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Games Entertainment

How Does One Become a Game Designer? 272

Andreas(R) would like answers to this query: "I imagine that creating PC-games would be an exciting and creative profession. Obviously, it takes a lot of programming skills to put together most advanved games with realtime 3D, AI etc. What is the best way to aquire the neccecary skills to get these kinds of jobs (such as game designer at Westwood, Sierra, Epic)? Is a CS-degree the best way? Does one learn useful things in relation to games (such as programming for Direct 3D, or Direct-Rendering with Linux)? Given how the computing-industry has suffered economically recently; will there still be a demand for programmers/game designers in the future?" If there are any readers out there currently in the gaming industry, how did you get your first break?

To break into the gaming industry, like most IT jobs, one needs experience. Sure, Computer Science degrees will help in the application process, but you may need to focus a bit more on the math and logic side of things. The best thing one can do when trying to obtain a gaming job, is to make your own game. But before going for the 3D-realtime-60fps-shooter, think about starting small. Having the experience that comes from writing a 2D platform game or a couple of 3D demos under your belt will be worth more, to a game company seeking new talent, than any set of degrees.

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How Does One Become a Game Designer?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    >>I imagine that creating PC-games would be an
    >>exciting and creative profession.

    christ. "I really like driving cars --- designing and building cars must be an exciting profession."

    Get a clue. Don't assume making games is 'exciting and creative' if you have NO IDEA how it's done. And if you have NO IDEA, making this as a career choice probably isn't a good one.

    Sorry to throw some cold water on ya - but quit fooling yourself. Looks like any monkey with an IP connection can get an 'Ask Slashdot' question postest lately. At least this one wasn't such obvious/blatant spam as they usually are......
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The positions needed to be filled to create a normal-sized game are: programmers, artists, producers, designers, testers. Do you want to be a designer or programmer? The title and article don't really match. To be a designer: live and breathe games. Play all genres, all platforms, plus retro. Make some quake levels (that play well). Design some board games/card games/tabletop games that you can test are fun with your friends. Maybe write a couple of game design docs (3 pages max). To be a programmer: live and breathe code. Go to and read all the articles, follow the links, and explore this great site. Write a couple of demos - if you want to do game code, a simple (but complete) 2d would be good. For 3d coding, an abstract 3d demo would be useful. Read about good programming practices too (games are big projects these days, and can't be hacked together).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah, one time the CEO of General Motors told me he'd sign over all his assets if I made a barely functional model car. Of course, at the time he was trying to marry my 6 year old daughter so maybe that was why he lied.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I can't find the compiler on my windows pc. Can you help me?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sure, Peter Molyneux is a great programmer and game designer. But he is rare.

    A game programmer is a great job, very challanging, and constantly presenting new challanges as platforms advance. Depending on where you go (3do/Acclaim or id/epic) it can be possibly the best programming job in the world. John Carmack is a game programmer. There are lots of interesting sub fields such as AI, real time advanced 3d graphics, or simply time effective code managment.

    Shigeru Miyamoto is a game designer. Nintendo made a boat load of crappy games (probably designed by a programmer! ;)) called RadarScope. His first game job was to make an interesting game. He came up with Donkey Kong. Experienced managers (probably also were programmers) thought it woudn't be popular. But it certainly was.

    That brings up another point about how the industry (especially PC) needs game designers who have experiences outside of Star Wars movies, 80s comics, and Doom as their favorite game of all time. The game industry is shrinking because it can only make games for itself because of lack of qualified game designers.

    As you can see a game designer is COMPLETELY different than a game programmer. Or game artist. Or musician.

    But it is also the hardest position to aquire (and its the most glamorous!). Obviously you wont be able to start out as a game designer by giving out a resume.

    Unless you can make a kick ass resume by shown games you've designed. They don't even need to be video games.

    Think about what makes a game fun. Interaction? Progress? Building? Story? All depending on the game.

    Grab Mr. Do from and get the MAME emulator. Mr. Do is one of the best games of all time for what it is. When you play it you get a ball with one shot. Look at how long it takes to come back and all the little details. Or Zoo Keeper.

    It is important to study the old games. "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." If you really are qualified as a game designer you should know why Super Mario 3 on the NES was a better game than Super Mario World on the SNES.

    Why is 3rd person (tomb raider referrence) a fundementally flawed view for game PLAY. Even though it makes for nice screen shots. :)

    If you want to be a game designer experience is needed for sure. It is best to have some programming and art experience. So make your own game.

    If you think that a game engine has anything to do with designing a game then forget about being a game designer and go focus on programming, you'll probably make a fantastic programmer.

    But if you want to become a game designer you should be able to make a fun single screen 2D game that doesn't even have scrolling. And probably a Quake mod that isn't just "Quake, but with more gore and guns"...

    Making a few small games is the best practice because:
    1) it gives game examples for a resume
    2) it gives you experience so that if you are hired you don't make mistakes on the companies time/money
    3) its fun.

    Don't just worry about fun things to do with the game, think about the whole picture. Why is four people sitting on a couch generally more fun than playing four annonymous people. Even though Marble Madness wasn't a big hit (bad timing!) why is it such a fun game. Think about how fun it is to simply spin the ball and get into the game compared to simply pressing up. How did Sonic become one of the best games of all time, despite just having ONE button.

    Go play Action Supercross too.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I would say a key factor in breaking into this industry is determination -- determination to acquire the skills you need, and the determination to get the damn job.

    Some time in 1991 I decided that I was going to work for Origin. Origin at the time was the epicenter of the universe, or so it seemed to me. I didn't bother to tell them that I was coming to work for them, but I got myself a shiny new 386 and Turbo C++ and when I wasn't delivering pizzas I was learning how to make the computer do cool stuff.

