Raad Aldakhil and Amad Aslam, founders of the newly started Game Development Society, shared my initial bemusement as to why no such thing already existed.
“It’s quite strange; there is a lack of any games development community at the university,” commented Amad, “there’s a lot of gaming based stuff, but nothing for development.” “So we just looked at each other one day and were like, let’s just start a new society,” finished Raad.
And so, the HackSoc Game Dev Society was born. Despite paying homage to the intimidatingly complicated sounding HackSoc in its name, Raad and Amad were quick to point out that the society was actively trying to source members outside of computer science. “We’ve got in touch with a number of societies to try and recruit people and get people involved from different sort of backgrounds with a diverse range of skills. Obviously, game design isn’t just programming; you can have art and music and writing too.”
Raad and Amad, two final year computer science students, are not beginners themselves, both having developed a number of games, although as Amad modestly admitted, few of them had seen the light of day. However, as they outlined their vision for the society and why they began it, it became clear that it was very much aimed at being as accessible for beginners as possible, with their role being as teachers and motivators.
“It’s all about teaching people how,” Raad commented. “We don’t need people to have experience to come to our events. Most of them will be aimed towards beginners. We want to give everyone a foundation so that they can start, and so every iteration of the game jam can be better than the last.”
The game jam is perhaps the most ambitious goal that Raad and Amad have set for the society for the time being. The game jam, which is a 24-hour event in which developers are tasked with making a functional game from scratch, is pitched as an event for students, something which Raad and Amad commented was notably lacking in Manchester, and has been planned for February.
Clearly, there will be a lot of workshops, talks and classes between then and now. For beginners, the pair advised, “Come to talks, listen to people from industry; once we have something solid for actually teaching people, you can start to attend those workshops and that’ll give you a foothold.”
Games development can be one of the most intimidating fields to get into. To me, the complexity of games has always made them somewhat unapproachable, but Raad and Amad clearly have a structure in mind: “The best way to learn is by doing. We’d probably start designing a workshop where we give a talk on a certain topic, then maybe give them a task to do; something very small.
“Say we have this adventure and this is the character, write the most interesting story you can think of. Or, these are the game mechanics, these are the limitations: design and level and we’ll see which is the most interesting and why.”
“Even on top of splitting the skill areas,” commented Amad, “there will be a lot of useful stuff about overarching game design as a whole; there’s content about scoping your game, and on how to design a game from the ground up.”
The fledgeling society already has its first event planned. Impressively attracting an Activision programmer to hold a talk on graphics programming; the two founders commented on how “forming industry links” had already been an “unintentional” but pleasant side-effect of the initiative.
In an age where students are finding societies to be an increasingly costly pursuit, Amad and Raad pointed out that their activities should mainly be free. “You can do everything you want entirely with free tools,” Raad assured me as I tried to guess the cost of a suite of gaming tools and engines. Amad, smiling, pointed out that he had “never spent a single penny on any of the games [he’d] done.”
What I particularly liked about The Game Development Society was how open-minded they were to those who may not feel well-versed in games design, or even in computers at all. As I repeatedly stressed my technological ignorance, Raad and Amad were positive and encouraging, reiterating that the society would be an inclusive zone where people with a wide range of skills could learn the ropes, be it “computer scientists, writers, musicians, artists or designers,” or anyone with a real passion and interest in the process of making video games.