A Q&A with Games Development Course Lead Laurent Noel

After developing a love for video games at an early age, UCLan Games Development Course Lead Laurent Noel turned his passion into a career from owning his own games studio to inspiring the next generation of developers.

Laurent, with 15 years in the Computer Games industry, I’d imagine that you’ve seen quite a lot in that time?

I started in the industry when I was a teenager and I taught myself to program. I then got involved with sports games and, in particular, football games very early on. I quickly realised that it would be a very good idea to set up my own business and I ran my own studios for nine years where I had fifty or sixty people working with me. I’ve had experience all the way from development to recruitment to contract negotiation so I’ve had a very wide range of experience in the games industry.

What’s been the most enjoyable part of the industry for you?

I’d have to say releasing the first title under my own studio was a particularly proud moment. We made the game from the film Braveheart and we got involved with Mel Gibson and his production company. We worked with a company called EIDOS who are now Ubisoft. It was a torturous process but when the game finally got released and you see it on the shelves with your company’s name on it, it’s a very big boost.

What do you make of the emerging side of the industry?

Since I released that game, things have moved forward considerably. Consoles have moved forward with the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality are important technologies and we do quite a lot of work here with VR. The PC is also still a very dominant platform. The industry admittedly is moving in many directions at once and many industry experts are not quite sure where the industry is moving. Will VR be the next big thing or will it always remain slightly to the side? I see the PC market as something that will always be there but I’m not quite sure what kind of life that major consoles have in all honesty. The future is very difficult to predict because there are a lot of things going on.

"If you are a technically minded person, you really need to be learning how to program. If you are a creatively minded person, you really need to get into 3D modelling or improve your 2D art skills."

Can you ever see gameplay in video games becoming literally lifelike?

Yes I can. Of course there are deliberately non-realistic and casual games that take a simplistic or artistic style. However, there are always games that are pushing for realism. It depends on the type of games. For example, big open world games usually make every attempt to present a completely realistic world. So we are always working towards realistic computer characters and environments. That involves both art and technical skills. A modern game needs full physics simulations and artificial intelligence as well as photo-real artwork. Ideally we want players to not be able to tell the difference between real and computer generated worlds. We are getting closer and closer to that goal.

Is there a skills gap in the market? If so, what is lacking in particular?

There is. There are specific things you can do to improve your chances of getting into computing games development. The games industry is very attractive from the outside because it involves games and that is obviously fun. So people who want to get into the industry sometimes think that there is going to be a lot of gameplay and game design, which of course there is because you have to look at the storyline, what is going to happen in the game and what are the mechanics of the game. However, the vast majority of games development is programming or artwork creation. If you are a technically minded person, you really need to be learning how to program. If you are a creatively minded person, you really need to get into 3D modelling or improve your 2D art skills. We get many people who want to do our games courses who don’t realise that is where they need to focus their skills from an early stage.

Can you see there being one kind of game that takes over the industry in the near future?

No, not at all. In fact, that is an area where you can pick your niche. We see huge immersive games and stories that last for weeks and weeks. These are typically on a PC and they will always be there. There is also the more casual game market who want to play something on the way into work and that’s a completely different type of game. Neither of those are going away any time soon. The games industry is fragmenting but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Computer Games Development Course Leader Laurent Noel
Computer Games Development Course Leader Laurent Noel

What kind of success have students from the course had?

We have several. UCLan graduates have roles as Product Manager, Technical Lead, Senior Developers, Gameplay Developers etc. We have graduates who now have studios of their own. We have students working in graphics, gameplay, artificial intelligence, every area of games development. We also have an enormous range of students in art and design jobs.

If there is a role in the industry that is available, studying at UCLan will help you to get there. One of the great things about having a degree here from UCLan is that often when you go to a job interview, the staff will have known a UCLan graduate or have UCLan graduates working for them. It has even been the case that our students have actually been interviewed by a UCLan graduate. We have a long history in the industry and, as a course, we have a great knowledge of what the industry wants and how to deliver that to our students.

What would your advice be to anyone coming to UCLan and taking this course?

As I said before, if you are interested in the programming side, I would definitely advise learning a language. It kind of doesn’t matter what language but I would recommend C++ or C# which are great choices. You can get Visual Studio Community free and start working with that. Also you should have a look at Unity. If you are into art and design, I’d suggest getting Blender which is a free 3D modelling tool and start learning about how to create characters or environments.