Go Behind The Scenes Of CoVRt Operation, First Ever BAFTA Student Award Games Design Finalist!

2 July 2021: The 2021 GSA BAFTA Student Award finalists were recently announced and alongside the two NFTS 2021 graduation films selected; animation Night of the Living Dread and documentary More Than Just Memories, we are extremely excited to announce that 2021 graduation game CoVRt Operation was one of three games selected in the brand new Games category.

We caught up with Guy Sargent who recently graduated from the NFTS Games Design and Development MA and is the designer and developer of VR narrative heist/adventure game, CoVRt Operation.

In this piece, Guy reveals the unique challenges of creating a BAFTA nominated VR game, getting to play with “all the toys” while studying the Games Design MA and the collaborative ethos of being an NFTS student.

Congratulations on your first ever GSA BAFTA Student nomination!
Tell us about the making CoVRt Operation.

CoVRt Operation is a VR update on the ‘point and click’ adventure game. Players take on the character of Henchman 697, a bumbling rookie employee for EVIL (Evil Villains Incorporated Limited) tasked with stealing a McGuffin for his evil criminal mastermind employer.

It is deliberately super corny in the style of Austin Powers and other cheesy spy films. The game is currently on itch.io (guysargent.itch.io/covrt-operation) so if anyone reading this has a VR headset please do check it out. The rest of my collaborators and I would love to know what you think of it.

What gave the idea to make this game?

At the NFTS our graduate projects are essentially solo but we have great collaborators including Composers (nfts.co.uk/composing) and Sound Designers (nfts.co.uk/sound-design). I did all the game design, programming and level design.

Screengrab of CoVRt Operation in development

Being a student of the Games Design MA is a great opportunity to play with all the toys and try new stuff because you don’t have to worry about your game being a commercial success. I knew I wanted to play around with VR to try out all the unique design challenges that come with it. I think it’s really important when making a VR game that it justifies being in VR, you don’t just want to transplant a flat screen game.

A goofy, spy heist adventure seemed to be the perfect setting to play with the physicality of VR, the sense of fun and hilarity you get from having to physically perform silly activities or even tasks that would seem boring and trivial in a 2D game.

I also knew I wanted to have a strong narrative focus in my game, since most of the games I love playing are ones that have those qualities. I really enjoy coming up with story beats and dialogue and getting it to work in game no matter what the player does is always an interesting challenge. Also, getting to work with and direct talented voice actors is just an absolute joy.

What were some of your biggest challenges?

Working in isolation due to Covid-19 was a bit of an adjustment from my first year where all my collaborators were on site at the NFTS. One of the biggest challenges in a narrative game is the internal logic of it all, making sure it all fits to what the player does. On such a small budget you’ve only got one shot at recording dialogue with your voice actors so you have to record lots of additional material in the hope that you can tie it to player actions. CoVRt Operation definitely isn’t perfect but I think for the most part we’re in the right ballpark, but even a game as simple as mine gets quite complicated pretty fast.

Actor Jack Ayres recording voiceover for CoVRt Operation

And then of course the other big challenge was coding the game to best accommodate the lack of physical resistance in a virtual world. When climbing a virtual wall for example, there is nothing to stop the player passing their real hands through the wall. There are numerous examples of seemingly simple interactions that get complicated in VR by the virtual/real world positional disconnect, people not actually moving their hands in the way they think they are, and first you have to design around that but even when you have the solution you have to figure out how to code that and it has the potential to get…pretty maths-y.

Tell us about your fellow collaborators?

One of the great things about the NFTS is that as a games designer you get to poach a bunch of your fellow game students to help you make the game, who know their own individual areas better than you and fill in the gaps that you aren’t strong at. I had a lot of great collaborators who were all really generous to me with their time and talent.

Playtesting at NFTS

The Composing students at the School are incredible. Alastair McNamara, the composer on CoVRt, just absolutely nails the corny clichés and gives the game this great genre feeling. You can listen to the soundtrack here: bit.ly/3hDc7ASTom Van Overloop one of the screenwriting students, helped me write it and came up with the masterpiece of a name that is Agent Dick Johnson. My producer Michelle Brøndum helped me find three incredible voice actors– who were all great fun to work with and super talented.

How did you feel when you received the BAFTA nomination?

Pleasantly surprised. I had assumed I’d be going up against mostly group projects, and with more manpower, more polished competition! You only ever see the flaws in your own creations and added to which there was of course the added difficulties caused by the pandemic. But it’s always great to hear that other people have enjoyed something that you’ve made.

Watch the walkthrough for CoVRt Operation below!

The 2021 GSA BAFTA Student Award virtual ceremony will take place on Friday 23 July and we will be keeping our fingers crossed hoping that an NFTS game is the first ever to win in the newly launched category!

Are you interested in making a game that could be a BAFTA finalist? Start your application today for the NFTS Games Design and Development MA.
Visit nfts.co.uk/games to find out more.