Students surprised to find top computer games are made on their doorstep

It all started at the young scientist exhibition, says Havok computer game firm founder

Steve Collins says the BTYSTE  was “the start of my journey”. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Steve Collins says the BTYSTE was “the start of my journey”. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

The gasps when Steve Collins’s young audience realised so many of the computer games they regularly play are being made on their doorstop are palpable.

Collins, a Dundalk native and Trinity College graduate, was back in the RDS many years after his notable but not quite trailblazing efforts, dating back to the 1980s, as a participant in the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE).

The founder of Havok games company gave a quick tutorial to an enraptured gathering on “ragdoll” physics – which is used in animation and allows for greater realism on screen, particularly in the increasingly creative ways characters are depicted.

Havok’s physics simulation software has been used in more than 600 games; especially games such as Medal of Honor, Half Life 2 or Call of Duty. A third of all computer games in a typical outlet will carry the Havok logo.

Much of the time at Havok, which has its global headquarters in Dublin, is spent figuring out where things fall after explosions, how things collapse, how bodies crumble and the portrayal of gravitational forces, Collins explains.

He acknowledges to some extent it can all be traced back to the BTYSTE. “That was the start of my journey,” he adds. Meanwhile, physics was always part of games development, “right from the beginning”, he stresses.

The contest for young scientists and technologies retains its unique qualities and is essentially the same but better lit, he says with a laugh. “You still have nervous students standing beside their poster presentations and bits of interesting equipment”.

In 1986, he won the prize for top computer project and was highly commended in his category when he came back in 1987.

Collins rates entrepreneurship very much on a par with scientific endeavour. “You are doing something independently, you are following your passions, and you are finding an outlet for that”.

When running companies in an operational capacity, he immediately looked out for those people doing things independently and demonstrating a “questioning spirit”, he tells The Irish Times.

Participation in the BTYSTE is always indication of that independence, he believes. It is a quality in Irish people, though he doesn’t know if it’s more prevalent compared to other nationalities.

Collins is emphatic, however, in believing Irish people invariably have a “really helpful” world view, rather than a parochial perspective, which is especially of benefit in team settings.

What’s more, the games industry in Ireland has grown to eclipse the UK sector, with big studios being built throughout the country. This is coinciding with games generating revenues on a par with big film studios – where a game can generate more revenue than a Steven Spielberg blockbuster movie.

Brexit has not been a factor in that Irish success story, he adds, and while he doesn’t know how it all will work out, he predicts the UK will find it increasingly difficult to attract creative talent, especially in the computer games sector.