    Early 1992, I packed up and moved to Austin. I still hadn't told Origin that I was coming, I just figured I'd show up. In Austin I continued delivering pizzas and learning C++ and 3D graphics. I put together a little demo moving a texture-mapped polygon around on the screen. It was utterly primitive compared to what you can do today (and about 10000% more work). But it was kind of nifty.

    What I did next was I mailed a letter to Richard Garriott's house which basically said, in all sincerity, "Hire me, for the love of God please hire me!" (I knew his address because by pure coincidence I'd happened to make friends with his former next-door neighbors.) It's embarrassing to admit, but that's what I did. I even offered to work for free on a trial basis. I figured my letter would make Richard think, "Well now, here's just the kind of person we need!" In reality he probably rolled his eyes and tossed it on somebody's desk on his way in to work.

    Long story short, I got called in for interviews, showed them an absurd level of enthusiasm, showed them my demo, and shortly thereafter they hired me.

    The moral is: pester the founder of the company you want to work for. No wait, don't do that. But it doesn't hurt to be a little creative or outlandish, and if you're young you'll forgive yourself someday. And the other point is: my silly antic got me the interview, but my demo got me the job. In fact, a good demo might be enough to grab somebody's attention and save you a lot of humiliation.

    And it bears repeating: If you think it's a dream job, you haven't gotten it yet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:28PM (#252348)
    Digipen teaches everything, C, C++, direct3d, opengl, digipen produces excellent programmers for all platforms. Who got the idea that it only teaches you to program for the nintendo console?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:17PM (#252349)
    ...pose for Playboy [].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:05PM (#252350)
    Having gone to Digipen, I must say that you are completely wrong. In two years, I never once saw a piece of proprietary Nintendo equipment/hardware. Digipen focuses on giving students the most hard core computer science training you could imagine. 8-13 hours a day of MATH and computer science. Any school that has a class about Quaternions is not slepping on math.
  • by knghtbrd ( 593 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @10:38PM (#252352)

    I see a lot of people talking about learning how to code being what it takes to make a successful game. I think those people are missing the point. What makes a good game is the game, not the code used to make the game accessable to the user.

    Consider Final Fantasy IX - an awesome game IMO. Look at how it's rendered. Some 3D models, but the field mostly 2D graphics using some tricks to give the impression of being done in 3D. Yeah this is stuff you need to learn to do, but it's trivial compared to the characters, the writing, the artwork, the animations...

    Another low-tech game, Myst. The game was a damned HYPERCARD STACK, I learned how to make those in the 7th grade. And yet it was one of the best-selling PC games ever. People making games for the PC only wish they could get those kind of sales on half their offerings.

    That's not to say game engine tech is not at all important - far from it. All the creative and artistic talent in the world won't be worth a damn if you don't have the code to make it work. If you are interested in learning how to code engines that's certainly a good thing.

    Best place to start is to buy a couple good books. The OpenGL "red book" is a good place to start. If you don't speak linear algebra as a second language, you might want a good math book as well. I also recall a rather specialized book on gomputer 3D geometry focusing on teaching the math using OpenGL code. I don't recall the title or author, but I'm sure someone can dig it up. Go through these things cover to cover. If you get hung up somewhere, ask someone. It's a lot of work but in the end you'll know more math than you ever wanted. But you'll also know 3D graphics inside and out.

    Beyond that, all you really need are knowledge of C (or whatever), some basic physics you should likely have learned in high school, and probably some experience with client/server communication over the Internet.

  • A lot of people I know in the industry consider Edge to be way too far up its own arse. They still buy it, for the jobs section. The supplement aimed at graduates is probably a worthwhile thing to read though.

  • There are many roads that will lead you into the development of games. One is the college route where you get a degree and find a job at a games dev company. Another is to write something so fantasically awesome that you get snapped up by a development house.

    Another route is through open source game development projects, most notably WorldForge [], a group that has been working for over a year on creating framework software for creating massively multiplayer online roleplaying systems. There are several milestone games detailed on the site, and the entirity of the source is available.

    Check 'em out -- it got me into the game development scene. :-)

    "We have the right to believe at our own risk any hypothesis that is live enough to tempt our will."
  • Okay, perhaps they are too old, but the doom and quake engines are available for free on the net. Plus the black book from Michael Abrash is online over at Dr. Dobb's. It describes the techniques behind doom. Even in the times of Direct X and Open GL there should be some wisdom in it.
  • by mvw ( 2916 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:02PM (#252359) Journal
    Two of my colleagues came from a game company. One of them working as a lead programmer on a recent top ten title.

    Of course we talked about their prior job in game industry - doing a killer game is a dream many programmers have.

    From what they told me, it is a very tough business. People seem typically to start young, with no prior education, being recruited from the amateur scene. Job hours are long, payment is low. And of course one needs to stay on the frontier of the hard and software.

    Assembly programming is done by few specialists (like game engine designers), C/C++ is the implementation language, with software design techniques just starting to get introduced.

    From comparision to the people I knew from the scientific and economic scene, these guys are fast pragmatic programmers, not so much on the theoretical side (the feared property of CS graduates :) Possibly that fast problem solving capability is the key feature to survive in the hard gaming industry. I was surprised to hear what simple tricks are sometimes used - just to get the deadline.

  • by Skim123 ( 3322 )
    I've never been employed as a game programmer, never had much of an interest, but I had a friend who use to work for a large game programming company and his comments were: "When you first start off, the first project you work on is always some obscure portion of a baseball game." He did not elaborate why. That is all.
  • Scott Kim [] is a puzzle designer. Some of the puzzles are computer based but some others need not to be.
    Since 1990 I have been a full-time independent designer of visual puzzles and games for the web, computer games, magazines and toys. My puzzles are in the spirit of Tetris and M.C. Escher -- visually stimulating, thought provoking, broadly appealing, and highly original. I have created hundreds of puzzles for magazines, and thousands for computer games. I am especially interesting in daily, weekly and monthly puzzles for the web and portable devices.

