School’s Out: DADIU Graduation Games

By Quintin Smith on April 11th, 2011 at 12:24 pm.

Two World War dinosaur games in one day. Somebody's messing with me.

And by DADIU I mean the Danish Academy of Digital Interactive Entertainment, a video game higher education institution which approaches its students’ graduation games a little differently from other courses the world over. Rather than demanding small handfuls of students complete a game over a semester, DADIU exists to assemble crack teams of twelve to fifteen students where everyone fills a highly specialised role, but a game must be conceived and completed in five weeks.

The results speak for themselves. This year’s contestants include historic dinosaur terror, a Portal-style puzzler, a strategy game with a truly brilliant concept and more besides. Better still, they’re all built using Unity and available to play online.

The game you see above is 1916: Der unbekannte Krieg (or “The War You Never Knew”), and I can only commend it for being the most horrible construct I’ve played in months. It casts you as a German soldier in World War 1 trying to escape the trenches because, for reasons unknown, they’ve become infested with velociraptors. All your friends are dead, and the situation’s so dire that climbing out into No Man’s Land is considered your only hope. Here’s the trailer.

And you know what? It works. Like everything else I’m writing about here, it plays like it was created in five weeks, but the art style and tone of the game is as dark and slick as an oil spill and the game’s full of powerful moments. Distracting dinosaurs with feet pulled off of corpses, crapping yourself as a shell goes off nearby, finally finding a rifle, rounding a corner and coming face to face with a dinosaur and turning and running, running, running, until finally the creature catches up. Searching everywhere the ladder that’ll carry you out of this nightmare.

Did I mention that at certain points the trenches will become flooded with mustard gas, meaning some of the game is played through a gas mask? Powerful, terrible stuff. Go play!

My other favourite of the graduation games, Branch, couldn’t be more different. It’s a real-time hex-based strategy game where you play some kind of intergalactic tree fighting off robots, or something.

The important part is that the game is entirely centred around the flow of pollen from each of your stalks down to the next. Pollen powers up plants, letting them fight and take over neighbouring hexes. Through simply raising and lowering hexes under your control, you have to create a cascade of pollen down to your front line, being very careful to drop the hexes of any wounded stalks so that the pollen pools in there, healing them.

You can also drop damaging tornadoes, which are powered up by giving pollen to stalks who have nowhere else to put it, and so simply shoot it into the air. Since tornadoes are the key to winning any fight, you’re forced to divert just enough resources away from battles so you can still just hold your ground, but will also be able to take more of it in the long term. The end result is as engaging as anything I’ve ever played, with each match feeling organic and tense in equal measure. I would pay £15 for a fleshed-out version of this, with asymmetric sides and lots of different units, in a heartbeat. Go play!

Then there’s Broken Dimensions, which tells the touching story of a boy who goes Trick-or-Treating and ends up trying to escape an otherworldy and very pointy Mayan temple. We’ve all been there.

In the words of one of the developers, Broken Dimensions is “blatently Portal-inspired”, which is no bad thing. As in an unfashionably large number of indie games these days, a narrator (in this case, a ghost) taunts and coos at you as you progress, lending colour to the experience, and puzzles are suitably mind-bending. Broken Dimensions’ idea is that of being able to control gravity. With a tap of the right mouse button you can rotate the world around you, and with the left mouse button you can freeze objects in place.

Pleasingly, the game takes a lot less time to get really screwed up than Portal did, and there are some nice puzzles in there, too. There are also some annoyances to do with the world or its physics not quite operating how you expect – I came up with one inventive solution for a problem, only to slide off a perfectly stable surface to get skewered on some spikes – but as free games go, it’s a winner. Go play!

And if you’re not sated by three awesome games that are worth a look, here’s three more.

  • Else: Defender of the Earth! An edutainment game which teaches geography by letting you take control of a 100-mile high granny who runs around the globe protecting cities from aliens. No, really.
  • Blendimals! A puzzle game where the solution involves blending animals. Like, in a blender.
  • Raasool! This one’s a dreamy point’n'click game, I think. Or maybe an adventure game. Where’s John Walker when you need him?

