a more universal feel.
“Aesthetically we were inspired by poster graphics, so sharp lines and bright colours were always going to be part of our designing process.
“It was a challenge to get the game to a standard that we were happy with before we had to move everything to Scotland, but we managed it. Having spent so much time focused solidly on the development of the game we travelled to the festival with very little idea of what to actually expect.
“There were a few surprises, for example we didn’t realise that the Dare To Be Digital show was actually aimed at children, so we had real concerns that our game about revolution wouldn’t be a hit. However, because it was very minimalist, the game seemed to be engaging for children anyway.
“Another nerve-wracking moment was when a judge for the competition visited our stand and asked ‘what’s your highest score?’ In our game there is no high score. The game is about an immersive experience. Theoretically you can spend all your time with the game just exploring. It’s not a violent game – all the protagonist can actually do is explore, or put up posters and pull down statues. I guess the only way you could count, or score, your experience is by how many monuments you pull down. The police in the game will knock you over and take away your posters – this is the antagonistic part of the game that you need – but that’s as violent as it gets.
“Obviously the more we got wrapped up in the festival the more nervous we became about how the game would be received by other judges. But in the end we always knew that were we to get through, it would be on creativity rather than marketability.
“Elements of our game are actually really sophisticated too. Edward Richards built that whole AI (artificial intelligence) behind the game, which is really impressive – the city is full of individual characters who are programmed carry out an enormous series of actions and you can just follow them.
“One of the main reasons we entered the festival was because there were some really amazing opportunities and awards at stake. We knew that judges would pick three teams from Dare to be Digital to become the sole nominees of the BAFTA Ones To Watch Award. There was also a Design In Action Award and a Channel 4 Awards, both of which involved considerable funding.
“The BAFTA nomination, whilst a very distant dream, was the award that we were most excited about. We went to the award ceremony after a long day on our stand at the festival and, of course, the BAFTA awards were the last category to be announced, so the whole experience was very nerve-wracking. However, to our amazement, our game was awarded a BAFTA nomination!
“The whole experience was really overwhelming, and a great end to a challenging few months. Now we need to get on with our third-year studies whilst we wait for the BAFTA Games Awards!”