    What I don't do
    Crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, trivia games, action games. I do design multi-player games, but single-player puzzles are my specialty.

    Maybe it's not what you thought as a "game designer" but when technologies come and go, I think that people like Kim have a better chance to survive.
  • I should have used subset notation. :)

    Certainly I didn't mean that a game designer can't code, the obvious example that comes to my mind is Peter Molyneux, who is reported to have a big hand in coding the game (and does a great job with publicity besides). But I was also thinking of people like Bruce Shelly of Ensemble and Bill Roper of Blizzard who don't get mentioned as often when it comes to the nuts and bolts of programming. While I'm sure they are quite clueful about technical aspects of the game implementation, I'm not so sure they are cranking code.

    And what good would a designer be if they didn't have a clue about the implementation?

    I was just going with the (probably incorrect) impression that the Ask Slashdot poster was wondering where he could learn to assemble polygons onscreen so that he had a game.

    Chris Cothrun
    Curator of Chaos

  • by crisco ( 4669 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:02PM (#252365) Homepage
    Game Design != Programming

    Look at all the k-rad 3D games that are boring to play. Look at some games that are behind the technology curve that are fun to play (I'll offer up Starcraft and Counter-Strike as a pair of recent examples, I'm sure you can come up with your own).

    The skillset that goes into a modern game is enormous. Art (3D modeling, texture art), Music, Game Design & Balance, Programming (3D, Network, UI), etc. You're lucky if you're good at one of these, much less a few of them. Find an area that you are good at and cultivate it, make yourself the best. The companies you mention often have 20-40 people working on a game, you'll have to find your spot on that team. [] is an excellent resource for professional level game development info.

    Chris Cothrun
    Curator of Chaos

  • by dustpuppy ( 5260 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @09:30PM (#252366)
    I've learned a LOT about large-project management, design, and the like by working on my own projects for Half-Life

    How can you say you have "large-project management" experience when you are working on your own projects? That's not what large project management is about.

    (Just in an argumentative mood :-)

  • by Monty ( 7467 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:48PM (#252368) Homepage
    There are specialized schools for this kind of thing. One that comes to mind is Digipen [].
  • If you have to ask then it's not for you.

    I am not in the gaming industry but I have read enough articles to make me think that those who survive that industry are those who are totally consumed by it. If you can't stop thinking about games and programming and optimization and graphics then maybe this is the industry for you. If you consume everything you can get your hands on - books, source code, games then you likely know what to do next. If this just sounds cool then you will likely be competing with people more dedicated than yourself.
  • When I graduated from University there were several game companies pursuing me because I majored in Physics and minored in Computer Science, and spent several years doing research in machine learning. From a purely coding aspect the most important skills are going to be math (Linear Algebra), physics (Classical Mechanics), AI, and Graphics. So if you are in school pursue those classes. If you can make it through the upper division level classes you should have no problem learning new algorithms and implementing them and learning new graphics APIs.

    Of course some relevant experience outside of school (your own demo or game mod) never hurts.

  • They don't. That's why you start out as a codemonkey and move your way up, at least, AFAIK.
  • Beside knowing computers a game must know how to tell a story and how to draw.
    To tell a story learn literature and writing. The same story ideas and characters occur over and over again in history with new twists.
    To draw learn drawing, painting, drafting, graphic design, film, multi-media, etc. You can never know too much art.
    Games use sound too. So learning music theory will help you too.
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:59PM (#252374)
    Many medium to large cities have computer clubs with graphs, animation, gamers, or artist interests. Sometimes it is a special gamer club; other times a sub-group. That way hobbyists compare their game projects with others and start getting paid work with game companies. You'd be surprised how many small game companies there are all around the country. The computer clubs I've been around have been full of gamers.
  • by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2001 @05:46AM (#252376) Homepage

    First of all, you're right. You imagine it would be an exciting and creative profession. The reality is that it's long hours and little glory, unless you're lucky enough to make that one-in-a-million big seller.

    Okay, so you still want to do it... When I was programming for a Major Game Company (which cancelled every project I ever worked on, but I'm not bitter...) most of the resumes got tossed if you didn't already have a couple of games under your belt. That was stupid , but that's the way it went. Personally, I looked for someone with a strong math background. You'll need it. 3D graphics are all matrix or quaternion operations, and you'd better have a feel for it. Yes, you can get by with some cookbook operations and very little real knowledge. But your game will show it. Also, pretty much everything these days needs some sort of decent physics model. 3D graphics have been beaten to death, but today's computers are powerful enough to support really good collision detection/response routines. If only we had someone to program them... Good AI is a field that's also lacking. Winning a lot of single-player games relies on taking advantage of the stupidity of the AI. I'd love to see a game where the difficulty level actually made the opponents smarter rather than just giving them bigger guns.

    Providing some sort of demo program with your resume gets you good bonus points. It doesn't even have to be pretty, just enough to show that you have some idea what you're talking about. BUT MAKE SURE IT WORKS! I immediately tossed one otherwise good resume because the demo program had a major memory leak, and consumed all physical RAM and about a gigabyte of swap within 15 minutes. Otherwise it would have been a good demo.

    Play games. Play lots of games. Love games. Be one with the games. Game programming is a labor of love. Unless you're willing to eat, drink, and breathe games you won't stand a chance. Also be willing to give up your social life for 18 months at a stretch. Game development works in period of constant "crunch time". You will work nights and weekends. Frequently.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:17PM (#252378) Homepage Journal

    How can you gain experience if all jobs require you to have had prior work experience?

    By doing it outside of a job. Do you own a computer? Have a compiler too? Great, you're all set. You don't need an employer to "give you a break" in order to start getting experience.

  • I know it doesn't have the widespread appeal of your typical first person shooter, but it is a far superior game.

