Feature: Brains Eden

Feature: Brains Eden
Sean Cleaver

By Sean Cleaver

August 14th 2017 at 2:30PM

Develop was honoured to be a judge at this year’s Brains Eden gamea festival. Sean Cleaver talks us through the finale of the festival and what it was like to judge such a closely contested competition

It always feels slightly strange coming to a game jam at the very end. Everywhere around you are participants, in this case university students, mentors and event staff. Everyone is tired but also beaming with positivity on having completed the previous 48 hours of game development.

The jam in question was the Brains Eden game festival. Over the weekend of June 30th to July 3rd at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, 34 teams were given a brief and competed to win prizes. The brief this year was ‘Give and Take’, a brief that the organisers thought long and hard about in order to encourage fewer co-op games being developed. Thankfully, given the quality of the games developed, this had the exact opposite effect.

Looking out across the room and seeing those faces. That’s so important
Dr. Andy Salmon, Anglia Ruskin University

 

One of the most common features of many of the games created for the event wasn’t just local multiplayer but, specifically, shared controllers. Following the style of BAFTA and now Develop Award winning Overcooked from Cambridge locals Ghost Town Games, the use of one controller for two players was very prevelant.

During the weekend, the teams from various universities from around the UK, Europe and for the first time, China, all conceived and developed a project using the ‘Give and Take’ theme.Teams also attended talks put on by mentors and sponsors to help their projects and to give advice on getting a graduate job in the industry.

A fair was set up for the entrants to talk, network and meet sponsors and supporters including Aardvark Swift, Frontier Developments, Sumo Digital, Codemasters, Unity and PlayStation First. But for the judges it was time to cast an eye over the weekend’s work.

The quality of the projects created in such a short period of time was absolutely staggering. The gameplay, mechanics, art, use of engine and even concept was above and beyond anything I could have expected really showcasing the talent that we have in this country at a student level.

It was fascinating to see how the brief of ‘Give and Take’ was so wildly interpreted. Students had the choice of which engine to use, including Unreal Engine and Unity. Some projects even had time to make voxel-based art in games. The creativity and skills shown wowed all of the judges.

Dr Andy Salmon, deputy dean of the faculty of arts, law and social sciences at host venue Anglia Ruskin University, gave the prizes at the end of the event. “The passion shines through,” he told me after the ceremony. “Both in the students and mentors. I came over the weekend and the thing that was really tangible was they way in which the students were very on task and getting an awful lot of support from the mentors. You can’t really construct that in a normal educational situation.

The support from the mentors and the industry was evident across the event. Dr. Salmon is very aware of the impact events like this can have for the games industry as a whole. “I think it’s vital. As our keynote speaker, Karl Hilton from Sumo Digital said, young people are coming in with further ideas and further creativity, adjusted skill sets and its very valuable for the industry.

“I think the other thing is the demographic. 90 per cent of young people on the planet play games. So the more contact the studios can have with that demographic, the better and more effective that’s going to be.”

While playing the games is obviously a highlight and at the end of the event everyone gets the chance to play each others games that they’d heard so much about, I personally enjoyed hearing the tales from the weekend. Following the ceremony, it was great to meet students and listen to tales from them and the mentors about the difficulties and challenges they overcame. For Dr. Salmon, his favourite times for the event are the beginning and the end.

“When the theme was announced by mentor Matt Holland, you could feel the excitement in the room. The students filed off and you could tell they would be on it straight away. That’s the kind of atmosphere that you want to engender.

“My second favourite part of the festival was the end. Presenting the prizes and looking out across the room and seeing those faces with all the hope and expectation and the generosity for the people that had won. That’s so important.”


THRUST

The winner of the best PC Game Award, Thrust, could be released tomorrow. That’s not just hyperbole. The competitive multiplayer game positioned three jets in to a central wall with a conveyor belt around
the outside of the playing area providing fuel for the jets, taps to empty fuel from opponents jets and explosives to stop your opponent from activating their side of the wall. To activate it there are two big fire buttons and when pressed the jets move the wall across to the opponents’ side in an attempt to squash them and win.

Tug of war goes so well with give and take and the premise was so solidified in the minds of the students from Howest University College in Belgium that the mentors I spoke to were worried they wouldn’t pull it off. “We spent a lot of time brainstorming different ideas, trying to figure out what might work,” the team told me.“We spent about five or six hours of planning. We made sure that every issue that came out gameplay wise we had a solution for it.”

“We started the first day until 10pm planning the mechanic, making sure everyone was on
the same page and then the next day we got to work. It went super smoothly. When we started we had a version control issue but that worked itself out.”


 

JUDGES CHOICE AWARD

Develop was honoured to be able to award the Judges Choice award to Les Baguettes from Pole 3D in France. Their game had two controller- like space ships on screen mimicking the Dualshock 4 controllers in the player’s hands. Bombs are tossed on to the controller shaped spaceships and each button on the controller can depress like a spring to throw them on to your opponent. You use the analogue sticks to manouver the bombs to a button before you fire them across to your opponent. Occasionally the buttons will change position and a power up allows you to use the touch pad to toss every bomb to your opponent at once.


 

BEST MOBILE GAME

The team from the Hauzong University of Science and Technology in China has possibly the most literal take on the brief, with a two-player, top-down game for tablet that rewarded reactions and teamwork rather than competing. One side represented a cube logo, while the opposite represented a sphere. When, for example, a sphere appeared, the person on the side of the cube logo has to swipe the sphere towards the second players side for them to take, and visa versa. Occasionally a bomb would appear where both players need to take it in order to defuse it. A wonderfully simple and enjoyable game of reactions.

Photo credits to Matthew Power Photography