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Dan Pearce: From BAFTA Young Designer to Breakthrough Brit Exclusive
March 5, 2014 | By Mike Rose

March 5, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Exclusive, Video

Dan Pearce is quite the rising star in the UK video game industry. Four years ago, back when he was just 16, Pearce won the first ever BAFTA Young Game Designers competition alongside two friends, marking the start of his development career.

"Yeah, that was weird," he laughs. "That propelled me into the industry quite fast. Basically we just wrote in a design doc about a hamster."

This wasn't the first time that Pearce had contemplated making games for a living. Two years prior to that point, he had decided to commit to a life of making games once he'd finished school.

"I said 'I'm definitely going to do this - if I can't make this work, then I don't want to do anything else,'" he notes. "So I sent off a design doc with my two friends, and then we just sort of kept doing well. We did some phone inerviews, BAFTA seemed to like us, and then we won, and I got to meet Neville Longbottom."

10 Second Ninja, Pearce's latest release, was actually one of his first ever projects. It was his "learning to program" game, back when he still wasn't very good at it.

"I think I was 17 when I started 10 Second Ninja," he notes. "I decided OK, I'm going to make a project where it's more objective design, so I know I'm going to have tons of reference material, and tons of example games that I can learn from, and I can definitely make this thing."

It ended up taking him two years to complete, since getting the game polished to the level he wanted was more work than he'd first expected -- but it's finally out of the door and available via Steam.

"If they have, say, a group of lecturers who haven't worked on games since the PS2-era, that's not good enough."
What's interesting is that Pearce has now gone full circle with BAFTA. The organization chose him as one of its first ever "Breakthrough Brits" this year -- essentially helping the young designer to stand out even more -- and he says that BAFTA has really helped him get into the industry.

There was a bit of a false start along the way. Pearce decided to go to university to study video game design, but found after a short while that it really wasn't for him at all.

"My uni wasn't very good," he says. "University works for some people, and some institutions are really good. But a lot of courses are very limited in their view on the industry and the way in which things work, and if they have, say, a group of lecturers who haven't worked on games since the PS2-era, that's not good enough. The games industry is progressing very, very fast. A lot of the lessons they try to teach you don't work. That can be problematic."

"The best thing to do is talk to people as much as you can," he adds. "I think even without the help from BAFTA, I've been very active on Twitter (@GameDesignDan) for a couple of years now, and I've built up quite a good network of other game developers, people in press circles, things like that. That's been more useful to me than my entire year at uni was."

"That comes highly recommended: Talk to people."

10 Second Ninja is out now on Steam.

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Michael Joseph
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"..That's been more useful to me than my entire year at uni was."

A somewhat jarring statement. Critical of "higher" education? Yes, in a "what have you done for me lately" kind of way. Profound? Kinda. The industry is changing very fast indeed. Post secondary education has been changing too but can it keep up?

When universities give up the goal of promoting learning for learning's sake and instead become glorified career training centers and partying hubs, then they've opened the door to competition from outside of their institutions for those fields where a college diploma is not strictly necessary. And for IT fields, development, training and promotional tools can all be had for free. "The Internetz - F2Learn, F2Produce, F2Promote, F2Distribute"

For careers in creative fields like games, having a bachelor's degree or greater is becoming less important. Not being saddled with a $ton of student loan debt prior to entering the job market is pretty excellent too. But hopefully people who do this will find other ways to help themselves become well rounded young adults both intellectually and socially.

Go west, young coder? Or mama don't let your babies grow up to be computer programmers? I can't decide.

But it shouldn't be surprising that a system built by IT professionals and amateurs, should contain so much free information to help other professionals and amateurs in their IT related endeavors. I could be wrong, but it seems there are more free online resources related to computing, programming and 2D & 3D graphics creation for whatever purposes than there are for things like gardening, painting, raising animals, writing, etc. And most are not trying to push a book or subscription in the process either. I don't know if it's a sense of fraternity but IT folks are just extraordinarily generous with their time and with sharing their knowledge with others.