    I think this is a very common misperception. Gameplay is all about how easily the gamer loses himself in the game, encompassing everything from input, to graphical representation (which doesn't need to be utilizing the very latest in 3D rendering, thus requiring a GeForce 3. For the type of game, an ascii interface is perfectly fine for nethack (I know there are tile-based guis for it, as well)), to story and plot, and so on. Not all factors always matter. For instance, graphics have little to do with nethack, and story has little to do with Quake 3 Arena. However, Quake 3 has gameplay that is just as good as, if not better than, nethack, in terms of a hack'n'slash type game (pure action). It's not even fair to hold up (arguably) the best roguelike game to your "average" or worse FPS (say, Daikatana). That'd be like holding up Half-life to the crudest roguelike out there, and thus claiming that Half-Life is a far superior game (and by saying so, also inferring that all roguelikes are poo).

    Judge gameplay by context. It's pretty hard to compare an average FPS to an average roguelike, except that the "average" games typically fall short in the "gameplay" department, regardless of genre.

    I think gameplay needs to come before flashy effects. People will notice quality in the long run, so if you can do this you CAN make something that competes.

    The goal is balance. There's no point in pushing for the best graphics in the world if you have no game to back it up, but the converse is true as well -- a game with an interface that was clearly neglected, added on as an after thought, is not a good game, no matter how promising the gameplay. Now, going back to the roguelike games, that doesn't mean you have to have a deformable 3D world with dynamic LOD and a state-of-the-art terrain engine. It simply means that spending time and thought on your "graphics" (such as they are) is necessary, and shouldn't be simply tacked on at the end.

  • by Osty ( 16825 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:56PM (#252380)

    The chief way to get into the gaming industry these days is a combination of modding and schooling. Many of today's "Gaming Gods" (for lack of a less-lame term) got their start doing mods. The TeamFortress people, now working at Valve; Steven Polge, the guy who wrote the first real bot for Quake1, the Reaper Bot, now working for Epic Games; GreenMarine, LeveLord, Stevie Case, and so on. Mods in the gaming industry have become the equivalent of an artist's portfolio. They give you game the creation experience you need to get a game design job.

    At the same time, don't forget that schooling is important. Ignore what all the high school drop-outs turned IT bigshot turned homeless bum on the dole say about schooling being useless. It's far from it, if you take the time to apply yourself and actually learn something. Depending on what type or role you want to play, many different majors would be useful. Want to be more involved in the design of a game? Get a business major, with an English minor and an emphasis in a graphic art. Want to be an engine programmer? Take all the math you can. And once you think you have enough math, take some more. A CS degree is also useful, to help teach you proper coding and design discipline and algorithmic analysis. Want to be an artist? Attend a good design school. Want to be a sound engineer? Get a music degree. Your education shouldn't stop with a college degree, but you're that far ahead of those without one (and that gives you a slight edge against those without when applying for a job, which is very nice to have in today's economy).

    Above all, though, don't forget to have fun. If you're not having fun, trying to pump out a mod or a tetris clone or whatever because you feel that you have to rather than because you want to, then you're on the wrong track. Take a step back, look at where you're at, and re-evaluate what you want to do with your life.

  • 4) "If you wanna be a writer, write!" is a good rule. You should be writing 20K lines of code a year. This is how you hone your skills. Don't worry about the code being useful/portfolio-stuff.

    I think the 20,000 lines of code he's referring to are LOC to be done in your "off-time," as in when not working, going to school, etc. Things that count against this don't include code written for employers as a general rule, because you're trying to hone your talents, and probably wouldn't want to try something radically new on a project for which you're under a deadline. (Then again, maybe you would. YMMV) Stuff written as a hobby, for friends, University projects, etc, all count since that's code that is done mostly to your specifications, not someone else's.


  • by Moofie ( 22272 )
    Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. I worked at Origin Systems with one fellow who went on to great things at Ion Storm, and with another guy who's heading up Sony's Star Wars Ep1 MMORPG. Going in through QA doesn't substantially increase your odds of landing a design position. Being a good designer (that is, being able to communicate to somebody WHY one game is fun and another is not) is critical.

    That's why I'm not doing it. : ) There's a whole lot of esoteric theory behind why games work, and I didn't feel motivated to learn it. People who did, are now very successful game designers.
  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:46PM (#252387) Homepage Journal
    I'm going to second this just to make sure it gets noticed. I've worked in the game industry for 3 years now.

    Game Designer is the title for the guy with a management hat who gets the last word in making gameplay mechanics decisions and balance decisions. He is typically responsible for the game design documentation. He may or may not do any programming on the project. There is typically only one per title, this is a very hard job to get, and will involve working from the inside of an established company over a period of years most likely.

    Game Programmer is the title for me, the guy who actually sits down and writes some code to make the game do what the Game Designer says. I take art resources and load them up and make them display at the right place at the right time. I make the king's prefix add damage (up to 150% damage, as specified in a spreadsheet by the game designer). There will likely be something like 4 to a dozen programmers, and one lead programmer on a title. The lead programmer gets more influence on design since he may be laying out engine features that create or restrain the type of content possible in the game.

    The game programmer job typically gets some input on how the game works. Sometimes if you have a great idea, you just code it up, put it in the game, then ask the game designer: is this not cool? And if he says it is cool, you get to leave it in. This can be a fun and rewarding job, though frustrating when you lock horns with the game designer and lose. You get to mold the game somewhat, but it does not come from your vision.

    If you have programming skills, and you'd like the game programmer job, a good way to get started is to prove you can do it by working on a game-mod project (say something like LMCTF for quake 2 ... that project got at least 3 people jobs with serious companies, including 2 game programmers now working for a top 3 game company).

    I will also chime in on the glamour issue. It's all fun and games until the 15 months of 18 hour days starts. Then it is pretty rough on your family life, since you can't really drive home to sleep in your own bed when you're that tired. The pay is also typically significantly less than what you'd get applying equal skills to a business environment job. I've had offers at least 75% higher than what i'm making now, but I do enjoy being able to walk into fry's in my development team sweatshirt and have people in the games aisle ask me about it.

