In the second of a series meeting the second year students, here's Timothy Kaufmann.
I was a very shy boy at school; small for my age and always the youngest in my class. My active imagination was seldom shared with anyone and my ideas never heard above the crowd. That was always the case, until I took up acting. Theatre performing was a wonderfully liberating chance to explore my creative side and connect with others. So when it came to choosing A-levels I decided on Biology, Chemistry, Physics… and Drama. It was clear to my high school that I excelled in the sciences and it was my passion too, however, without my Drama classes to keep me sane I would have collapsed back into my shell long ago. And yet despite these two passions I always found a barrier separating them from one another. Thus, when going to University I was faced with the difficult decision of pursuing science or theatre performance.
I studied for a PhD in Life Science at the University of Warwick, specialising in neurodegenerative diseases. Importantly, I always kept up my acting at every opportunity; whether it was touring theatres with plays, teaching undergraduates in the lab or engaging the public in science communication events. I realised that finding creative ways to illustrate scientific concepts to an audience presented an exciting opportunity to combine the two sides of my persona. It was with this inspiration that I decided to pursue a career in games design, which led me to the National Film and Television School (NFTS).
Biggest personal successes on the course?
For me, the greatest success was bringing together a team of ten people to work on my latest project. On a single game, I got to work with screenwriters, producers, composers, sound designers, graphics artists and cinematographers; each one bringing their expertise to the table. Having such a diverse team of professionals from across the film, television and games industries has been a truly unique and rewarding experience on the NFTS Games course. Being able to share the same vision and work together with so many creative minds has made my time at the NFTS feel as if I were running a real games studio.
Projects created so far on the course.
My first EVER project was called Don Flash and the Temple of Horrors. It was a first person, narrative driven game about an over-the-hill stuntman who’s brought in by the disgruntled director to collect the final footage for their latest B-list action movie. As you blunder over stunts and sets the director becomes increasingly mad and you begin to realise you’re no longer the spry star of your glory days.
This game was made over 6 weeks by myself and four other developers. There was virtually no coding used as we’d not yet learnt how to write any. Instead relying on the inbuilt features of Unity to control story progression, audio cues and scene animation.
Dream Flower is a tranquil game in which the player begins life as a bulb and must grow into a big flower. This was my first solo project after an intensive course in learning C# coding language and writing scripts for Unity. This is a lovely game idea that creates a calm experience for the player to reflect on life and the passing of time. I would love to go back and develop this game further at some point.
Snowfall is a 2D, third person strategy game set in a small snowy town at the base of Avalanche Mountain. You play as Frolic, the town hero, tasked with protecting everyone from the falling snowballs that cascade down the mountain each day. Above the town, Frolic moves around the mountain slope planting poles in the ground to deflect the snowballs. Frolic gets rewards for each snowball he collects, which he can spend to upgrade the town’s defences.
This module is all about developing a mechanics-driven game, which was tremendous fun! I wanted the player to feel the frantic pace of their character as he traverses the slopes back and forth to create the best defences possible with what he has.
Don’t Blame Baby is a 3D, first person VR experience (Oculus Rift) set in the everyday kitchen of a young family. Mum and Dad have been passive aggressively struggling with their relationship for some time and looking after their 12-month old infant can be even more stressful. This morning of all mornings, however, things are reaching break point. We watch from the eyes of a child having their breakfast as Jenny and Stuart’s argument grows into selfishness and negligence.
This story explores how parent’s behaviour can impact on their children and how a child’s behaviour can alter the course of events for their parents. Getting to develop a game in VR has always been a dream goal of mine and Synthespians was the perfect chance to realise it. We were presented with an interesting challenge on this narrative-driven module; how to best tell a story when the player always controls the camera in first person. The idea of making the player a baby in a highchair seemed like the perfect way to explore narrative in VR since so much of a baby’s life is spent passively observing their surroundings. Furthermore, the first thing almost every VR player wants to do when they begin is throw things around and make a big mess. What could be a more appropriate environment, therefore, than a baby at breakfast time?
The Prisoner is a 3D, third person, story-driven game for PC, in which a man is guided through his confined world observing the passage of time. The player makes decisions on the Prisoner’s actions leading a social or solitary existence. As the Prisoner returns to his cell at the end of the day, they have become an old man. After they pass away during the night, we travel back in time to the very moment that put him in prison to begin with. The player is presented with one final decision on whether or not to pull the trigger, even though we have already lived out the future consequence.
With a team of ten students across the NFTS, this was my most adventurous project so far and represents the culmination of a year’s worth of studying games design here at the NFTS. In particular, The Prisoner was a chance to add some truly cinematic moments to my game and test out the latest features of Unity including the Cinemachine and Timeline.
What do you hope to achieve with the grad project?
I am now in the final year of my MA in games design and development at the NFTS. My final year project draws from my previous expertise in the research fields of structural biology and neurodegenerative diseases. The game, Misfolded, illustrates the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease as we take control of a lonely little creature… who grows into a big angry monster… and consumes the world.
My aim for this project is to have a complete game that is well tested and polished. This 2.5D puzzle game will have a simple art style and control system, as well as a complex story told directly through the game’s mechanics. This minimalism and strong connection between gameplay and narrative will produce a strikingly original game that will leave the player thinking about it for weeks afterwards.
Best thing about studying Games at the NFTS?
My time studying Games at the NFTS has been wholly life changing. The NFTS welcomed me in, not looking for people who already knew how to make games, but for those with a story to tell and a passion for the medium. In such a short space of time the Games department, under the expert tutelage of Alan Thorn, has instilled into me such a firm knowledge of games design and development that I already feel confident in entering into the industry as a crucial team member within any company.
Follow Tim's progress on his grad project, MISFOLDED - @TJ_Kaufmann