Altogether, that’s a hell of a crop, and I think it’d be great if other universities started sitting up and taking notice. Any course structuring that produces games this impressive has got to be the way forward. Roll on next year, I say.

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41 Comments »

  1. jalf says:

    I just hope other universities are going to start sitting up and taking notice. Any course structuring that produces games this impressive has got to be the way forward

    To be honest, there is basically no course structuring in DADIU.
    I went through it a couple of years ago (before they switched to Unity, unfortunately — we made an awesome Source mod, which no longer works), and it basically consists of taking students from a dozen different universities and other schools, and teaming them up.
    There’s no real DADIU curriculum, it’s just whatever your particular university or school taught you as part of your “normal” degree. But I think its big strength is that they’re not asking people to “study at our game school for X years”, where you obviously sacrifice a lot of specialization (and where they end up having to teach a dozen different subjects at a sufficiently high level), but rather just take in “actual” art/computer science/animation/whatever students, and put them together for a month to make a game, after which they go back to their “regular” studies.

    More subjectively, it’s a fun experience, but they’ve had a lot of teething problems that at times made it hard to take seriously.

    Most of their leadership came from film-making, and carried over a lot of misconceptions/bad habits, such as a tendency to put a single “game designer” firmly at the top as “the creative guy”, and putting programmers firmly at the bottom of the hierarchy as “the guys who make my vision come true”.

    On top of that, they’ve had a lot of technical/structural problems, both in finding a suitable engine that students actually *liked* working with, and in finding a course structure that made sense.

    But it looks like they’ve really pulled themselves together over the last 2 years or so (since they switched to Unity, pretty much). That’s good to see. :)

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Yeah. I’ve swapped a few words around in the intro paragraph that should make that clearer.

    • Jonas says:

      Hey Jalf, what game did you make? (I made Broken Dimensions. And last year I made Imachination.)

      This production was the last one at the old DADIU structure that you also went through. As you may have heard, next semester they’re switching to a one-semester structure where there is an actual shared curriculum (here in Copenhagen, I think) and instead of two large productions there’s one really small one and then one even larger one. I look forward to seeing how the quality of games will be in the new system.

      (Also, if you’ll excuse a brief outburst of self-centeredness, I was hoping to see a certain tag again on this post. Ah well, probably for the best you didn’t use it, Quinns ;-))

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Heh. I’d forgotten about that tag. I’ve applied it, but for your part you must hurry and make a famous game so that we can point at this tag and show we were all over you like a CAT scan before you were famous.

    • jalf says:

      @Jonas: I made Banners Displayed. We were the first batch of students, so that must have been in 2006′ish. (In 2007, my team got to do the first experiment with a non-Source engine, which… went badly. We tried a student-developed engine (and I use the term loosely) which just plain didn’t work.
      Sadly, all those early games seem to have been wiped when they launched v2.0 of their website.
      Our game was fun though! And unusual for DADIU in that it was *not* some wacky or quirky idea, but just a pretty plain first-person melee thingy, with solid gameplay, art and animation — and a combat system quite like Zeno Clash (except that we did it first!)

    • Jonas says:

      Pardon the question, but… do you have a job in the games industry now? Just curious :P

      DADIU’s success rate in terms of getting people jobs doesn’t seem quite as high as you’d expect.

    • jalf says:

      No, I don’t, (although I haven’t really sought any games industry jobs either, so far, so I can’t really blame DADIU)

      How about you?

      and I agree, working more closely with the industry, and doing more to get their students into games industry jobs is really one of the things they should try to get better at.

    • Jonas says:

      Ah all right. I’m working on it, myself. Just writing my master’s thesis right now, then we’ll see. I got my sights on Canada. Failing that, Sweden.

