School of Computing programme leader, Dr Tom Methven (right), spearheaded the team which won the 2021 BAFTA Scotland Game award for SOLAS 128, an engrossing laser-bouncing beat-driven game, said by one reviewer to take the puzzle game format to “a whole other cosmic order”.
We caught up with Tom to find out more about his award-winning project, the challenges him and his team faced, and how he put into practice the things he teaches to his students at university.
Tell us about SOLAS 128
“SOLAS 128 is a game of interconnected puzzles where you redirect and reconfigure rhythmic pulses of light to breathe life back into an ancient machine. What starts as a traditional beam reflection game, where you redirect coloured lasers from sources to receivers, soon becomes something more complex and sprawling.”
What was your role in the development of SOLAS 128?
“I was the lead developer and designer on SOLAS 128. There were three of us on the development team and we all made this in our spare time, outside of work: I was the programme, puzzle designer, and visual designer, Steven McSeveney who did the sound design (and who is an ex-Napier student from the Sound Design programme), and Jamesy Downie who composed the synthwave soundtrack."
What inspired you to develop SOLAS 128?
“I've been developing games on and off since I was about 5 years old, although this is my first real commercial release. I started programming on a C64 in my parents' house, and realised I loved making things for other people to interact with. I've been trying to make SOLAS 128 for about ten years, I expected the project to take about 3 months... and only two years later it released as SOLAS 128!”
What challenges did you face from developing SOLAS 128?
“I wanted to design a game all about colour which was colourblind friendly by default. To this end, I designed the game around glyphs – red, green, and blue pulses each have a unique shape, and when the colours merge the shapes merge too. That means you can understand what is going on even without the colours. These glyphs were so important to the design, they ended up forming a core part of the game’s visual language, appearing like alien runes players learn to understand as they play.
I was honoured that we were able to work with the accessibility community throughout the development of SOLAS 128. That meant we were able to add features to help players with visual processing and motor requirements, as well as those with colourblindness.”
How did it feel to win a BAFTA?
“We honestly were so delighted to even be nominated, so the fact we won I don't think will ever really sink in properly. I'm utterly delighted that players are enjoying this weird, esoteric, mysterious puzzle game which was in my head for so long.”
Do you enjoy teaching at Edinburgh Napier University?
“I love teaching and interacting with students. As the head of the Games Development Programme, my favourite part is seeing what our students create in the more free-form modules where they get to make a game, or dive into an aspect of games-related technology which interests them. As it happens, my other major interest is to do with data visualisation, and much of the design of SOLAS 128 is related to what I teach students in that module. I really did feel like I was putting my money where my mouth was for this game!”
How does the Games Development programme set its students up for success?
“I work really hard to ensure students are aware of and can take advantage of all the exciting events which go on in Edinburgh and the local community. I'm in the delightful position that I can give our students access to more opportunities to meet local creatives and work with other disciplines. Not only that, but in the last year we've hugely increased our industry engagement with things like a partnership with Into Games, industry speakers from throughout the Games space, and a summer games project with industry mentors... and this is on top of our current ScreenSkills accreditation. I believe that if students take advantage of all these extra opportunities they will graduate in a much more employable position.”
What would you tell someone considering studying Games Development at Edinburgh Napier?
"They should come and make cool stuff with us! I've always believed that programming is a thrilling and creative field based around problem solving, and programming games is perhaps the pinnacle of that. There are so many interesting, interdisciplinary skills that go into making something that people will actually want to play. Honestly, I don't think there has ever been a better time to come and learn how to make games – and I can't wait to see what some of our future students make.”