UniJam 2012. A word from our organisers.
I interviewed Alex Close the DevSoc President and Rebecca Murphy the Vice-President and second year computing science students at Nottingham Trent University. To know more about the competition.
Why organise an event like UniJam?
Rebecca: We’d had students from DevSoc go to other Game Jams, for example the Global Game Jam and others.
Alex: Yes we’ve had quite a good track record of entering competitions, so we thought we have a go at organising our own. It couldn’t be that hard.
(They both laugh at this)
So you’d seen other people give it a go and Nottingham had never done anything like it before?
Rebecca: Yes. We’d been thinking about it for a while because when we took over the presidency it was on our manifesto, when we were elected so we were obligated to make it happen.
How did you go about getting the event to happen?
Alex: It was a bit of a long process. We started with a basic structure of the event. Then we started talking to the university staff who were involve with our society and asking ‘can this happen?’. Then we work our way through the university until we got to the top. They said ‘Go ahead, go for it’, ‘We’ll support this’.
Then we started the long process of setting everything up. But it was a lot more difficult than we had realised.
Our first question was ‘how do we get people here?’. To solve that we realised we needed prizes.
Rebecca: We needed sponsorship. So we then had a few months of work, calling and e-mailing companies who we thought might be interested, to see if they were willing to sponsor us.
We did have a fairly good response. We contacted over 200 companies, before we were finally sure we’d got enough sponsorship.
Alex: Yes. It was really good ranging from a huge company like Microsoft who are represent here by Lee Stott. We’d also got companies like Dynamite Jack, which was a small game I enjoyed playing over the summer, who gave us loads of codes. We’ve even got Pololu and Insane Dev who are supplying robotics, which is great.
Rebecca: Yes we’ve got a great range of prizes. SDK (system development kit) development software.
Alex: Comics, games.
Rebecca: Xboxes from Microsoft
Alex: T-shirts, all sorts of goodies
Rebecca: People have been generally very helpful. We’re really grateful to our sponsors for that. Lee Stott from Microsoft who is here today has been especially helpful, by coming down and offering to judge the competition.
Alex: We’ve got Paul Taylor from Mode7 (who started off as a small independent games development company. After releasing a game called ‘Frozen Synapse’ became really big) whose representing indie development companies, Dave Smith whose representing the indie community. We got on really well with him and met him at Game City
Logistically, how have you pulled this all together. Has it been just the two of you?
Alex: Mostly it’s been Rebecca and me. But we have had society members doing various jobs here and there. Demos (a lecturer), from the university, has been an amazing help and gone the extra mile for us. James Lewis (a lecturer and overseer of DevSoc) and Heather Powell (head of department).
Rebecca: There have been a lot of lecturers at the university who have given us their support. Aside from that, our sponsors, the companies have been great. We spent the summer putting this together.
Alex: Yes. I had a job at the time, but I thought this competition needed more love, so I quit my job and came up to Nottingham for a few days to get on the work need to get everything going.
Rebecca: Yes we spent a few days not sleeping, trying to pull everything together.
So what do you think you’ve learned from this?
Alex: I’ve learned to write e-mails that make sense. Following the rules of English was a bit of a problem. But after Rebecca’s brutal training and doing them over and over again, I’ve learned a lot. I’m now able to construct a sentence.
Rebecca: Yes. I’m surprised how much better your written communications are. At the start Alex would write an e-mail, send to me, I would rewrite it and then we would send it on. But yes he’s good now.
What are your education backgrounds as you’re both taking computer science degrees?
Alex: My background is in engineering, A-level Computing and Applied Business. So I used what I had learned with the business to help me with putting the competition together.
Rebecca: I did A-level English and Politics and maths, so I have quite a broad range of things to play with.
What is computer science?
Rebecca: They’re very good here, they teach you from scratch, because they know that not everyone is coming in with computer programming knowledge. All you really need is logical thinking and a mind for science.
Alex: The first year is about bringing everyone up to the same basic standard, but you can take things as far as you want to go, if you’re interested and keen.
My first year was amazing. I worked with a company associated with the university who gave me a lot of games experience.
The old presidents of DevSoc Nick and Dan, who are competing here today, pushed me hard.
If you show just a little willingness, the university will just give you everything.
So it is an area where everyone will give each other a lot of help? But it is a very competitive area isn’t it? So where does the help finish and people start competing with one another?
Alex: Well it’s quite interesting. As a society we’ve been given huge opportunities. Professor David Brown asked us if would like to write programs for a robot they’d acquired for primary schools. There’s also been opportunities to try teaching, so we’ve done workshops.
Rebecca: Provide support for other students. We’ve been teaching undergraduates.
Alex: I’ve been teaching robotics. We’ve got to the stage where we’ve received so much help, we want to give a little back, but we’re still receiving help from the university, it’s just ongoing.
Is coding the first thing that’s taught?
Alex: To be honest, it’s getting everyone into the same mindset to think logically. Although there are lots of different codes the principles of the various languages are the same it’s just being able to systematically work through them. It just like any language you learn.
One of the prizes is development software, why is this such a good prize?
Rebecca: It can be extremely expensive to buy. The most expensive prizes are the SDKs (system development kit)
Alex: Basically you write the code in it and it allows you to go that extra mile. Marmalade, one of our sponsors, is very helpful in that respect and is very expensive for students to buy. It is the Mecca of open-source software (an open-source software allows users to examine it, change it, with some allowing users to distribute their alterations of the software. A possible use of this are the apps available for IPhones and android phones).
I love Appeasy Pocketeers
Rebecca: They were our first sponsor
Alex: Pocketeers do applications for Gameboys and Nintendo. The language they use is XOML. You can export this to numerous devices. It’s a very basic language.
Is it like writing, where the more you do of it the better you get?
Alex: The one thing we do stress is practice. Patrick, one of our members, know things like the back of his hand and he just does it. Steven, another member has been doing it for so long that both of them are like consulting a library of information.
So does anyone code from first principles anymore or is it all built from the skeleton of existing coding?
Alex: You code off existing framework which give you access to features you might not otherwise have, which is why the prizes of software are so useful.
If you consider that writing a program to draw a triangle, this simple action is actually very difficult to code for. It’s crazy because geometry is involved. So graphics packages are very helpful, because otherwise you have to draw the object then layer texture over it. That takes a lot of coding.
Alex and Rebecca are currently working through putting a presentation of the process they went through to bring UniJam 2012 into being, so that someone else can do the same. Although the experience has clearly not put them off as they would like to run another competition before their time as President and Vice-President is up.
The teams taking part are from:
Nottingham Trent University
University of Nottingham
University of York
University of Warwick
City University London
Kingston and City are only one student from each, they’re working together as a 2 man team.