University of Portsmouth success at Search for a Star awards 2020

Three students from the School of Creative Technologies were finalists at the Grads in Games Search for a Star 2020 Competition, and two of them won runner-up awards. The University of Portsmouth was also named one of SFASX Leading Games Universities 2020.


Kian Bennett, first-year BSc (Hons) Computer Games Technology student, was on second place for the Rising Star Games Programming award. His project is a game called Etherium, a grid-based real-time strategy game made in just over two weeks. Given an existing code base to work from, Kian chose to focus on procedural level generation and unit pathing as his key technical areas. His project was ranked second overall in gameplay and first in technical, so he was invited to attend the finals and sit a mock interview in front of a panel of industry professionals.

“This competition was a fantastic opportunity to get my work in front of industry professionals and to receive valuable feedback. Knowing I am able to produce work that is comparable to some of the best student game developers across the country has given me a lot of confidence going forward in my degree, and is certainly going to help in finding an internship between my second and third year, as this competition is highly regarded in the games industry.”

Kian said that the programming module part of his course helped him enormously with his preparation for the industry-standard code test in C++ which was part of the challenge and that the Technical Game Development module had also provided him with plenty of practice completing small scale game projects to a tight deadline.


Thomas Hutchinson, third-year BSc (Hons) Computer Animation and Visual Effects student came in second for the SFASX Games VFX category with his area of effect ice-based magic spell called Magic Spikes. Although the course is mostly focused on effects for film, his first creation in Unreal Engine 4 for a game environment allowed him to compete in the final round. He was interviewed by a panel of industry experts: Conrad Hughes (Senior VFX Artist, nDreams), Jeff Johnson (Lead VFX Artist, Splash Damage), Luis Barros (Lead Lighting/VFX Artist, Ubisoft Reflections), who said Tom “has lots of potential and has some really impressive Houdini work on their portfolio”. He learned UE4 independently, but also made use of Houdini, a 3D software introduced to students on the second year of the CAVE course.

“I made use of its procedural tools to generate nearly every part of the effect, from the ice shards to the cracks in the ground. The advantage of my procedural workflow is that I was able to make changes to the project extremely quickly which was very important as I could only afford to spend a few hours a day on my project – the rest of my time was spent working on coursework.”


Emily Bisset, also a third-year CAVE student, was a finalist in the SFASX Games Animation category thanks to her series of game animation sequences, Mika and Bot. Even though she placed fourth, Emily sees the positive side of the experience, having taken part in an interview with talented and knowledgeable professionals that provided her with plenty of advice and tips. In addition, she believes that what made it invaluable were the connections made with both industry people and students across the country who share the same passion.

“I find the more I animate, the more easily I can see what is wrong with it and why, therefore I am able to fix it a lot quicker and produce better quality work each time. Even now I look back at my SFASX submission and I can see a lot of things I want to improve and that’s part of learning a skill like this – the more time you put in the better you can be and there are no quick workarounds for it!”

Emily studied the 12 principles of animation in her first year at the University of Portsmouth and then developed her animation skills over the years in both course units and side projects. As this was an animation submission, she used already existing assets: a rig by Kiel Figgins and a sci-fi environment by Turbosquid user Vegriv.