Crits are detailed discussions where the opinions of tutors and peers are shared openly, in a formal way where incidental day-to-day conversations develop into more considered feedback.
Students learn to navigate the iterative process, which simply means progressing an idea from its earliest stages through to completion. A key part of that process is critique. For experienced students and staff, crits are viewed as a positive opportunity to gain renewed perspective on a project through shared observation and insight. Last year Flint asked students and staff in three courses to discuss the role crits played in their creative development. This year, NUA’s Flint Magazine spoke with BA (Hons) Games Art & Design Lecturer George Beard and Year Three student Jack Edwards.
How does the crit work in the BA (Hons) Games Art and Design course?
George: We look at how it works in the industry, so we have daily standups, where people present where they’re at with a project and get feedback. We also have dedicated sessions where people can present their work in a more formal way. They get experience presenting but also documenting the feedback they receive, including feedback they request. That’s what we try and promote on the course.
What are these crit experiences like as a student?
Jack:I love crits because the tutors are where I want to be; I want to be a professional one day. So crits from professionals has to be good. But students react differently. I had a gap year between college and uni, so maybe that helps.
What if you get negative criticism about your work or observations about it that you weren’t expecting?
Jack: I’ve got room to improve and at the end of the day that’s what I want to do. When I get negative criticism it’s a chance to go back, look at why I got that feedback and push my work even further – which is what I love doing.
George: Crits are there to keep you on track with your project. If you’ve got specific concerns, whether it’s technical or a creative aspect of what you’re aspiring to, there are experienced staff there to direct you and help you. They also help students stay on track with the assessment guidelines of the University. So, although it may feel negative, sometimes the feedback is corrective in that respect. But we emphasise different things in our feedback, depending on whether it’s a creative issue or corrective. And where it’s creative, crits should be taken at the student’s leisure. Crits don’t just happen in formal sessions; they happen throughout all workshops. Many incidental interactions with students are kind of crits in their own right.
In Games, creative and technical challenges go hand in hand. If a student is struggling to achieve their vision, it could be combination of practical and creative decisions they’ve made that need unpicking. Does that make crits more challenging?
George: Sometimes it’s a case of students not giving enough consideration to their decision making. This is something that develops through the course; you’d expect a Year Three student to take a lot more time researching and documenting their decision making in their projects. Generally that would be your feedback: that the design could be stronger with additional thought put into specific aspects of the project. That typically helps students better realise the issues keeping them from realising their design.
Jack: I do a lot of modelling, which is very technical. There is the line where a technical problem becomes a design problem. For example, a phone box I modelled had to be destroyed as part of the project. That meant working out how the paint on the box would react when it exploded. When red paint gets overheated or sun lit, it goes pink. Originally I modelled it in light red – that’s just wrong! That’s not a creative issue; the creative issue is how the phone box is destroyed or burnt, or whatever. There’s definitely a right and a wrong technically.
George: Feedback always has to be in the context. In your case, you were doing something realistic and if you’re going to do something realistic then you need to look at the real world. If you were looking at a different type of game space, you’d make a different decision.
In this field, you spend a lot of time on your computer and consoles. Is it hard to break out of the digital world?
Jack: All of my brothers play games but we always play games in the same room, so I’ve always had that human connection. I like to come into uni all the time because even though you have rows of computers, you’re constantly interacting with other people. At NUA, the tutors are always walking around so you’re constantly getting smaller crits every day. That is really helpful when you go for an interview in the industry, because you’re constantly talking to managers and producers, and bouncing ideas off other designers. If I didn’t come to uni I wouldn’t have had that experience.
George: Our staff have very different industry experience so they have different things to offer. With regards to communicating with different members of the team, you could be talking to a producer who doesn’t necessarily have an understanding of the technical side of things, or a Lead, who does have understanding of the technical but also some ownership over art direction. In that scenario, you have to consider how you’re communicating to these different people and what you discuss with them. Our crits are fairly broad, so you get used to speaking about your vision and where you’re headed with an idea, but also the game plan for how you are going to do that, including specific techniques and key deadlines. That’s not discussed all at once; we break it up into stages. Otherwise it would get a bit muddled.
Jack, do you have a memorable crit from your time at NUA?
Jack: During a project in Year Three I was trying too hard to think outside the box, and a student asked me why I was doing what I was doing, because it seemed out of character – not my style. I don’t like explosions or guns or any of that stuff; I like nice scenes that make people think or that have a narrative. But for this project I was looking at how to make a car crash look cool and all this. When she asked me why, I realised instantly what I had to do. I was creating a moment frozen in time – how to model that in 3D – so after that conversation the car crashing changed to a food truck with a burger flipping. It’s a lot cooler in my opinion. That’s more my style.
“Our crits are fairly broad, so you get used to speaking about your vision and where you’re headed with an idea, but also the game plan for how you are going to do that, including specific techniques and key deadlines.”
Lecturer, BA (Hons) Games Art & Design. Read George’s staff profile →