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Computer games designed to put players in the shoes of highly skilled air traffic controllers have been developed by students from University of the West of Scotland (UWS) as part of a National Air Traffic Services (NATS) competition.  

Five finalists from the Computer Games Development, Computing Games Technology and Computing Science courses were shortlisted in the ‘A Game of NATS’ competition, which saw students present potential computer game designs to a panel of experts at an event held at the NATS facility in Prestwick.

The objective of the competition was to create a game that would demonstrate the important role of NATS to the public and showcase some of the challenges faced when handling 2.6 million flights and 250 million passengers every year within the UK airspace.

The winning team comprised fourth-year Computer Games Development students, Ross Hugh Kilpatrick and Damian Slocombe, who presented ‘Toy Controller’ - a multiplayer 3D simulation game putting users in the shoes of a toy air traffic controller, with the player responsible for navigating and assisting their fellow toy pilots to their destination.

The competition is part of the University’s unique strategic partnership with NATS, highlighting UWS’ strong ties with industry and its commitment to offering students invaluable experience alongside theory-based learning.

The judging panel included Steve Graham, Head of Business Engagement and Dr David Bush, Innovation Lead at NATS, as well as Paul Keir, Programme Leader for Computer Games Technology and Professor Carl Schaschke, Dean of the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS.

Competition winner and fourth-year Computer Game Development student at UWS, Ross Hugh Kilpatrick, said: “We’re so proud to have won the NATS competition, especially as the standard of entries were so high. It’s taken weeks of planning, design and development to get our game to this point and it’ll be exciting to see if we can develop it further.”

Fellow winner, Damian Slocombe, added: “Creating this game has made us appreciate the highly-skilled work of NATS and the critical role the organisation plays in delivering passengers like myself safely to destinations across the globe.”

Professor Carl Schaschke, Dean of the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS, said: “We would like to congratulate all five students on making it to the final of this competition – each entry was excellent and the culmination of a lot of hard-work and commitment.

“Through this competition, we are pleased to have given students the opportunity to engage with an industry leader and we very much look forward to working on more exciting opportunities in the future.”
Professor Carl Schaschke, Dean of School, UWS

Steve Graham, Head of Business Engagement, NATS Prestwick, said, “All of the finalists were very impressive and had obviously invested a lot of effort into their submissions. It was a very difficult decision for the judging panel, but the winners stood out with their engaging proposal.  We have always enjoyed a mutually supportive and successful relationship with UWS and look forward to building on this and working together even more closely on future initiatives.”

Paul Keir, Programme Leader for Computer Games Technology at UWS, said, “The winning entry was distinct in eschewing a simulation-based gaming paradigm, demonstrating a fun and engaging abstraction over the challenge of air traffic management. The game design and prototype were also praised for their potential to engage with a younger STEM-oriented audience and also a wide demographic of player types.”