    In any case, good luck with your dreams and ambitions. :-)
  • (Though design is becoming less and less accessible to programmers.)

    This is sort of a tangent... but why is this happening? I know that game design today is supposed to consist of taking a known engine, tweaking the heck out of it, adding content, and shipping. Whee, another FPS.

    But it seems to me that truly innovative (and therefore great) games come from programmers or ex-programmers, who wield the power to identify something that hasn't been done with the hardware, and do it. Carmack, Wright, Molyneux, Meier, Lord British, etc.

    Perhaps the decline of the programmer/designer is a symptom of the stagnant state of the game design practice?

    Or maybe good game designers who aren't programmers just don't get enough press? (I'm not talking about level designers here, I mean the creators of totally new genres)
  • You know, it wouldn't be too hard...

    There have been random level-creation tools out since Doom, they take a library of pieces with standard connection points and build a level with them. For an angband-y feel, the combat would have to be RPG based, not quake-skill based. That's an interesting task, but not impossible.

    The NPCs (as few as they are) have been done. Look at any of the Quake-engine based games that involve look at someone while their mouth moves and a sound is played - perhaps with subtitles to match.

    I actually put some work into an RPG in quake, where the combat was based on your stats, but weighted by your performance in actual fighting. The number of shots that hit the target in a given time, and the number of his that hit you, are used to weight the damage rolls from the RPG element. It gives a good player an edge (customizable) and still makes it stat based.

    It's not always perfect - with melee-attack creatures it looks funny if you dodge their attacks and still take damage. (This isn't a problem with distance attacks - the computer can cheat a bit, making some attacks perfect shots, to deal the ammount of damage it had rolled.)

    If you went with either all twitch combat (FPS skill) or all random RPG combat, it'd be easier, but IMHO not as much fun.

    If you're interested in this, feel free to drop me a line. I wouldn't mind working on this.
  • I'm told that The University of North Texas [] and UW [] have good gaming stuff going on. I'd investigate further and come up with better URL's, but then all hopes of getting this post moded up would fade because it'd be too late, and I am a whore!
  • That Stevie Case was also fucking John Romero....

  • I've read about some schools that have training in video game programming and apparently their grads are quite well regarded. There was a fast company story [] on one, DigiPen [] a little while ago, they seemed to think it was pretty good.

    If you can't get right into the industry, perhaps these would be some ok options.
  • by jonathanclark ( 29656 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @04:22PM (#252394) Homepage
    I think that is excellent advise. I'd also add that networking (the people kind) plays a big role - so try to get in contact with people who work at game companies. When they are ready to hire, they will pick people they know before they pick random people. So, read .plan files of developers and if they talk about something of interest to you write them back and try to build a friendship. Don't come of as a braggart - but if you have stuff to show put something in your mail .sig and half the time they will be curious and take a peek. They probably won't browse more than a few pages so put your best stuff up front (code/art/music/etc).

    If you write to a developer more than once, re-introduce yourself or maybe quote your last email because they probably won't remember your name. If you write them enough (with useful info) then they will start to remember and respect you and maybe offer you a job or suggest you to someone who will offer you a job.

  • I think it is important to distinguish between being a game designer, and a game programmer. Historically they have been the same person, but that is not as common as it used to be, and it is getting less common. Games are not really designed by one person, but by a team of people. The Lead Designer may come up with the concept, and even the plot and many of the features, but artists are a critical element in designing the mood of the game, programmers often have great new ideas that come up as the game get's developed. Even the program manger has an impact on game design by deciding how much can be spend on what, and what has to be cut when time runs short. The question is, do you want to be strictly a designer, a programmer, an artist, a producer, a program manager, D) all of the above? There are many opportunites in the gaming industry, it is important to decide what you want to do.
  • by Jered ( 32096 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:44PM (#252399) Homepage
    The best way to break into any programming field is to have a good understanding of programming practices and methodologies, in addition to being a good coder. This is the most important thing that formal CS training (i.e. a college degree) should provide you.

    I've seen many awesome coders who can knock your socks off with projects they've done, but have no formal CS training. And I wouldn't hire most of them. They understand how to write code, but they don't understand why it's necessary to design before implementation, extensively document code, have a process for source review, use a revision control system, implement a unit test strategy, and the like. All of these things are necessary when working on a large project with multiple engineers.

    Most games are a huge undertaking. I last worked for a games company, Turbine Entertainment Software, that had dozens of people working on a single project. In addition to the fact that they were all really smart people, if they hadn't followed good programming methodologies nothing would have ever been shipped.

    Today, I'm Director of Software Development for a storage software company, and implementing good policies is key to keeping on track. All code is required to be reviewed by another team member before it may be checked into the repository. All modules must have unit test cases. No code may be written until design of the module and its interfaces are complete. This might sound draconian, but it means that we know what we're writing before we start coding it, we know it works when we're done, and we know what it does when we look at it again 3 months from now. Fewer bugs, fewer unexpected surprises, and fewer late nights trying to fix something that has to have been done last month.

    Games companies are often hiring; they tend to not pay as much as other computer industry jobs but can also be a lot of fun. If you want to break into the games industry, send a resume to some companies you find interesting. Show that you can write good code, show that you have the creativity to design an interesting game, and show that you understand what's necessary to actually complete a team project.


  • I used to Work in the Video Game industry. But I was the token Support Sysadmin guy. I basically took the job, sicne I thought "Hey, It's a video game company! That would be nifty to work for!"

    And it was. Nerf gun fights, free lunches on Fridays, paid trips to the movies every so oftern, and decent hardware. Very much fun, but without taking it to an excess. Plus people worked hard there, and really enjoyed their jobs.

