Choosing a Project: Hints & Tips

OK, a lot of folk have already picked a project for UNversity – or perhaps a large set of projects to work through. There are also still quite a few folk who have not declared a project yet, plus some who need to perhaps rethink their current project/list just a little to try to get some more focus. Below are my tips, but I welcome comments from UNversity veterans to chip in with their thoughts about what makes a good project.

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UNversity 2013 – Starters Orders!

Mentally I had set today for the ‘start’ day of UNversity, but some folk have already made a start and others (including myself, *ahem*) have still to set some goals for what is going to be achieved this year.

So while I can’t say yet what I’ll be working on, a whole bunch of folk have said what they hope to be doing, and some have even made a start…

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Getting prepped for UN-versity 2013 – #UNvers13

We have an event page now, on Facebook. It is a four month event… start date is a few weeks away, but of course folk can start on their projects as soon as they want.

To start a project all you need to do is post a comment on the Facebook event to say what you are doing… that is all. If you are not sure what you want to do, then you can ask for ideas. In particular, this year I have a few projects that I would like folk to work on if anyone is willing. Some of these might be useful for 3rd year students wanting to make a head start on a possible topic for honours year. But I’m sure I can come up with stuff for students at any level, and working in any discipline :-)

I’ll use the blog to post occasional updates and news – expect most stuff to happen on the Facebook event page.

Also, a #tag for the event… it seemed that last year #UNversity got a few mentions from folk who can’t spell university. On some days it got quite a lot, which made tracking/following tweets a bit of a pain. So this year the tag is #UNvers13 (Twitter search will ignore capitalisation though, so not a problem if you get that mixed up)

UNversity – The Awards!

Yesterday was the UNversity prize-giving. Microsoft’s Lee Stott was along to talk to students and hand out the prizes. It was good to get an update on the gaming opportunities around Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone, as well as a little extra encouragement for students to aim high with the Imagine Cup. A possible free trip to St. Petersburg is quite an incentive…

Anyway, on with the prizes. Our grand prizes were sponsored by Microsoft, with additional prizes courtesy of Eutechnyx, Blitz and Gearbox.

Lee presents Neil with the Grand Prize – a Nokia Lumia phone!

Lee presents 2nd place Stephen with a Kinect for XBox

Continued…

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The end is nigh… time for reflection

How to summarize something like UNversity? Not easy, and I think that the folk who remembered to post a closing blog/video also found it a challenge.

UNversity is not a Game Jam – the goal is in the process, what you learn in the journey, not in the product. To re-iterate, UNversity 2012 opened with the following rules and outline:

Pick a summer project (or two) and do it! Post regular updates here to keep folk informed on progress and let us know how things are going.
Whether you are doing an online class at coursera.com, making a game on your own or with others, re-doing a previous coursework as a personal revision exercise this is the place to let us know.

Post images, links, diaries and rants.

At the end of the summer THERE WILL BE PRIZES for folk who get involved and get things done.

Rules:
1. Pick something to do, and tell us what it is
2. Let us know how you are getting on
3. There is no rule #3
4. Ask folk for help when you get stuck, and provide advice when you can
5. UNversity ends on the 14th of September, but your project(s) can be as big or as small as you like

This was about as open as possible in terms of objectives as it could be, and the range of projects was appropriately broad. Just about everyone involved was focusing on programming from the ground up – rather than using existing engines, and most people were also working with ‘programmer art’. So not much chance of winning a Game Jam beauty contest for most entries…

Starting with one extreme example, rather than focus on developing a game, first year student Stephen decided to take or follow a range of online programming courses – from Coursera and elsewhere. Some 70+ hours of online lectures (and programming exercises later), he has considerably extended his experience with and knowledge of C, C++, Java, C# and data structures. You can also see his video summary here, and see that he did actually develop a simple game along the way.

