Bachelor degrees for budding game developers

Two new degree programmes have been created by Media Design School

Kiwi game developers will be able to hone their craft and gain valuable industry skills with the introduction of two new bachelor programmes at Media Design School New Zealand (MDSNZ).

The Auckland-based tertiary institute will be offering a Bachelor of Creative Technologies, focusing on the design and art aspects of gaming, and a Bachelor of Software Engineering, focusing on game development and programming.

The three-year courses will begin their first semester in August, pending approval from NZQA.

MDSNZ says it is the first tertiary school in New Zealand to offer bachelor degrees dedicated to game development. However, these are not the first game development programmes offered at MDSNZ, its Graduate Diploma of Game Development has been a popular course since its introduction in 2004.

Graduates of the diploma programme have been in high demand from New Zealand’s gaming industry and the same is expected of graduates of the new bachelor programmes , says Fionna Scott, dean of MDSNZ.

“This will be a more indepth industry-focused experience, providing students with their first tastes of what it is like to be in a real studio environment,” says Scott.

For both courses students spend the first year learning the basics of game development. This includes gaming theory, practical mathematical skills, and the history of gaming technology. In addition, the Software Engineering stream are taught the C++ programming language along with other game programming essentials, while the Creative Technologies stream are taught to render 3D models and other asset creation skills.

Students will be expected to work on production schedules and development cycles similar to what is expected in the industry. By the time they graduate each student (working in teams) will have created a fully fledged game which they can use in their portfolio.

Scott says the focus on real industry skills will make graduates of the two programmes attractive to employers, especially overseas.

“Today you’re almost expected to have a graduate degree, and the gaming industry is no different,” says Scott.

“Especially in the UK and Australia, where a graduate level of training is standard in the industry.”

MDSNZ has hired lecturers and tutors for the courses, including from its existing staff. Scott says MDSNZ are looking for more educators, preferably from New Zealand, because of the three-year duration of the courses.

During the development of the programmes, MDSNZ has sought guidance from the New Zealand gaming industry asking them what they needed in the next generation of game developers.

Stephen Knightly, chairperson of the New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZGDA), says the New Zealand gaming industry provided a lot of guidance towards the curriculum because it needs more graduates to continue growing.

“There is a hunger for these graduates in the industry,” says Knightly.

Last year the NZGDA estimated the New Zealand gaming industry grew by 46 percent, and has more than 350 full-time staff employed.

“What gaming companies are looking for is talent and passion, but the fundamental skills are needed to maintain this growth. I’d say it’s more valuable than a lot of mostly theory based Computer Science programmes,” says Knightly.

Knightly says the Software Engineering degree in particular will be valuable as it teaches a wide range of practical programming skills that could be applied in other fields.

“With this you’re learning pure traditional computer science, learning to work to a strict development cycle, and also working with artificial intelligence. All very valuable skills in other IT roles,” says Knightly.

The two degrees will be officially announced at this years NZGDA Conference, on May 19.

MDSNZ says it currently only has a verbal approval from NZQA for the course, but is confident it will be official long before August. Entries for the two courses are being taken now. Applicants must have 42 NCEA Level 3 credits, or if they are 20 or over need to present a professional portfolio and sit an interview.

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