    • jalf says:

      Yeah, there aren’t a lot of options here in Denmark. I was looking at the UK (and Creative Assembly), but then I got another (non-game) job offer, and I needed the money, so… Maybe in a year or two. :)

      By the way, of the people on my old team, I know one is working on “big” commercial games, and a couple have messed around with mobile phone games and edutainment and the like.

  2. frags says:

    Dinosaurs? World War 1? SOLD!

    • Dreamhacker says:

      World War 1? SOLD!

      Spending 5 weeks on a game and expecting it to be finished, playable and good seems pretty damn grueling. Did anyone sleep during that time? :P

    • Hoaxfish says:

      yeah, WW1 is strangely underused compared to WW2

  3. The Hammer says:

    Wow, some really original sounding games in this list! I think I’ll try out the dinosaur one. Looks… delightful.

    • Jonas says:

      Aww, be a good sport and play them all. They’re mostly quite short ;-)

    • The Hammer says:

      Fair enough! I just tried the dino one, and it gave me a few stings to the heart. It’s like a really evil Pacman. The models of the raptors are fucking terrifyin’.

      Hmm, one about plants and trees… that sounds pleasant…

  4. el_Chi says:

    I’ve always been disappointed by the lack of games set in World War One. In terms of doing that whole “Oh the horror of war” thing and scaring the tits off you, WW1 seems like an obvious and effective setting.

  5. bakwards says:

    Blendimals is actually about blending animals in an actual blender – so yeah…

  6. Navagon says:

    From what I’ve played so far:

    1916 is an interesting Getting Chewed Up By Dinosaurs Simulator. I don’t yet know if there’s anything much more to it than that yet but it certainly has bags of atmosphere. Maybe I just keep going the wrong way or something?

    Branch however is a very clever little game. I can see that turning a profit on Apple’s iStuff.

  7. gwiz665 says:

    Oh hey, I was the game designer on Blendimals. We’re likely taking that on to the iPad as well, but it’ll take a bit more work and polish. :)

  8. GunFox says:

    I hope the article is wrong about the velociraptors.

    A velociraptor is about the size of a large turkey.

    Utah raptors are as tall as a man and would be probably closer to what they are talking about.

  9. Brendy_C says:

    Dinosaur pedant.

    • hamster says:

      lol so true. i consider every dino to be a tyrannosaurus rex that come in ‘big’ and ‘bigger’ varieties. erm except for those herbivore ones that are huge and have beaks. and the ones that fly.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      @Hamster: What about the ones that look like turkeys?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      those are turkeys

  10. SpinalJack says:

    Anyone know how to get past the last level of Branch?

    • fisker says:

      Lead game programmer for Branch here :)
      It’s a bit hard to complete level 4, but the trick is to spread out to as many tiles as possible as fast as you can. Do this by raising all new tiles as soon as you capture them. When you reach the three front lines, focus all energy (leave a handful of tiles to generate tornadoes) on the smallest front line , ignoring the rest. When done, rearrange tiles and push forward on the second largest front line and conquer it. The largest front line should be conquered last by using the flow from the newly acquired tiles. Enjoy the outro. :)

    • hammedhaaret says:

      you here too bjarne? (:
      cg-artist here.

      thanks for the praise Quinns, Im completely flattergasted

    • SpinalJack says:

      Thanks for the tips and props on an addictive game :)

  11. Bob says:

    What a clever bunch. I can recommend Jonas’ and his fellow team mates’ game, Broken Dimensions. It’s a cool physics puzzle game with some spooky-ish moments. :-)

  12. Premium User Badge

    Sagan says:

    I envy schools where you can use something like Unity. I am going to a game development school where we have to program everything from scratch. I’m not sure what our chances at something like the IGF are going to be when others are allowed to use a finished engine.

    • Jonas says:

      Yeah that seems harsh. The programme where I study (not DADIU, which is a different beast altogether, but the games MSc programme at the IT University of Copenhagen) has three lines, technology, design, and analysis. I’m on the design line, but in the first semester, the tech people (all programmers) had to code their own golf game engine from scratch for the course Engine Programming, then repurpose it for a billiards game. They were all a bit stressed out, but for the actual group projects where we team up across the three lines, we use either Unity or the UDK.

