Image courtesy of Breda University of Applied Sciences | Team Sad Viscacha Studios

No tests allowed: How Breda University of Applied Sciences is helping students follow their game dev calling

October 29, 2021
Think back on your education. You probably remember a ton of tests. You remember classes where you learned things you never used again. You remember being bored a lot of the time, maybe even frustrated.

But what if things didn’t have to be that way?

What if you could get a degree without taking any exams—or following a linear path? 

If your gut reaction is to think that’s impossible, a small university nestled on a leafy campus in the Netherlands is determined to prove you wrong. 

With 80% of its graduates hired within 12 months and alumni working for the likes of Ubisoft, EA, and Guerilla Games, the Breda University of Applied Sciences (BUas) is redefining what it means to get a creative education. 

Breda’s Creative Media and Game Technologies Program teaches both masters and undergrad students how to make a game from start to finish. Teachers are recruited directly from the industry. Students are given the space to focus on their own areas of interest rather than having a set of predefined topics to learn. And of course, there are no tests.

Cultivating the creative spark

For Breda’s Prof. of Creative & Entertainment Games, Mata Haggis-Burridge, this unusual approach to education is key to keeping students inspired. He explains that rather than having predefined topics to learn or tests to pass, each student at Breda simply gets a specialized foundation in one of three groups: programming, art, or design.
Image courtesy of Breda University of Applied Sciences | Sander Agelink
Once the foundation training is complete, students are then free to specialize in whatever skill interests them the most. For instance, while all artists learn the basics of cameras, 3D modeling, and traditional art, by the time they graduate some may have become experts in procedural generation or photogrammetry pipelines, too. Students can also shift to become producers, or even have business training to start their own studio.

“Throughout the whole of the education process at Breda, Unreal Engine is key,” says Haggis-Burridge. “We began teaching with the Unreal Development Kit in 2008, but the big shift to Unreal Engine happened in 2014, when Unreal’s AAA tools became available without a commercial license. The shift to friendly licensing terms and open source code meant our students had access to a AAA PC and console engine, down to the level of the base C++. This enabled them to work with the same toolset many of the biggest employers in the world were using.”

Since then, Unreal Engine has become the main game engine used at BUas.
“We aim to give students hands-on experience with the essential tools of game development, using software from Epic alongside Perforce, Blender, Autodesk, Adobe, Jira, and more,” says Haggis-Burridge. “Within this network of industry-standard software, Unreal Engine is the most common centerpiece for game development, partly because it integrates so fluently with the other packages and processes that we aim to teach.”
 
Image courtesy of Breda University of Applied Sciences | Jens van Kampen

Unreal Engine is taught across every year and extends beyond traditional games and media. Breda is also currently constructing one of Europe’s first on-campus virtual production studios, and the university even has an R&D team whose Unreal Engine projects extend to infrastructure planning, education, and tourism. 

“One of the elements of Unreal Engine that is welcomed by staff and students is the fantastic documentation,” Haggis-Burridge adds. “Our students regularly use official teaching materials from Epic Games, particularly the video tutorials but also the extensive documentation and example files. A mountain of information can be found on every feature, with clear images and examples that are regularly updated. This makes Unreal Engine a superb learning tool.

Reinventing education

Students don’t just learn the technicalities of game production at Breda. They also learn about teamwork, regularly taking part in a variety of projects involving from five to 40 people in a simulated game studio setting, and experiencing full game development cycles that can take up to one year to complete. In the last year of their education, students can also choose to intern at games companies or set up their own start-ups.
Image courtesy of Breda University of Applied Sciences | Team Actors
“Alongside games, in 2020 a team of students and teachers began making virtual productions,” says Haggis-Burridge. “We’ve already completed two short test films that have attracted international interest in how we’re using Unreal Engine to combine games and film as part of our education. We have more announcements in this area coming soon.” 

That focus on practical, industry-focused learning is clearly working. In the past few years, BUas students have developed a number of games, including Arid, an open-world survival game; The Red Stare, a VR game inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window; and Kabounce, a pinball-like multiplayer game where the player controls the ball, which became the first console and PC release for a new Breda-based studio.
Image courtesy of Breda University of Applied Sciences | Team Sad Viscacha Studios
“When we see these incredible start-up projects, and see that our interns are immediately useful to their companies, it’s truly validating the approach we take to education,” Haggis-Burridge explains. 

“Every year, our students’ projects get covered by the games press and Epic Games’ own Student Showcase, and some even attract the attention of investors, which leads to students starting their own companies. From the beginning, our goal at Breda was to graduate students who could be instantly effective in the real world, rather than simply being great at memorizing information for exams. I think we’re definitely reaching that goal!”

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