Northumbria University

Northumbria University

Experienced games developer and educator Frankie Cavanagh set up the Somniator Studio and Pocket Money Games in November last year to both create innovative new VR games and provide a direct bridge between higher education and the emerging technology sector.

Frankie, who also lectures at Northumbria University, chose to base Somniator at the VRTGO Labs in Gateshead’s Baltimore House, alongside a number of other top tier VR and technology firms such as Hammerhead Interactive, Vector 76 and Chronicles VR.
Since then, more than 70 students have been taking part in the mentoring programme, using the industry-leading equipment that is available at the VRTGO Labs to work on their own live project briefs during placements can be anything from a few days to several months.
All the participants, most of whom come from Newcastle & Northumbria Universities and Gateshead College, undertake their own work during their time on the project, with Somniator paying them for any additional work that they commission them to do on the games that the company is developing.
Somniator’s first VR game, Dimension Hunter, is set to launch in the near future, with a number of others already in development.
VRTGO Labs is Europe’s only industry-led Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality centre of excellence, and brings together businesses, academics and freelancers to collaborate on the development and commercial application of these emerging technologies.
Last year, three Fujitsu Celsius M730 Power workstations with several high-end NVIDIA graphics cards were installed at the Labs thanks to the Fujitsu Select Expert Partnership that RMT Accountants & Business Advisors has with the Japanese technology giant.
Members of RMT’s specialist technology and accounting teams are supporting the VRTGO cluster by spending a day there every month in order to provide its start-up VR firms with pro bono advice on the financial structures they need to put in place as their operations grow.
Kyle Hall, a former participant at Somniator Games, says: “Somniator’s mentoring scheme was amazing, they supported me with work experience and portfolio design, and even helped me practice for interviews.
“Since leaving I have successfully been employed by several North East games companies, as well as working on six games.”
Frankie Cavanagh, who has worked for household name clients including Barclaycard, John Lewis and Le Creuset during his career, adds: “As virtual reality moves more towards the mainstream through the development of new, more affordable consumer technologies, a way needs to be found for students to translate what they learn in academic situations into career within the industry.
“Investing in setting up this mentoring project was a direct response to meeting that need, and it’s already had a tangible impact for both the students and the growing businesses based at the VRTGO Labs.
“Providing the next generation with access to the sort of equipment they would use in a workplace situation and giving them the opportunity to use it for live projects with the right sort of support and advice close to hand is proving invaluable, and it’s also giving the firms at VRTGO Labs the chance to see which of the students might potentially become recruits in the future.
“Most of the students who are coming through the system are choosing to stay in the North East, which can only benefit the North East economy as a whole as we look to build the skilled workforce that we need to become properly regarded as a centre of technological excellence for virtual reality.
“This sort of programme isn’t being offered anywhere else that we know of, and judging by the quality of the students that we’re seeing, there’s every chance that we’ll see our alumni at the forefront of VR industry developments in the future.”
Paul Holborow, head of RMT Technology, says: “The North East’s knowledge economy has boomed over the last decade, and there’s every opportunity for our region to build a similarly strong position in the VR sector as it has in the gaming industry through the likes ofEutechnyx, Ubisoft Reflections and Double 11.

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