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Dare Stories

Ronan Quigley, Dapper Hat Games (Dare 2012)
Picture of RonanDapper Hat Games are a group of Abertay students who initially formed as a five person team consisting of Charlie McFadden, Stuart Martin, Nikita Bewley, Eilis Armstrong and Ronan Quigley for the purposes of applying to last year’s Dare to Be Digital competition, encompassing a mix of programming, art and sound disciplines. After successfully getting through the interviews and into the competition we were able to develop over a nine week period a working prototype for our game Mr Montgomery's Debonair Facial Hair for the iPad. Our concept involved combing the moustaches of a variety of eccentric customers whilst combating a wacky mixture of enemies.
It can’t be understated just how terrific the Dare experience has been. Developing the game in such a compressed timescale made the entire competition an incredible learning experience for all of us. Combined with the mentor support you get really provides a terrific work environment for all involved that just isn’t replicated anywhere else at that kind of level. And of course you get to compete for the BAFTA Ones to Watch Award which is a great bonus too!
What’s more, you get to meet other like-minded people and build yourself up a pool of industry contacts, so there are some great networking opportunities to be had.
After some long and gruelling hours of work (and a few sleepless nights too!) we were able to showcase our completed game at Dare ProtoPlay to over 10,000 people last year to some terrific feedback.
This definitely has to be the best thing about the competition, getting to see your game displayed to the public is such a rewarding experience that makes all the hard work worthwhile. Be prepared for a lot of standing though, which is ironically more painful than the crunch that comes before it! Really the only negative thing we could say about the competition is that you can’t do it all again, so make sure you put the work in as you’ve only got one shot to win it!
For anyone applying to the competition there are a few pieces of advice we can give:
- Make sure that for both the written application and video you take your time in polishing it to as good as can be. Particularly with the video, try and get the production standards to be as high as you can manage, as that is your real chance to wow the judges initially with your idea.
- If you make it through to the interview stage, well done! You’re halfway there. Really what needs to be done here is just address the feedback you’re given during the first round of applications and make sure to also consider the marketing aspect of your game too. Doing your research for this is a great way to demonstrate to the judges you’re not just thinking about the short term, but also the future after the competition.
And if you get past both of those hurdles, congratulations! All we can say is that for the nine weeks of development you have is plan now and plan for the worst. This can’t be stressed enough as if you don’t ensure your whole team are on the same page and are aware of what needs to be done on a daily basis you’ll quickly run into problems. Team leaders, make sure you set up a schedule that everyone is happy to work with. Also make sure that you all have short team meetings at the start of each day so everyone knows what needs to be done, along with weekly goals.
Another area to consider is taking on board the feedback you’ll get from mentors. This is a hard balance to strike as if you do keep trying to modify your game based on what different mentors say, you run the risk of finishing the competition with something that falls short of your expectations. You can’t keep making changes they ask for all the way up to week nine, so make sure you know what your bottom line is. Ultimately, just stay true to your game.
Also, consider what features to keep and cut. You may find that some mentors say week four is the right time to begin polish to avoid feature creep, but really this depends on the game idea. I’d recommend trying to aim for everything done by week seven and polish thereafter, though you may find like a lot of teams did last year this becomes a hard target to reach. This is why knowing what features are core and what can be left out for ProtoPlay is an important discussion to have – so be sure to take that into account. Win or lose, each person that enters the competition this year will have some great experiences and memories to take away!
As for where we are now, four of the original members have stuck together and we have brought on board an additional two programmers to help us in finishing our game. Based in Dundee, we are currently applying to Abertay University’s Prototype Fund in the hope of developing our game full time once again upon graduating.
Thanks to the recognition of entering Dare and receiving an award from BAFTA in Scotland a few weeks ago, hopefully this will become a reality! We are looking to have our game out in November this year for iOS and Android Platforms so be sure to check it out when it arrives.
You can follow our team’s progress on Twitter @Dare2012_DHG 

Nic Vasconcellos, Ramblin' Wreckage (Dare 2010)

NicFor the longest time in college, I wanted to go into filmmaking. I was constantly running around participating in any kind of competition I could get my hands on. It was odd, however, that every time I finished a film project, I felt like I needed to take a month or two off before starting another one. At the time, I didn’t give this much thought and just went about my way trying to make films.

The spring of 2010 came around and I had only briefly dabbled in games at that point. Without any kind of internship lined up for the summer, I was getting nervous. As if right on cue, my friend called me out of the blue and said she and a couple people were applying for this “Dare to be Digital” thing and needed someone who could design and draw to round out their team. I thought I’d give game development another shot, and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Scotland.

Summer was an amazing frenzy of game development. Not only was my team given the freedom to develop our very own game, but we also provided with the tools to make it all possible. To me, one of the most amazing things was getting weekly feedback on our progress from real industry professionals. It was an almost surreal experience to receive criticism and suggestions from people who made the games I grew up on.

