Carlow Institute of Technology plans to begin offering the first computer games development degree course in Ireland for the next academic year.
The four-year honours degree course has 30 places and will give students a grounding in developing computer games for all the major platforms, including Sony’s PlayStation 2, Nintendo’s GameCube, Microsoft’s Xbox, and PCs, as well as some mobile devices.
The course has been passed by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and must now go before the Department of Education for approval, which is likely to happen over the coming weeks.
It was developed with the aim of encouraging school leavers back into the software industry as well as creating a pool of skilled graduates for the growing indigenous games sector. The course has been developed by a combination of approaches. Carlow IT staff looked at similar courses in England and the US as a comparison. They also sought close collaboration with companies in the indigenous games industry such as Puca as well as the support of Microsoft, which will help to publicise the course.
Joseph Kehoe, head of the computing and networking department at Carlow IT, added that Microsoft had been contacted as it was the only one of the console manufacturers with an Irish presence. However, he said that the course would not be weighted in favour of Microsoft’s games system over those of its rivals. “We were careful not to compromise our standards and academic integrity,” Kehoe told siliconrepublic.com.
It is planned that guest lecturers, especially from local companies, will feature as part of the course. “In terms of course development, this was the most intensive in terms of industry feedback of any course we’ve developed so far,” said Kehoe. Many of the individuals consulted by the course developers hold CEO-level positions, he added.
As a result of the close ties with the gaming industry, Kehoe said that this would make graduates very employable on completing the course. “Even if they don’t go into games, they will be very amply qualified for software engineering,” he pointed out, “and for games development, these are the people you would hire above anyone else.”
At the end of the third year of the course, students will go on a six-month work placement with a games company.
According to Kehoe, the course is separate to and offers different disciplines from, the graphics design course in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art & Design Technology. “It’s not a competitor to that course,” said Kehoe. “We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. Those students would produce sketches of the hero or heroine for example. Our students would be able to take that drawing and reproduce that on a PC.”
All four years of the Carlow IT degree course will have a strong emphasis on mathematical modelling, explained Kehoe. This allows characters in a game to act as they do in the real world. It governs lighting and shading in a scene, the effects of gravity, recoil from shooting a gun or what happens when a character hits a wall, for example.
To qualify, applicants need to have a minimum of a B grade is pass maths in the Leaving Certificate, in addition to two honours subjects. The first year of the course will include an extra maths module to bring all students up to the same level.
Explaining the reasons why Carlow IT opted to become the first to offer such a course, Kehoe claimed that the overheads would be relatively low and that the college already has many of the necessary resources in place, including the lowest student-to-PC ratio in the country. “We will be putting in place a dedicated lab for when the students get to the fourth year, but that’s not a major expense. We’ll have to acquire consoles but they’re not expensive these days.”
There will also be a large-scale training programme to ensure that all of the Carlow IT staff involved in the course are fully up to date with the games sector and development technologies.
By Gordon Smith