Unreal Engine Goes to College: Kickstarting creative communities through education initiatives

Last year in Crater Training Center was marked by many months of educating university professors in the software Unreal Engine. In this text, we talk about the influence of this initiative in our small, but the dedicated community, all while asking ourselves how can projects of this scale reinforce the creative ecosystem in the region.

The first iteration of the Train the Trainers course dedicated to video game development in Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) started in February 2021 when we gathered a number of professors from art and technical universities as well as post-secondary schools from all larger universities in Serbia, only to have the course reformed at the end of the semester due to the high-interest rate – this time in an online format. The class was undertaken by a total of 45 academic professors with a united goal of applying the newly acquired knowledge to future commercial projects or academic curriculums. With this, the course reached the status of an education initiative with a potential great influence on the community in the region, considering the fact that our professor-turned-trainees classes are attended by around 1200 students annually.

Many of these professors have already started with the implementation of the subject and knowledge in the field. Today we speak about one of these amazing programs.

A Dive into the Unreal

The course A Dive into the Unreal had been held in the summer of 2021 at BEST Novi Sad, a European organization that unites students of Novi Sad’s universities. As a European student organization, BEST offers support not only to students but professors who want to transfer knowledge out of the boundaries of their departments. That’s how this course was born out of Train the Trainers attendees’ aspiration who wanted to apply the acquired knowledge from our training in the field even before UE4 was officially implemented into their faculty. With this in mind, the program was being formed with the goal of bringing the UE4 developmental environment closer to its students, as well as its tools for video game development and impressive graphical 3D worlds in real-time.

Educators and coordinators of the course were actually our attendees, Neda Milić Keresteš and dr Bojan Banjanin from, the Faculty of Technical Sciences at the University of Novi Sad, more specifically the Department of Graphic Engineering and Design. This experienced duo teaches various subjects in this department, including Computer Games Basics and Multimedia, as well as two future subjects Computer Games and Computer Games Design. The upcoming plan is to enhance the student experience through Unreal Engine, which is why they are intensively working on implementing UE in the curriculum of the faculty.

The interest for the BEST course mostly came from third and fourth-year students. Next to prior knowledge in the field of 3D modeling and experience in working with tools such as 3Ds Max, Autodesk Maya, or Blender, interested students sent their motivational letter in which they explained their reasons behind wanting to sharpen their skills in UE4 as well as why its a necessity for their further development. Fifteen students won the chance to participate in the training course in which they, with the use of theoretical lectures and practical work, made their own original 3D video game. In this way, students acquired the technical skills through the development of a real, hands-on game project, starting with establishing the base all up to creating its final version.

“Students with prior experience in 3D modeling found the implementation of interactivity and the mechanic of using the Blueprint visual scripting system highly interesting. For them, this was a completely unprecedented field, whereas some students were blown away by the simplicity in which 3D terrain and vegetation is created in Unreal. Aside from that, students were exceedingly motivated to set up and create their own personalized, unique game world”

– says professor Neda Milić Keresteš about the attendees’ preferences.

Her colleague from the aforementioned department, Bojan Banjanin is soon to take over the elective subject Computer Games Design on master studies of this university. He states the participation in Train the Trainers gave him adequate support in strengthening his knowledge and practical software skills which are necessary for the creation of quality faculty lectures.

“The material we were given on the course served as a good fundament from which to start. There we got a grip on the general insight into the game development workflow and all of its elements. Even though we worked on the FPS genre, the story was broader and applicable to any other video game genre. On the A Dive into the Unreal course we specifically worked on a 3rd Person Action RPG genre, but the base was all the same. Also, due to the time limit and quantity of information needed to be gone over and presented to students, the theory material came in quite handy, as we used and modified it when needed. Highly condense and useful information we have gained via Train the Trainers helped us to enrich this course with theory as well, in addition to the practical work of course. But before anything, it enabled us to once more go over everything we worked on in detail – and only then did certain things start to make sense and find their place. It boosted my confidence to even take up this course as a teacher. It would have been undoubtedly different (and harder) if we had to construct this course from scratch.”

– states Bojan Banjanin.

Benefits of the Train the Trainers initiative

To a few of our attendees, just like Bojan, who approached the course with a certain level of experience in UE, this program served as an additional test of knowledge, which turned out as an excellent option for professors who don’t have time to give to year-long studies. It is exactly that deficit in time and development of quality education that presents one of the most frequent challenges to representatives of our academic community when it comes to taking over new educational programs that involve bringing in new software.

Together to new creative ventures

Train the Trainers initiative was supported by the Epic MegaGrants fund. An enormous help in project application was provided by Novi Sad’s 3Lateral, one of four Epic Games’ co-developmental subsidiaries. This company was behind the course A Dive into the Unreal as well, which they describe as one of their pioneer ventures in the sense of supporting students in the creative community and their professors without whom this initiative wouldn’t have even been possible. We are yet to see a continuation of this story in the upcoming student AI hackathon Artificial Intelligence Battleground (AIBG), among which are a few of the aforementioned BEST course attendees. According to the tournament organization, this is a unique experience that connects artificial intelligence and gaming. The whole experience is designed to inspire students to move their limits and horizons, develop technical skills and find inspiration for further development of creative projects.

If you wish to read more about 3Lateral’s efforts in reinforcing the local creative ecosystem, make sure to visit their website.

Photographs provided by BEST Novi Sad, all right reserved.