    I had orignally wanted to move into a position of Doing QA on games, or helping to write tools, But eventually my Unix Yearnings got the best of me, and I left the mostly WinTel shop, to pursue a full time Unix admin Gig (But I left on good terms, and also after attending enough coffee sessions, BBQ's in Austin to garner some great friends, and industry contacts!)

    So, try for a backdoor job in, Webmaster, tech support, documentation writer, maybe even Coffee boy for the office, have your portfolio built up, and eventually, spring it on them, you might find a receptive audience. I know that I saw more than a few cases of Tech Support people moving into more developer orientated roles.

    Oh yeah, being in the right location helps... In my case, it was Chicago initially, and then Austin Tx. (Great town for gaming companies!) Seattle, SiliValley, and the SiliAlley are other potential game company hotspots.

  • Hi, I'm Brian and I work for Midway Games.

    Most companies blend the game designer position into another position: programming lead, producer, or design may even be democratically handled by the whole team. It's unusual to find a dedicated game designer.

    The few people I have run across as dedicated game designers are typically expierienced industry people working on epic-scale RPGs or games with a lot of movie footage which need scripts.

    You're also unlikely to start out as game designer. You'll need to prove yourself in another position first. To do that, put together a killer demo game or two on your own (preferable), or get a degree with strong marks and practice the hell out of your interviewing skills. The demo is preferred, as it shows genuine interest and understanding of the field - most college kids I interview want to reinvent everything we do without having a clue about what we're already doing, or are pure academics who don't have a grasp of resource-limited development.

  • Man,
    I loved that game. Bring it back with super-duper graphics, and the world is yours.

    HI Mom!
  • I lucked out. I've been playing games since I was 4 (Donkey Kong on the ColecoVision, biytach!) and programming in every BASIC I've found since I was 10, but just recently I managed to get what I consider my big break. NDSU hired me on to work with their Geology Explorer. []

    Basically a Java shell for the LambdaMOO backside, it's got a good mix of graphics, interface, AI, and MOO specifics. After a couple months, MouseListeners are my willing slaves, and most of the niggling problems I had coming in have been ironed out. Mostly I've been making the graphics both run fast and look nice AND be functional. Yay, me. Sure, I didn't actually make the thing, but in my opinion it's much harder to tweak someone else's code anyway.

    Um, by the way, I wouldn't recommend using the Explorer in the next couple days. I'm in the process of revamping EVERY SINGLE CLICKABLE OBJECT on the planet, which means that about half the world is broken right now :) Silly me.
  • I've been in the industry a whole... six months.
    I'm still in shock.
    Had an IT job. HATED IT. No surprise there. Saved up a few thousand, quit and started a gaming news website which made for a lot of 20 hour days and no traffic cuz I sucked at promoting it :)
    But I wrote well enough that when a friend pointed me out to Incite they picked me up as a freelance. (yeah, ignore my "cuz" and "thru" shortcuts, I *can* write, but I'm lazy in posts).
    Yes, Incite sucked but it got me resume space.
    So while I made a few bucks here and there, and picked up a part time job so I wouldn't starve while working on my failing website, I started hanging out in different IRC channels that game devs frequented, and made a few friends.
    One was aware of my writing and one day I got a message that there was an unannounced writing position (if you haven't guessed by now I'm a story geek, not a code geek).
    A night of frantic inspiration turned into a half decent Sci-Fi style story about a battle on a freighter hangar deck, and a couple of weeks later I had a job.
    What advice would I have? I'm still a newbie to this, even though I've been a gamer since Pong. But the first thing I would say is ask yourself where your talents really lie. Figure out what it is you're magic at, and become the best at it. Make people oooh and ahh. Then collaborate with others, and make things that people enjoy.
    Someone will find you. And if they don't, jump in front of them and make them notice you.
  • I hope the engine engine is capable of rendering something other than the dark, boring environments seen in the screenshots [] on the site.

    Game designers could really learn a thing or two by playing Serious Sam []. Look at all those bright environments and colorful characters! Yowza!
  • For those who haven't yet seen it, check out Serious Sam from Croteam [].

    Of course, in an interview they said it was 5 years in the making, so it's not an overnight success thing. But there are still a few surprises out there.
  • The University of Abertay [] in Dundee, Scotland (original home of Lemmings [] creators, DMA []) has a degree in Computer Games Technology []
  • The course description [] might be helpful. Here's the key bit:

    During the first three years the programme has five streams of studies: computer games, programming, mathematics, creativity and software engineering. Students will develop their skills in understanding games genres, gameplay, 2D and 3D game production and console and PC programming. This will be underpinned by a thorough understanding of mathematical modelling, producing quality software and C, C++ and assembler languages.

    The course is intended for people straight out of high-school, rather than as a second degree for people with a CS qualification already.

  • by ikekrull ( 59661 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:07PM (#252414) Homepage
    If you want to be a game designer, go out and design a game. Nobody is stopping you.

    If your question is 'How do i get paid to be a game designer?', then the answer to that is that you need to have designed games without being paid before you have a chance to get paid to do it.

    You're not going to get hired to design a website that someone's business depends on without even knowing HTML.

    The key is to be able to demonstrate and communicate your skill and talent to a potential employer.

    There are millions of people in this world who can talk shit about designing games all day long, and only a tiny percentage on them that can actually deliver.

    Most employers want people who fall into the second category.

  • Thought it worth mentioning the route I took into games programming. I started coding games in my spare time and eventually got good enough to sell them over the internet, even getting onto some compilations in retail stores, and making a few thousand quid for my efforts. Getting magazine reviews and coverdisk placements also helped. I coded and designed all the stuff myself, you can see the games i did at On the basis of this, I got a lot of interviews very quickly the minute I registered with an agency. In the end I got 3 job offers and ended up with the one I really wanted all along. I dont have any formal programming qualifications at all, but I did have something hardly any other candidates have: My CV was just colour screenshots from 4 finished games, and a URL to my site where you could download and play them. That pretty much sold me as a candidate, and just goes to show that being a bedroom hacker CAN still get you a good job in the games industry. (In this case at elixir-studios in the UK).
  • > Game Design != Programming

    And those AI scripts just write themselves??!!