Then, after ALL the hard work we put in over the summer, we got to spend two days in Edinburgh showing off our game to literally thousands of people! Previously, we had only tested our game amongst the other Dare contestants, so the final showcase was basically like the ultimate playtest, as the people coming through were of all ages and experiences. As a designer, it was incredible to see first-hand how my decisions affected the way in which people approached our game. While I learned an amazing amount about game development and teamwork over the course of the summer, I think I really learned the most about developing a product in those last two days.

After all was said and done and I was on my way back home, I had a realization: I was already prepared to start another game project. Despite how worn out I was from the summer, I still wanted to get started on the next thing. Dare to be Digital helped me realize that my true passion lied in game development. Fast forward a couple of years and I am now working as a Senior Game Designer at Zynga where I am still always looking forward to what’s next.

Colin Whiteside, Faraway Games (Dare 2011)

ColinI entered Dare to be Digital in 2011, after Holly, a Vis Comm student at Abertay who was my team leader on another project I was doing at the time, asked me if I was interested in joining another couple of students to form a team. Robbie (our eventual team leader) and Olympia (our general game design guru and level artist) had a really good concept for an iPad game, and since the competition had a pretty good reputation at Abertay, and I had no intention of spending another summer doing customer service work, I joined in as second programmer. Donna joined as animator, and we all started work on a convincing pitch.

Evidently it must have been good, as we got called up for a face-to-face presentation with the judging panel, the final stage to determine whether we’d get in or not. Needless to say, it was one of the most anxious moments of my life. We had some good concept art, an enthusiastic team, and we’d worked out how technically feasible our game, now named Aida, was to create in the Unity engine. They seemed impressed, and while we were putting in our university coursework the word came in that we’d been selected.

Thus began the most intensive nine weeks of my game development career to date. We had an ambitious schedule considering we’d never developed an iPad game before, per se. Or a Unity game.  And come to think of it, this was the first time we’d all worked together on one project. Enthusiasm powered us on to get the first playable bits of the game up and running in record time, which meant we could test out different gameplay ideas and only keep what worked- we must have thrown out half the original ideas we came up with. Then came the kids.

The absolute perfect time to completely break your game prototype is at 11pm the night before several dozen school children are due to come and playtest it. It’s amazing how much a lot of Red Bull, coffee and crisps can get you through an intensive night of not spotting the really obvious mistake you’ve made hours earlier. The payoff was amazing though, having fresh players in our target age group play the game, even in its half-finished state, gave us masses of feedback.

A few weeks of long hours, hard partying with the other teams and last-minute changes later we showed off our game in front of a record number of people in the middle of Dundee. Kids loved it. We were asked when it was getting released. Even David Braben, a childhood hero of mine, came over to play it at one point. After that weekend I knew that I had to become a mobile game programmer when I graduated, which I did. On top of the partying, satisfaction and everything else, I’m pretty sure that my time in Dare helped show my current employers that I could see a project through to the end as part of a team, and that’s something money can’t buy.

Liam Anderson, King of Dice (Dare 2010)

Liam Anderson photo

I am now a Software Engineer at Electronic Arts UK. My Dare experience started like anyone elses, looking for a team. I did this via the forum on the Dare to be Digital website. I was then contacted by a team who I met, discussed plans with and after a few hours they decided I was a correct fit for their team. We then spent the next 8 weeks working hard at our online entry form and making sure everything was perfect. Once it was handed in we were then selected to go into the next round, presentations in person at Realtime Worlds offices. Sadly this team never got any further. At this point I thought my Dare time was over but to my amazement I was then contacted by Jane from Dare asking if I was interested in taking one of the Scottish ambassador roles. These ambassadors are Scottish students who get put with a team of 4 students from a foreign country. A few days later I had to go for another interview and because I am a Programmer I also had to take a written programming test to make sure that the people they were putting into the teams were able to do the work and weren’t going to hinder the team. A week later I was told I was successful in my application and would be assigned to a team from the Communication University of China. One of the main perks of being an ambassador is that you get to go and spend a week with your team in their own country so you get to know them better. A week after getting told I had been accepted I was then flown off to Beijing in China to meet my team. I got to know the team but more importantly I got to know the game concept they had come up with.  Once the week was over it got to the serious part, the actual competition itself.

The first few weeks were the most intense. There were a few mentors coming round and asking you about your game. There was a lot of advice running around which I was very thankful for. There were also lecturers who were constantly there. Once the first few weeks were in the rest just flew by. One minute it was week 2 the next it was week 9. This was highly stressful but once I got to sit back and actually look at what we had accomplished I was highly surprised. We had a game which had 3 levels which were all fully animated. We had also implemented a server for the game and also the full multiplayer implementation down to the point that the clients were only really 2 - 3 milliseconds behind each other. But the big feature that we were proud of and took a lot of work and a lot of 4 -5 am’s was we had full character customisation and selection. The final few days is when it gets really fun. This for me was one of the best parts of the whole Dare experience. At the point I did this it was still hosted at the EICC during the Edinburgh fringe and people came in their thousands. There were a lot of kids and adults coming along and playing your game, complimenting it and you could physically see the enjoyment on their face. This is the most rewarding part of the whole experience and makes all those very late nights and missed nights out all worth it.

