Greetings from Dundee!

Text and photos: Eevi Korhonen

I have joined the ranks of TAMK students who have escaped abroad to do their compulsory practical training in a real company. Indeed, I joined them some time ago, but you know how time flies when you're in a new country.

Since January I've been living in Scotland, the land of golf, kilts and whisky. Or sport fanaticism, sub-optimal wintertime wardrobes and alcoholics - depending how you look at it. As I'm writing this it's been sunny and around +7C for couple of days, so at least the weather isn't all that bad.

View of Dundee's main shopping street. Despite the rail tracks, there isn't a tram system here really.

To be more precise, I've been living in Dundee. It is located on the eastern coast of Scotland, about an hour's train ride north from Edinburgh. It has approximately 150,000 residents, most of which are students due to the city hosting two universities and some colleges to boot. Despite that, it is suffering from a massive post-industrial withdrawal symptoms. It used to be big on textiles and whaling, which are no longer hip for a city to base its economy on. Dundee has loads of closed shops and factory buildings as a standing testament to these former glory days, and it hasn't quite manage to get back in form yet.

Abandoned factory/warehouse just a stone's throw from the city centre - and it's not the only one.

But why come to Dundee then? There is at least one industry that is still thriving here. Dundee can boast being one of the hotspots for game development in UK, with about a dozen game companies holding their base here. It is the birthplace of DMA Design, the company that made such games as Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto. That company has since then changed its name to Rockstar North and moved to Edinburgh, but the spirit of DMA lives on in Dundee. Most of the game companies in Dundee have their roots in DMA Design, with lot of the senior staff having worked there previously.

Another factor that keeps the local game ecosystem vibrant and alive is University of Abertay Dundeewhich has both under- and postgraduate degrees in game development, and apparently they're among the best in the country. UAD is also one of TAMK's international co-operation universities, so all you game students back home, take note! The students keep the city's night life pretty active as well; just the student union building right across from Abertay's main building has not one but two bars, two cafes, several night clubs plus its own little movie theatre (or so I've heard).

I'm doing work placement in a company called Denki. It's a small company (seven people, including me) that focuses on making games for downloadable markets. Our headquarters, aka Denki Towers, are located right next to UAD. Denki is a company few have heard of outside the UK, but it has a long history and several good, even award-winning, games under its belt. A lion share of its history Denki made games for digital TV, but in the recent years they have returned back to more traditional gaming platforms. Check out Denki Blocks! and Juggle! as examples of their recent work.

What I like about Denki is their attitude towards game development. It's unlike any I've heard of before. I can't explain it in a concise and witty way, but at the core its a way of work, a way of looking at the process in order to deliver the product on time without sacrificing the creative side of game development. Plus they're committed to improving the process constantly and actively. I won't go into further detail, but there are good articles about it on Gamasutra, if reading such things strikes your fancy.

Sneak peek inside Denki Towers on a normal work day.

So what have I been doing? My official position is Development Assistant, which means I do pretty much anything. However, I also get a say in this process and direct my work towards what interests me and what skills I want to develop. So far, my duties have ranged from serious market research to (super-serious) game testing and from locating the lost cupboard to ordering cake. It gets more demanding every week, but that's just good.
The internal work culture has also exceeded my expectations. I've been impressed with how I've been received and how much responsibility has been trusted on me. There was no pressure to hit the ground running, and I received lot of support in getting through the beginner phase. Now I'm starting to get to the point that I can take larger control of my own work, so the best parts are still ahead.

The only thing I regret is that I didn't set up a traditional "I am now abroad" blog before I left, so it is harder to do now (especially because I have larger plans for it). Anyway, my practical training experience has been nothing sort of awesome so far, and I hope other students will get similar opportunities!