    Game Design certainly does involve programming!

    I've been in the business for almost 3 years as a game programmer, and I tell you that the our designers crank out a LOT of code.

    Yes, the FIRST half of the game idea doesn't involve programming. But the implementation is left to the designers, since us game programmers are too busy building the engine and providing the functionality for the game designers!

    Why do you think so many games have their own scripting language? WHO is programming in it? The designers! Programmers [generally] don't need a scripting language, since they can just use C/C++/Asm.

    The rest of your post is spot on.
  • So... do AOL stockholder's know their CEO slept his way to the top?

  • Don't listen to them. Just sit there day and night playing games until your fingers bleed.

    I've been doing that for 21 years.

    Where do I apply for my game design job?

    "Everything you know is wrong. (And stupid.)"
  • Take a look at this online book [].

    Their advice is similar to advice given to writers (that I've seen attributed to Stephen King): you learn to be a writer by writing. Lots.

    Most of the people I know in the game industry who went the CS route built a portfolio of code, engines, and demos that they could show to folks that alreaady are in the game industry. Coders that want to be in the industry are legion, coders who are willing to put together a decent portfolio aren't as common.

    If you're serious about it, you should probably attend industry events like the GDC [], E3 [], and the various GDC roadtrips to network. And if I'm not mistaken, the GDC even allows you to be a volunteer to get a discounted admission fee.

  • by Crowdpleazr1 ( 80140 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:31PM (#252426)
    Read, read, and then read some more about how games work, how they are made, etc. Go to sites like, and Practice your skills by writing 3d Demos (getting OpenGL books and reading the DirectX doc tutorials come to mind). Buy Game Programming Gems and read it cover to cover. Get to know people in the game industry, and keep them as contacts (but be nice and friendly). Actively get involved in a mod for any game (Half-Life, Quake3, Unreal Tournament, Tribes2) and whatever you do, stick it to the end. Companies will recognize polish and hard work. Also, play lots of games to try and figure out how they work.

    What not to do/expect:
    1) Don't expect everyone to help you. Try to figure things out for yourself. The net is your best research tool.
    2) Don't expect to get in right away. I busted tail on reading learning and working for several years before I got a break.
    3) Don't listen to these trolls who tell you that all the hard work is pointless or that a nice demo won't help. They will, and those that review demos will recognize it for what it is.
    4) Don't think that because you are a good coder or have played a lot of games or your friends say you are smart that you deserve a shot. You don't, because all the others trying to get in are the same way. You need to learn about the industry. I finally got in because I didn't expect anyone to help me but me.
  • by Puk ( 80503 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @06:33PM (#252427)
    Do you want to be a game designer or programmer? This is a very important question.

    I am a programmer. I have a couple of degrees in CS (one is generally plenty for game programmers), and plenty of coding experience. I was almost a game programmer, but I changed choices at the last minute. I may some day be a game programmer. Although I am aware and useful enough to contribute to the design process, I will probably never be a full-on game designer. If you want to be a programmer, then program, program, program. Come up with your own projects and code them. Code projects with your friends. Built 2d and 3d game engines, graphical demos, or anything which might constitute a piece of a game. Code projects using D3D and OpenGL. You can build game programming skills to a pretty good degree without a game programming job.

    One of my good friend from our (mostly technical) school has a managment degree. He is computer literate, but admittedly couldn't code his way out of a paper bag. He is a game designer. He thinks about the way games work, what makes them fun, what could be done new to make them more fun, or -- much better -- make them sell more. He decides what type of game to make, what features it needs, how the user should control it, how many classes/races/widgets there are, etc. To be a good game designer, you need to design games -- from scratch. Come up with a concept, and describe it in detail (detail, detail) until enough programmers and artists could get together and build it. My friend has a degree from a good school, experience in the field, and a drawer full of fully fleshed out (hundreds of pages) game designs, and the job market is still tough right now, since having game design skills is much harder to quantify or prove than having programming skills, at least until you're well known and established in the industry (and have a few successful games under your belt).

    It's up to you which you want to do. I suppose it's possible to do both, but it's very difficult to start with both. So choose one, and just do it until you have the skills to get a job (and can work your way up), get sick of it, or are simply forced to do something else because of the bad games market right now ;).


    p.s. There are, of course, a bunch of other people involved in game design, not the least of which are artists and modelers, product managers (whee), and even lawyers (IANAFL). I was just concentrating on two groups.
  • by moller ( 82888 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @05:38PM (#252429) Homepage
    This was posted on PlanetBaldursGate [] on Monday, April 17 of last year.

    Dave's background: There are many more fields in building a computer game than programming alone, Bandit. I would suspect that over three-quarters of the people who work here wouldn't know what to do with a line of code if they were handed one.

    Aside from the programmers, we've got artists (besides the computer artists, I know that some of them have backgrounds as comic book artists and graphic design... although it helps to know how to use the graphic editors, it's not always necessary to get hired if the talent is there), animators (most of the animators here have specific animation education backgrounds, I believe) and designers (which includes game designers, writers and scripters... with most of us being a blend of the three).

    I, myself, am on the design team as a designer/writer (although I now do some scripting, as well... a bit different from programming as the programmers build the game editors that scripters use to put the game pieces together). I got involved in the business in a strange way, I guess. I used to manage a hotel before I came here... I just had a hobby where I ran a PBM (play-by-mail) RPG that I had designed. Bioware was looking for designers who had designed their own game (and finished it... an important distinction), and a friend of mine who was playing my game happened to work here. He offered my game to Greg and Ray to look at and they asked me to give some writing samples for a job. I had no intention of applying (it was nice, but I had a career in the hotel industry at the time) until the next day (this is where it gets weird) a company came in and bought my hotel and I was given three months severance (they always let the GMs go on a takeover). So I thought, "Well, why not?" and gave Ray and Greg some samples of writing I had done as well as the first few chapters of a book I was writing on the side. They liked it and voila, here I am.

