Francisco Nicolau: Search For A Star Games Programming Winner 2021
We caught up with this year’s Search For A Star Games Programming winner, Francisco Nicolau from the University of Lisbon Instituto Superior Técnico, to find out what it’s been like to win the challenge and what he’s learned since reaching the finals last year.
On winning Search For A Star
“When I saw the announcement, I could barely believe it. Just thrilled, honestly, all around.
When they were announcing my category I was like, “No, they must have made a mistake, surely” but when I realised it was incredible!
I never expected to get this far. Originally I wasn’t even sure I was going to participate so I’m super happy that I did! I’m still a little bit dumbfounded, but very happy.
My friends and family are all proud of me and almost happier about it than I am! It’s a really big achievement. It’s very nice to be seen this way and recognised for my efforts.”
How it’s helped gain interest from games studios
“Since Search for a Star, I’ve started conversations with two different studios from the UK and we’re now kind of reaching the end of the process. Things are looking pretty good — I’m a little bit nervous, but optimistic. These are opportunities that I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Some of them even told me that one of the primary reasons they reached out to me was because of my technical appreciation of the project and the C++ test itself. Others might have discarded my CV or portfolio right away as it doesn’t show a lot of C++ experience in game development, but they saw this opportunity because they saw what I was capable of as a developer. They saw the bigger picture.”
Did it help you gain confidence about working in the games industry?
“I feel a lot more confident now having had the experiences that I’ve already had in the past few weeks by going to meetings with different people, talking to studio leads and programming leads. I feel like even if the opportunities that I’ve gotten already don’t pan out, at least have a lot more experience to build on top of.
I know more about what to expect and what to prepare for, I know how to build my portfolio, to present my CV specifically for certain positions that I’m trying to get — That kind of knowledge is invaluable and honestly, something that you can’t really get just from receiving advice. You kind of have to go through it, I think, and in that way I’m definitely greatly benefited.”
What have you learned from taking part?
“I definitely learned that I should diversify my portfolio a little bit more, based on the feedback that I got from a few of the people on the interview panel.
I used to look at projects as primarily something that I enjoy doing, and so I would mostly just do the things that I like doing.
I should try to go out of my comfort zone a little bit more and also do things to develop and learn rather than just for fun. There’s a balance there that you can reach and I think it’s going to help me get there.”
Advice for students thinking of taking part in Search For A Star or d3t Rising Star
If your argument is that you don’t have time, I would say go ahead and try to at least, you know, start. If you can’t reach the finish line, it’s totally understandable, but you can still go ahead and put that effort in.
I was working on my Masters thesis while I did the project and I had classes as well, so it ended up being a bit like a game jam where, when I was sick of working on the things that I had to work on, I would go and work on this project instead. I was able to strike a pretty good, healthy balance.
Even if you feel you won’t have the time, you might as well try. Lots of people finished and there were lots of great projects as well, so it would be great to see more projects next year.
It’s also worth starting a project even if a few weeks have already gone by. This was my case! I started about two weeks in or something like that. I thought that if I didn’t start at the very beginning [of the challenge period] then maybe people are ahead of me and I just shouldn’t do it anymore.
It’s really not about that though. It’s about doing the best you can and using this is an opportunity to get feedback on the work you do, by people who actually know what they’re doing. How often do you get to do that?
That’s really, really valuable! So go ahead and participate!”
Huge thanks to Francisco for speaking with us, and congratulations again on winning this year’s Search For A Star in Games Programming!
You can check out Francisco’s Search For A Star game project here.
Search For A Star & d3t Rising Star are our annual gamedev challenges to help students create portfolio work to a professional brief, get industry feedback, and get noticed by games studios. You can learn more about the challenges here.
If you represent a games studio or university & would like to learn more about any of our activities, please contact Andy Driver at firstname.lastname@example.org