Playing the computer arts game

Andrew Macdonald, 22, is starting the third year of his computer arts course at the University of Abertay Dundee, having spent a year at Disney

Abertay is accredited by the computer games industry - there was an e-mail sent around asking for the portfolios of anyone who wanted to do a placement at Disney, and I applied. When I found out I had been successful I moved down to London for a year, which was a totally different experience and opened my eyes as to how the industry works - for example, the games I was working on will take around four years to reach the shelf! I made a lot of contacts and they will be useful when I graduate from university. Everyone was very encouraging and that's the wonderful thing about this industry - everyone is very positive because it's based on fun.

The course I'm doing has modules that cover all aspects of the industry, such as the foundations of what makes a good story and characters for a computer game. I don't do any programming in my course but there are other modules that do. We can produce complete computer games here because we have got all the skills necessary coming from each different module; you get to see both sides of the process and learn to communicate, with all the different departments and students working together.

Throughout the year we are asked to produce sketch books, where we record all our ideas and thoughts. We are also given end-of-year projects to work towards, such as an audio project or a student film. We then have to present them in front of our classmates and lecturers, when the presentation skills and product are both assessed. There is lots of group work involved and the team dynamic is really important.

In the second year you are given your first taste of working with students from other modules. There is a games production management group at the university and we work with them as well as programmers to produce a short game. That was put forward for the student Baftas for video games, which is a good opportunity for students to get recognition in the industry. In the third year we will be trained up to have the skills that allow you to focus on the personal project we will do in the fourth year. At the end of the four years we will have all the skills we need for the workplace - personally, I would love to get into concept art.

The Dare to be Digital competition is stationed at Abertay, which provides a direct link to the industry and encouragement to continue within it. Abertay has also invested a lot of money in refurbishment and there is a big open-plan room called the White Room, which houses university departments as well as external organisations. Everybody can contact each other easily, so it makes communicating between modules and departments really fast, and it's somewhere you can work really well.

Hopefully we are going to see a rise in production in this country, though currently there are a lot of employees going over to the United States to work. That can work in favour of the UK mind you, because people get some experience over there and then come back here to work and start up their own companies.

I would like to get into the American on Canadian industry, or perhaps work for the UK-based studio Lionhead studio, who have a new game coming out called Fable 2 that represents just the type of work that I love. I know I have to just produce a good portfolio - hopefully they will appreciate it!

To find out more about the Dare to be Digital competition visit