Our First Part 1A Group Meeting

Every Tuesday, the 1A (first year) compscis at Queens’ have a weekly meeting, where we do things that are quite different from the material we are covering in lectures. For our first session, we split into two teams of three and disassembled some old computers as far as we could.


The first stage was to remove the components from the case, which proved harder than we expected because the screws were so worn out, while also figuring out how all the parts work together.

Eventually we got all of the parts out of the case, and we were ready to start disassembling the components (after a short cake break). One group decided to work on the power supply, while the other attacked the floppy and hard drives.

Unfortunately, due to some inaccessible screws and missing tools, we were unable to fully disassemble the hard drives (a key would have been needed to extract the drives from their hot swap bays), but the other parts came apart well, revealing even more complex circuitry.



From Cambridge offer to coming up.

It’s the start of the new academic year and we’re all go at Queens’. Lectures have started, we’ve had two group meetings of compscis and supervisions are starting imminently.

I asked one of our new fresher’s, Aliyah, to write a few words on her experience of the time between getting a Cambridge offer to coming up to Cambridge. She says:

From Cambridge offer to coming up

Those who have had a conditional offer from any university know exactly how it feels – a few days of elation, followed by panic that you won’t make your grades.

You probably expect me to say “don’t worry, everything will be fine,” but it’s a stressful process and completely natural to have concerns. What I do want to say is that Cambridge is most definitely worth the effort you put in to get here.

We were told on arrival that every offer is made to someone who stands out from the crowd as exceptional. Trust that the academics have chosen you for a reason, but be prepared for the hard work that’s yet to come!

We’re glad the the effort is worth it :).

Second and Third year results

The results for the second and third years came out last Friday. Well done all round. Here are the stats. 3rd years: 2 firsts, 3 2.1’s and 2 3rds. 2nd years: 4 firsts, 1 2.1 and 1 3rd. We had a couple of near misses this year and so very nearly had more firsts.

A particular well done to Rob who ranked 2nd across all 2nd year Computer Scientists in Cambridge and to Henry who ranked 4th.

4th year results

This year Eduard decided to stay on and take the 4th year option (known as Part III). In order to qualify for this you have to either get a First in the 3rd year or a First in both your 1st and 2nd years.

I’m pleased to report than not only has Eduard passed with distinction but he’s been awarded the “MetaSwitch Best Part III Student Prize 2016” for coming top of his year.

This was due in part to his excellent project score of 91/100. To score about 90 one has to meet these criteria:

  • Significant contribution to field
  • Evidence of considerable extra-curricular reading and original interpretation
  • Challenging goals, and substantial deliverables, without much help from supervisor
  • Close to faultless in execution and write-up

Well done Eduard!

Working in the video game industry

This week a Queens’ CompSci alumnus, Ben Nicholson, gave us a talk about his journey in the video game industry.

Ben started life at Oxford, graduating with a degree in Mathematics. However, he quickly saw the error of his ways and decided to read the Computer Science Diploma at Queens’. This was a postgraduate course run until about 2007, that was intended as a one year crash course in Computer Science.

Like many CompScis, Ben had grown up playing video games. He wanted to combine his knowledge of maths and physics with computer science to make games a lot more realistic when it came to the laws of nature.

Ben took us through his life in the most creative way possible. His presentation was a video game (made in Unity3D) with a metaphorical hill of life. As we climbed it, we saw more and more of what he’d done.

He left Queens’ and started work at Sony on the game “This is Football” series of games. This was his first taste of working in AAA game studios and he shared valuable insights on the experience. He walked us through one of the first problems he had to solve: making goal nets move when they come in contact with a football. There was a trade-off here between how realistic the physics was and how fast the computation, and he showed us some cool physics hacks and approximations.

He then moved to Rocksteady Studios where he worked on the Batman: Arkham series of games. As the physics developer on the games, he was in charge of Batman’s cape and funky physics on ropes/explosions/hair etc. We all left with a much greater knowledge of point masses.

Ben also worked on destruction physics at Frontier Developments, leading the development of the destruction tech engine for Scream Ride. This is a game where you get to build a city, put a rollercoaster around it and then watch the ride smash through your creation.

After his 11 years working on large AAA games, Ben decided to form his own indie games studio. Inspired by his work on Batman, it’s called Cape Guy!

A lot of us, especially final year computer scientists, trying to figure out what we want to do, have thought about starting our own companies. So a game studio sounded like the perfect opportunity. However, while Ben is loving the experience, he did provide a little bit of reality check on the indie life. He talked about how things he hadn’t considered in AAA games were suddenly important – such as PR and marketing. He weighed the pros and cons of being on your own versus a big studio and spoke about how we should proceed if we wanted to join the industry. The games industry certainly provides a whole host of roles based on your interests – from game mechanics, to graphics, physics engines or high level animation.

Personally, I can’t wait for Ben’s next game – check out his twitter and website to find out more!

The annual dinner

We had the annual Computer Science dinner last Sunday. This our annual event for current students, supervisors and alumni.

First point of celebration was that all the Part II students successfully completed their projects and handed them in on time: well done everyone!

I’d like to thank the companies that sponsored us this year: Improbable, Palantir, Microsoft Research, Jane Street and Coherent Graphics. Your support is really appreciated.

This year we were lucky to have Eben Upton and Liz Upton of Raspberry Pi fame as our guests of honour. Eben gave us a really interesting talk about things that (almost) went wrong when they were getting Raspberry Pi of the ground. The moral of his story was that its never plain sailing in a startup. Imagine a swam: calm on the surface and paddling like mad underneath.

It was great to see so many people there. See you all next year.


I forgot to take any more photos than this one so if anyone has any good ones then please do send them to me!