Ralf Mulhberger is the coordinator of the games department at SAE Brisbane. We asked him a few questions about learning game development in the city that spawned Fruit Ninja and Ty the Tasmanian Tyger.
We recently caught up with him to about the local gaming scene.
Brisbane has a tremendously large number of successful game studios. Do you think there's a particular reason for that?
That's a great question, and has a number of dimensions to it. One, of course, is social. When there is a strong sense of community, new businesses often emerge and clusters form, gaining critical mass.
Brisbane and Melbourne have long been the main two cities in Australia for games development, going back to the 1980s and 1990s when a bunch of studios opened.
The theme for the World Expo in Brisbane in 1988 was ‘Leisure in the Age of Technology’, and this was undoubtedly an inspiration for the local games industry pioneers opening new studios in the 1990s.
The relatively weak Australian dollar in those days meant that there was a lot of work for hire opportunities for Australian developers. Australian Universities were very strong in computer science, with the University of Melbourne and The University of Queensland, for example, commissioning their first computers in 1956 and 1958 respectively.
The strengthening of the Australian dollar around 2007/2008 shifted the international market unfortunately, and Brisbane studios were hit harder than Melbourne. But once you have a base of experienced people, industry can grow back, and that is what we're seeing now, particularly as digital distribution means developers are no longer as beholden to the AAA studios and their physical software distribution networks.
Do you think there are unique advantages of studying game development at Brisbane SAE?
SAE is a very interesting institution, in that it is completely focused on creative media, and has a full complement of the various skills needed to create games. Studying at SAE means that you work alongside animators, audio designers and engineers, film makers, graphic designers, web and mobile technologists, and Bachelor of Games Development students who specialise either in games programming or games design. These areas are also complemented with a stream of study in cultural and media studies and professional skills that contextualise the creative work. SAE Brisbane is one of the largest of SAE's 53 international campuses, so there is the critical mass I mentioned earlier that helps give projects the momentum they need to succeed. Students are also very well supported by our nine full time games department teaching staff, who represent both design and programming, bring AAA and indie experience to the Institute and have the education and research qualifications to ensure academic rigour.
Do students have access to views and lessons from industry experts? Is it possible to, say, intern with Halfbrick as part of a design degree?
Absolutely. SAE is all about hands-on learning in real-world environments; that’s what sets us apart. Internships are actually a compulsory part of our Bachelor of Games Development in the final trimester, and we work actively with the local industry to help our students secure the most rewarding placements with companies such as.
Most of our staff have worked in the games industry, some are still finding time to make games and many are well connected with local and national movers and shakers.
We also invite professional games developers to attend exhibits of student work and occasionally sit in on class presentations and pitch sessions. Our weekly ‘What I Really Do’ seminars are a great way for students to hear first-hand from industry experts willing to share their insights and experiences in gaming. This seminar series is also open to the public, giving aspiring gamers a great opportunity to connect with students, staff and industry experts – and provide real insight into the realities of a gaming career. We also publish videos of the session online.
Interestingly, Halfbrick was actually founded by Qantm College graduate Shainiel Deo in 2001. SAE acquired Qantm in 2004 and SAE’s alumni now make up a large part of Halfbrick’s workforce.