At another extreme, but keeping in the area of Java and data structures, second year student Bryan was on an internship in Europe – which required him to develop a Java multiplayer game based somehow on Graphs and Graph theory. The resultant game is the Asteroids influenced Graph Attack. (Should be playable online, but isn’t working for me just now… still, I generally wan’t very good at it anyway. But hopefully he’ll post some videos or stills of the game at some point.) Another second year student, ‘Franco‘ also stayed with data structures, this time in C++ with OpenGL. No summary post, but a video to demonstrate the working 3D oct-tree implementation: something very useful for optimising game performance, whether for visibility or collision culling.

Two third year students, Keith and Kieran have been working with an artist on updating a past Game Jam game – the goal is to complete Graveyard Baby Hospital in time to enter it into the annual Independent Games Festival. Along the way, the game was listed on Steam’s Greenlight – an interesting experience. This was very much a spare time project though for much of the summer – as Kieran has been working full time at Outplay on commercial projects on his internship. On his blog you can read more on Kieran’s two summer projects: GBH, and the Android port of Outplay’s popular Wordtrick game. Keith worked on two other projects – and though these did not get so far along, he has learned a lot from his experiments with Windows Phone – and moving on from this to Windows 8.

Still with 3rd year students, Neil was also working on a mix of commercial and personal projects. On the personal side, some graphics programming on Android, and implementing a console GUI and scripting language for a game engine. On the commercial side, one aspect of his work involved creating a skeletal animation system for Flash. You can see examples of all of these in his UNversity project video playlist.

Of the other third year students (who are all now starting their fourth and final honours years), I’d love to say more about Anthony’s project, but he seems to have deleted his blog already. Joanne worked on two projects during the summer – a Numbrix puzzle solver in Java, and some nice shader stuff for fire and other effects. Since I think she’s decided to target the Visual FX industry for jobs, this is a good area to have worked on!

Final year (now graduate) James lost his project partner after only a few weeks of UNversity, when Craig secured a job down south. That torpedoed his first project, and James made limited progress with a whole range of projects for a variety of reasons – but, hey, he now has a full time job himself, working in C++ on video and real time systems. So all is good! Another final year (now grad), is Jonathan - the sole artist taking part, who posted a range of his concept art drawings. I think Jonathan is still job-hunting, but you can check out some of his work on his blog.

Second year student David didn’t do his final summary post, but did a whole lot of work on a 3D game engine, including working on a scripting language for it, and a slew of side projects. Of these, colourful invaders clone Fruitwars is downloadable for Android and Windows Phone from the respective marketplaces.

On the staff side, I was working on a new module, while former part-time lecturer Derek has been working on multi-platform games and a game engine using something called Monkey. Progress appears to have been in fits and spurts, but you can still play an early version of Tank’ed online, or visit the project pages to download versions for a wide range of platforms.Graham is not a programmer, and so did something a little different… some writing about urban dystopias in games.

I know that I’m missing out some other folk – but without final posts, it takes a while to scroll down the Facebook group to dig out the posts from Barney, or some of the many others who dipped into UNversity. It is a shame as Barney claimed to have something like three levels of an Android game complete – with something like that it would be good to have some videos or images. Get onto it Barney!

To Conclude… at the beginning of this post I said that UNversity is about the process, not the product. It is about creating a community, where people can pick their own priorities, their own projects but still help each other and have a place to turn to when help is needed.  In this, it worked for some at least – as Kieran noted on his round-up:

I’ve really enjoyed UNversity this year! … I’ve been very involved helping people with C++ problems and other issues in general. Think it’s one of the best parts of the year to be honest. Lets hope it continues!

Let’s hope it does! Around 30 folk started this year, and around a dozen folk were seriously involved for all or most of the weeks that UNversity was running – I hope it worked for you, and that you’ll be back to take part again next year.

The Grand Prizes

I said that there would be prizes! The full list won’t be known for a while, but there should be something for *everyone* who takes part. For the top two entries (judging criteria will be announced on Facebook in a couple of weeks time), the grand prizes, courtesy of Microsoft DreamSpark, are as follows:

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