This Sheffield games course has a real-world approach to teaching

Training Spotlight: Sheffield Hallam University

Sheffield Hallam University can claim to be the first UK university to publish its own PlayStation Minis game.

Establishing a commercially-licenced game studio, Steel Minions, students at the university produced and released Bounceback, which won three out of four of the top awards at the regional Game Republic student showcase competition in 2012.

The three Games Software Development degrees offered at Sheffield Hallam University (BSc, MComp and MSc), are all Skillset-accredited courses aimed at technical programming roles in the games industry. There are currently less than a dozen accredited technical courses in the UK and three of them are at Sheffield Hallam.

The institute is also one of a select number of universities that are part of the PlayStation First academic partnership programme, which gives it access to industry-standard PlayStation hardware and software for teaching.

Technical courses accredited by Skillset have to demonstrate that they include appropriate levels of C++ programming, mathematics, hardware architectures and inter-disciplinary teamwork in order to gain accreditation. SHU courses focus on C++ in all years, include two years of degree-level mathematics, and teach assembly programming on various architectures, including the PlayStation 3.

“The course content is both technical and challenging, but the Skillset accreditation means that it has been independently assessed by professionals as having the correct balance of content to equip our graduates for employment in the games industry,” says Dr Jake Habgood, senior lecturer for software and games development.

SHU has some 37 PS3 dev kits, seven Vita dev kits and six PSP dev kits, all with access to Sony’s PhyreEngine (used to make the BAFTA award-winning Journey) and the associated SN Systems toolchains.

The course has strong links with Sumo Digital, SCEE and Sheffield indie games developers, who run regular show-and-tell sessions in a local pub. Alumni from the course have gone on to work at SN Systems, Team 17, Distinctive Developments, Team Cooper, Red Kite Games, Blast Furnace, Barcrest and Fish in a Bottle.

Habgood explains that in the future he hopes to publish more games for Sony’s platforms.

“We’ve just bought some new Vita dev kits and we’ll certainly be making good use of them next year,” he says.

“I cut my industry teeth on the original PlayStation console so I will always have a soft spot for Sony’s hardware. It was the passion for development I gained making games like Hogs of War for the PlayStation that still make me misty-eyed about the industry.”

Summing up, Habgood says SHU has “an appropriately hard course which covers the content required to gain employment as a programmer in the games industry, and we have the industry contacts to get talent noticed”.

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