Brunel University London is enthusiastic about teaching game design, ensuring that its course, while taking in technical aspects, brings creativity to the fore. The team behind it has plenty of industry experience to lean on, and includes former Lionhead Studios director Steve Jackson as well as Justin Parsler, who is CCO at Octopus 8 Studios and consults with Mediatonic as a senior designer. Parsler made his first game in 1984, when he was just 16. Here, he details what Brunel has to offer for those interested in a strong start down a similar path.
What courses are available at Brunel?
We offer a BA (Hons) in Games Design, which can be taken on its own or jointly with either Film And TV or with Creative Writing. We also offer an MA in Digital Games Theory And Practice, which has a long history of helping students from a whole variety of backgrounds transition to either the industry or academia.
In your opinion, what is the worth of having a game-related degree?
Education and training are different. Training teaches a person how to do something, while education teaches how to learn how to do things. Properly educated people can learn how to do anything, and have a much deeper understanding of the world around them in general. At Brunel, we seek to both train and educate. There are a lot of ways to get into the game industry based on training in one form or another, and many university courses offer an education, but there are very few places that offer both. The reality of almost every commercial sector in the whole world is that training gets you a job or allows you to work for yourself, because employers need people who can do things, while education gets you promoted, because the industry needs people who can think and learn.
What else makes Brunel special?
The philosophy of the university as a whole supports the approach we take in the game department: we train people how to do things as part of a rigorous education. Brunel maintains a very high standard of research while engaging with the real world and its needs. We run a summer placement with Octopus 8 Studios in which students go through a full product cycle, publish and get a hefty share of any profits. It needs to be made clear that when we talk about game design, we mean the creation of an experience that engages someone, has well-developed mechanics and, if appropriate, has a compelling narrative. We teach some art, but we’re not an art course, and we teach some tech, but we’re not a programming course. In our focus on design, we believe we’re unique. This results in a course that is creatively and intellectuality demanding.
What kind of facilities can your students access while they face up to that challenge?
We have a dedicated lab space that is open to game students 24/7, filled with cutting-edge gaming PCs, modern and old consoles, an Oculus Rift headset and so on. Without our students, it would all just be empty rooms full of expensive electronics. Our labs are brought alive by the student community, who are always in there working, chatting or playing. That is, if they are not next door in the well-stocked boardgame room.