Who Dares Wins: How Swallowtail Took Home a BAFTA
Sophia George details the process, prize and publisher interest in Tick Tock Toys
Last month student team Swallowtail took home the coveted BAFTA Ones To Watch award for its game Tick Tock Toys, an iPad puzzle game set in a cluttered toy box. Here, team leader Sophia George talks through the process, problems and pressure of creating an original title in just nine weeks, and the interest it's already generating within the business.
Kristian, Rosie and I had never made a game before Dare - we were learning every step of the way. We applied from Norwich University College of the Arts and found a programmer and audio engineer through the Dare website. Both Callum Goold and Mark Bamford were studying at Abertay, so they'd made games before on their courses - Mark in particular was great at outlining what the team needed to do.
On the first day of the competition, some of the other teams thought it was hilarious we only had one programmer, but we were looking to achieve something really different - a beautiful looking, easy to play iPad puzzle game with incredible audio.
I think it really worked as a lot of the industry feedback we've received said that the art helped us stand out. And during Dare ProtoPlay, when the games go on show to the public in Dundee, it definitely helped us get kids and families attracted to Tick Tock Toys and playing it.
Building the game
We built Tick Tock Toys in Unity, which was really easy to pick up. We were quickly importing 3D models, but did have some problems getting our animations to work. Every day we'd have a morning meeting to split the work up. We'd run weekly timetables to keep everything on schedule, but often found ourselves finishing the tasks mid-week. I think Mark even finished his week's programming in a day at one point…
Dare itself was a great experience, which we were lucky to share with 70 other students. Everyone was genuinely really friendly and supportive throughout the nine weeks - and it got pretty stressful at times, fixing problems, preparing for the school kids to do early playtesting, and of course getting everything finished to face the public at ProtoPlay.
We were picked as one of the three winners at ProtoPlay, who all go forward as the nominations for the BAFTA Ones to Watch award. The other winners were both really different, but great games - Dreamweaver on PC, and Joust on Kinect.
Kristian Francis and I then moved up to Abertay to study the Professional Masters in Game Development, and we spent every weekend from September to Christmas working on our game in Callum's bedroom. Rosie worked remotely, as she's doing an internship with Disney.
We got feedback from the Dare judges and from BAFTA, suggesting how we could improve the game. In the end, we fixed a load of bugs and actually added 15 more levels for the final BAFTA version.
In the run-up to the actual BAFTAs, we had a very exciting - and very nerve-wracking - evening at BAFTA HQ pitching our game ideas to an audience of over 100 game developers, students and industry people, all chaired by Keith Stuart of The Guardian.
Kristian and I did the pitch, and I think we were a bit thrown when we realised we were the only team not to mention how much money we needed to get the game to market. We stressed that our biggest hurdle was the expertise we'd need to publish Tick Tock Toys, which the judges were really positive towards - they said it was very honest of us to admit that. When Keith took a hands-up poll of everyone in the room asking who'd given the best pitch, Joust took it by a mile - they'd been up on stage, jumping up and down, using their arms as lances just like in their game.
But when asked which of the three was the best game, a huge majority put their hands up for us. We were stunned, really surprised. Then we spent the whole of the evening getting advice and being asked by other students for our advice on applying to Dare.
The actual awards ceremony was really tense. We got ready, took a quick trip to the Hilton, then did red carpet interviews with IGN and Reuters. There were games celebrities all around us - including Notch, standing right beside us in the jam-packed champagne reception before dinner. That's not exactly what we'd expected when we put our application form in…
It felt like lots of waiting, lots of sitting, amazing food, then all of a sudden we were up on stage. We didn't know when our category was up - we weren't prepared at all for it. Our amazing tutor from Norwich, Marie-Claire Isaaman, was crying with joy. She's been so supportive the whole way through.
And it still feels surreal now - standing there, in front of hundreds of people, clutching a BAFTA, then whisked off for more photos and press interviews. Johnny Minkley even told us we had the foundations of a great small studio.
It's incredible looking back on it. It's definitely one of the biggest things that will ever happen to us, and we're all just coming out of university. We had lots of support, from our friends and families, Marie-Claire, the Dare and Abertay staff, Unity, and we just hope we've done everyone proud.
A major publisher contacted us just a few days after the BAFTAs, with a genuine offer to work together to bring the game out. We really want to publish and are just working on how to do this. Interestingly, it said if the BAFTA-winning Dare game was on mobile, they'd have got in touch with whichever team won…
It definitely shows the competition is an amazing opportunity to improve your skills - and to get noticed at the highest levels of the games industry.
I've wanted to start my own company since I was a child, the question is just where. There's lots of support at Abertay and a great games community in Dundee, including funding opportunities with Abertay's Prototype Fund. Something further south is a definite option too.
And we'd all really, really encourage other people to apply to Dare to be Digital. It's an amazing position to be worrying about how to work with a publisher to get our game released, rather than worrying about applying for a job. Dare really has changed everything for us. It's incredible.
So watch this space, you'll hear more from Swallowtail soon.