      I believe DADIU uses Unity because Unity 3D is Danish too, so they have some arrangement with the company. Also because Unity makes it possible to make games like these in just 5 weeks, which is ace.

    • jalf says:

      I believe DADIU uses Unity because Unity 3D is Danish too, so they have some arrangement with the company. Also because Unity makes it possible to make games like these in just 5 weeks, which is ace.

      I doubt the nationality really plays into it.

      Remember they used Source for what 4 years before that. (And some really crappy thing for the very first batch, that I can’t recall the name of, and only heard about)

      The reason they use Unity is that a couple of years ago, a team was allowed to try it, and, as the first DADIU team ever, they actually *liked* the engine they were using. (Everyone, especially the programmers, hating Source was a recurring theme until then, and DADIU had tried quite a few things So they made the switch. But since day 1, basically, everyone has been unhappy with their choice of technology, and they’ve tried quite a few different alternatives.

      Unity is just the first one that actually worked well for everyone. So I think the decision was obvious. ;)

    • Solfoster says:

      Not to turn this into a total DADIU-reunion, but I was on the first year that worked with Unity. We got to toy around with it during pre-production, and one by one all the teams switched from source to unity. The benefits of unity in these types of games were simply too great to pass over.

    • Jonas says:

      Jalf: I’m not saying it was the only or even the primary factor at all, but I’ve heard DADIU’s administrative people describe Unity 3D as “friends” of DADIU on several occasions, so it definitely seems to play into it ;-)

      And by the way, I think Unity was barely even around in 2006, right? I think that was actually around the time it first came out, so it wouldn’t have had the established reputation of the Source engine yet. But I’m semi-guessing here, I barely even remember 2006 – seems like such a long time ago.

  13. Wooly says:

    Goodness 1916 is terrifying. Velociraptors… brrr…

  14. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    Unfortunately mandating Unity guarantees they wont develop the skills required to get a job with a successful game developer, unless they got a source code license of course.

    • Solfoster says:

      I did this program and did work in Unity. Half the team is now working in the industry, and the other half, well they are still in school. I believe quality is superior to most tools.

    • Jonas says:

      Actually seeing how the entire programme runs over 5 weeks, the idea isn’t to develop technical skills at all – since almost everyone is already highly specialised in the role they assume on a DADIU team, it’s expected that everyone already have all the prerequisite technical skills. Rather, what you learn at DADIU is the structure and process of working on a professional game development project, and you get some practical experience working with a pretty sizeable team of people with completely different backgrounds. It’s been described as a communication exercise, and that’s not a bad call really.

    • jalf says:

      As Jonas mentions, this isn’t a separate “gamedev degree”. It’s a single class (or, well, a month out of a semester, even), where computer science students, art students, animation students, game design students and so on are bunched together to *make a game*.

      As a computer science student, I relied on my computer science education to give me the technical skills. The DADIU game was about getting to *use* those skills, interact with students from all these other fields, and experience the actual process of “making a game”.

      For this purpose, Unity is really a no-brainer, because you *need* something that’s easy to learn, and where you can get up and running in next to no time. In my day (hah, way to make myself sound old ;)) we used Source, and the quality of the games definitely suffered as a result. And we didn’t learn anything that the Unity “kids” didn’t also learn.

  15. SkiDesignS says:

    University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland has games courses for both coders and artists. In 3rd year we make a game (or at least a prototype). However, we don’t use Unity that much, so most of the games would be difficult to publish because of the different platforms each team uses.

    My team this year, for example, is making a game on the Playstation Move. Also, since many teams work for sponsors, there is that whole issue of copyrights and all that.

    Frankly, I would love to see Abertay join this tradition that DigiPen and DADIU have started. I just don;t know how doable it would be.