This year, 21 teams consisting of a total of 170 members submitted pitch documents as entries to the contest, based on the theme ‘Mendelian Inheritance: genetics and genomics’, which is supported by the Wellcome Trust. Candidates were encouraged to treat the theme creatively, spanning concepts such as variation, mutation and other characteristics of the human genome. The entries were scrutinized by a panel of judges from Epic Games, the Wellcome Trust, and Stephen Gaffney, CEO of Fireteam.
The judges were looking for game plans that demonstrated an inspirational use of the competition theme, and which were ambitious while staying mindful of the contest deadlines and demands. Artwork with eye-catching visuals were commended.
It’s not often that worlds of genetic science and games development collide, but in this year’s Make Something Unreal Live competition, they have become symbiotic, as each team works closely with development and science mentors to achieve their desired game based on the theme ‘Mendelian inheritance: genetics and genomics’ using Epic’s Unreal Development Kit (UDK), the free edition of the award-winning Unreal Engine 3.
With the grand finale at Gadget Show Live just five weeks away, the four teams have reached a crucial stage within the development process, and input and feedback from the science mentors has given the teams a unique insight into how the games can be enhanced from a science perspective.
The ‘Mendelian inheritance: genetics and genomics’ theme was set and is supported by the Wellcome Trust. The four teams were selected from a shortlist of 12 who all pitched game ideas based on this theme to the judges back in December. They are being mentored by scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and by developers from European games studios. All mentors are available to give their teams advice; however, responsibility for developing the games lies with the teams themselves.
The finalists and their games are as follows:
- Dead Shark Triplepunch is a team of 10 students from the Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden. Its game, “Epigenesis”, is a fast-paced ball game played across on rooftops with gravity cannons and supportive plants that spread across the playfield. Dead Shark Triplepunch is being mentored by the games studio Splash Damage, while its science mentor is Josh Randall from the Sanger Institute. Josh leads the Human Genetics Informatics team, which performs analyses primarily for large-scale next-generation sequencing projects conducted by Sanger's human genetics faculty.
- Kairos Games comes from Staffordshire University and numbers nine students. Its title “Polymorph” is a third-person platform game in which a brave amorphous character and its ever-changing offspring evolve and adapt to take on the world around them, taking key evolutionary traits from other species. The studio Ninja Theory is guiding Kairos from a games development perspective, while James Floyd is providing a scientific perspective. James is a statistical geneticist analysing the exome sequences (i.e., the parts of the genome that are processed to produce proteins) of individuals with rare genetic diseases, in order to attempt to identify the specific mutations that are causing their disease.
- From Bournemouth University, the seven-strong team at Static Games take the player on a tour of “Mendel’s Farm”. In its day, Mendel’s Farm was a thriving and popular business which bred the best livestock and grew the best plants. However, over time the farm has deteriorated and Mendel is struggling to manage the farm by himself, and the player’s task is to restore it to its former glory. Static Games is able to call on Climax Studios for development support and Carl Anderson from the Sanger Institute for scientific guidance. Carl applies statistical methodology to the analysis of large-scale genetic data sets in a bid to better understand the causes of several common human diseases. He has taken a lead role in the identification of almost 100 risk loci for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
- Finally, Team Summit, from University of Abertay, has four members and is developing “Beings”, a puzzle platform game aimed at younger players. The central character in “Beings” is a mythical creature facing a series of challenges such as fire, ice, or snow. These obstacles can be overcome through selective breeding with a creature with the right genes - fire-retardant skin, for example. Team Summit is being mentored by the studio Lucid Games and also by Darren Logan from the Sanger Institute. At Sanger, Darren studies pheromone and olfactory communication in mice with the aim of understanding the genes that instruct animals to detect and respond to social signals with highly stereotyped behaviour.
“The very high calibre of the scientists who are giving their time to mentor our teams is testament to the importance which the Wellcome Trust attaches to this competition,” commented Mike Gamble, European Territory Manager at Epic Games and a member of the judging panel. “The students are working incredibly hard to make their games look their best and to bring some real depth to the subject matter in time for the challenge of developing and presenting live on stage for five days at Gadget Show Live.”
Iain Dodgeon, Broadcast and Games Manager at the Wellcome Trust, said: “We’re impressed by the great enthusiasm shown by the teams to research the scientific aspects of their games’ theme, coming up with original and creative concepts. The science mentors are able to help them build on these elements, bringing science into the game-world in a way that is relevant and fun.”
At the Gadget Show Live finalists will rapidly iterate upon their games live on the show floor in front of MSUL judges and visitors to the show. On the final day of the exhibition, April 7th, the overall winning team will be announced, and awarded with a commercial Unreal Engine 4 licence for PC digital distribution.