Now a lot of people tell people about what they got out of Dare up until protoplay which is a shame since the whole Dare experience doesn’t really kick in until a while after you're all done with Dare. One of the main things I received from Dare was a lot of people around my own age are all into the same thing I am, making games. On the professional side it has also been helpful. I am now 2 years out of Dare and I am a Software Engineer II at Criterion Games/EA UK which I think my experience during Dare helped me get the necessary skills to get through the hard probationary period that they have here. Some people wonder how close Dare is to industry and I can tell you it is the closest you’re ever going to get. Never mind these simulated classrooms you get at University, Dare is 100 times more real.

One last piece of advice - do not miss the opportunity to go to Bert Wednesday while you’re at the competition. It will give you the few hours you need to switch off and not go crazy but all in all it will give you viable contacts within the Dundee games industry. These are going to give you that edge you need to break into the industry once you’re done with Dare and University.

Omar Daniel Morrison, Creative Genius (Dare 2010)

creative geniusI participated in Dare 2010 with the game Silent Symphony; an adventure puzzle game where music was magic and colour was life. My team consisted of fellow university students Mohammed Masri, games designer, Clarke Lewis, artist, Daniel Leaver, programmer and Patrick Griffiths, our animator. I was the mechanics programmer and team leader, and really wanted to do Dare to get a trial run of what working in the industry might be like, to get some hands on experience and really test my team and I, and that’s exactly what we got from the adventure.

Putting a team together is probably the most stressed but easily the most important thing that participants need to think about when entering this kind of competition. Finding the first two members of my team was easy Clarke and Mohammed had been working with me on projects since our first year and shared a similar state of mind, and while our skill set didn’t perfectly match, our understanding of each other made things go so much more smoothly. Daniel was a very talented programmer on our course who was recommended by our course leader to be our engine programmer. My friend Patrick had been animating for years, so knowing him helped us fill that requirement.

In my opinion a team of five probably wants two programmers, two artists and a sound engineer, but unless the sound engineer is also the team leader or a third programmer or artist, it’s probably not wise to dedicate a role to sound, the same goes for design. Though our designer also focussed on research and testing, it was only because he acted as an additional artist that we were able to utilise him as a full member of the team.

The best advice I could probably give any future participants of Dare to be digital is that no team is perfect, but if you can build your team around your game, to meet its requirements, rather than following a template, you’ll probably go a lot further. Since Dare, Clarke, Mohammed and myself reformed our group, brought on some new talent and formed a company of the same name as our team; Creative Genius. We entered two other competitions; Brains Eden and Virgin’s 100-day challenge, each teaching us something new and preparing us for the challenges ahead.  Last September we officially registered the company, working on the website, setting up a Facebook and Twitter, and most importantly our games, Silent Symphony from Dare and two other hopeful titles that we aim to have make their breakthrough over the next couple of months. We hope to go back to Dare one day to broadcast our success and pay tribute for all that the experience has done for us, I personally don’t think that there’s a single program or opportunity out there that’d give aspiring game designers a better jumpstart that Dare to be Digital did, and I honestly couldn’t recommend it enough, and that’s something people will be hearing me say for some time to come.

Tom Laird, Raptor Games (Dare 2012)

TomMy Dare experience was a real changing point in my life. Having graduated from Staffordshire University a  year prior to applying, I had been working on mods in my spare time to try and find work in the industry, which proved very difficult and didn't seem to be going anywhere! My friend suggested that we form a team and apply to Dare, so we rounded up a couple of our friends who were well versed in complementing fields, art programming, animation and audio, and got together to discuss our game to be. We then made our video pitch as professionally as we could, in order to give us the highest chance of being taken seriously!

After we were accepted we made the journey north to Dundee. Meeting all the other teams was great, that is one of the greatest things about Dare, you get to meet people you otherwise would not have. Getting to work on our game was the most interesting part, they sit you down for the morning and tell you everything you need to know, then they just say "go", and you have 2 months from then to make a game.

Some of the high points were meeting people from industry and gaining some insight from them, plus some great ideas for your game and un-biased feedback. Some of these guys were really not afraid to say what they were really thinking, which is exactly what you need! Other notable high points were the Scottish Céilidh (do not miss this!) and playing everyone else's games and seeing them evolve over the competition. The obvious high point was Dare ProtoPlay, where you showcase your game to the public over 4 days, and get to play everyone's finished game, and see the public's reaction to yours.

Where the competition really started to affect my life was around this time, ProtoPlay was over and we had been recognized for our efforts, I'd had some talks with some people from industry about my future, but it was the party that Rockstar threw for everyone on the Sunday where I met someone from Rockstar North, who gave me his buisiness card, at which point I hurried home to send my details accross, I then got called up for an interview, offered a job as a Map Support Artist, and the rest is history!

I owe my career and future to Dare to be Digital, but can't stress this enough, it is in no way a free ride, you must work extremely hard, say goodbye to weekends, and prepare to lose and gain a few friends along the way. There is no better way to prepare yourself for a career in game design. Thank you.


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