    It's true that some companies only promote people to game designers from within, but Bioware works on games that require a lot of design and writing (hey, a million words doesn't come from nowhere) so they have hired people just for these jobs alone. They tend to require people to have scripting skills as well as creative writing skills (instead of learning the scripting as I have), but having talent doesn't hurt. There are a lot of other designers here who write great and learned their scripting skills along the way beside myself.

    So there are a lot of different ways to get into the business, I suppose.

    The "one million words" may refer to Planescape: Torment, which supposedly had over a million words of dialogue in it.

    The produce for Icewind Dale, J.E. Sawyer, used to be a webmaster for Interplay or Black Isle.

    Oh, and the two people who founded Bioware (the company that made BG2) are both doctors in Canada who just decided to start a game company.

    I'm seen this question asked many times, and more often than not someone at a game company (like Bioware) simply says, "Send us a resume, we do hire people in the normal way."

  • by Dids ( 85677 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:56PM (#252430) Homepage
    One of the most common ways nowadays is to enter a company thru QA.

    Testing games usually leads to position in game design or producer positions.

    I've seen programmers come out of QA but that's pretty rare.

    Be ready to work A LOT, game testing is one of the most thankless job I know.

    If by 'game design' you mean programming then your best bet is to start working on some demos on PC. The more you can show the better chance you have at landing a junior programmer position.

    I got my break in the industry because I used to spend my time writing demos for the Amiga back in Europe.

    Hope this helps,
  • by sprayNwipe ( 95435 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:04PM (#252433) Homepage
    I managed to get in by making mods for games like Quake 2 and Half-Life - nothing shows your skills at making a game more than actually making a small game!

    As for education, I don't have a Uni degree, and quite a few of the other designers I know don't have degrees either, so it definitely isn't a prerequisite.

    Most of the stuff that you're thinking of learning about though seems very programmer-oriented (D3D, AI coding). There is a difference between Design and Programming (and Art), although in most cases a designer also has skills in another area.

    Your best bet is to make a small game or a mod, and submit it to a game company asking for a job at doing what you like doing best. If you enjoyed making the levels and game rules, then be a designer. If you enjoyed coding the engine, then be a programmer. If you enjoyed making the models, be an Artist. If you just enjoyed playing it, be a QA guy!

    Oh yeah, also check out GameJobs [] and The GarageGames marketplace [] for positions
  • I also thought of pursueing a career in video game creation, however, I have little to no programming skills. I'd like to be the person that writes the stories for games such as Final Fantasy, ChronoCross, or Parasite Eve. As video games stories become more and more complex and moving, is there a job market for a Video Game Writer?
  • by genkael ( 102983 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:46PM (#252437)
    Date one of the people that work for the company.
  • by kreyg ( 103130 ) <> on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @10:48PM (#252438) Homepage
    There is lots of other good advice posted, but here is my story/opinion:

    I'm a game programmer. I started programming on my Commodore 64 in about 1986 while I was in high school. I didn't get too far on most of my early games, but I learned the basics of programming and assembly language. After high school I was lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depends on your point of view) to get a couple of jobs making games at a couple of small companies. I worked very hard and accomplished little there, and ended up going to university.

    I finally got a degree in Computer Science. I found some of the courses a bit redundant since I had been programming for several years already, but the whole experience was good as a maturing process. I'm much more organized and methodical about software development, and that's mostly what I was missing before university. There's more to programming than understanding the syntax of the language, in the same way that not everyone who speaks English can speak eloquently.

    Since then, I developed a game out of my basement (on contract). This is really where I got "legitimized" in the games industry - once you've shipped a game, you get a lot more respect. This got me into a position at Electronic Arts, where I am currently.

    The main thing to remember about game programming: it's not all fun and games. Games are usually extremely complex for the size of the teams developing them, schedules are extremely tight and the pressure can be enormous. You can't always just go on to something else or forget about that hard-to-find bug when it's your job. Most games get done through hard work and sheer will-power, and usually require some very smart and talented people around as well.

    So, the only advice to give (and this applies to people looking at design / production / art) is really: make something on your own time! This is easiest for programmers (it's hard to make a functioning game without code) so it might be necessary to team up with a programmer (or two, or more). Game ideas are a dime a dozen, so most people in production work their way up from QA, starting off by proving they are organized and can design games a little bit at a time. You might be better off trying to manage a project with a few people and go from there - design is 10% good idea, 90% convincing everyone else it's a good idea. Artists can show their skills by drawing, but it's more important to show what you can do with a modelling package. Making something on your own shows that you have some talent, that you are motivated, and that you would give up some of your free time to make something.

    Don't think of game programming as a job - it's a way of life. You could get by doing 9 to 5, but there are people (like me) who live and breathe programming, and you won't move up very quickly. I wake up in the morning with elegant solutions to complex problems spinning in my head. Some people might think that's a bit weird / obsessive / pathetic, but the fact is: I love programming. I can work long hours, but I still come home and play computer games and even prototype my own game ideas. If everybody did something they love as much, the world would be a much more pleasant place.
  • by RoninM ( 105723 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @06:11PM (#252441) Journal
    Nah. Innovation happens regardless of trend. That's why it's innovation, you see.
  • by ~MegamanX~ ( 119882 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @04:24PM (#252450)
    I would actually start by getting a CS degree (good math, algorithmics, ai... courses). Sometimes, I don't understand how people think... anybody (well, with a brain) can learn simple technical stuff like directx by himself over a few days. You don't need courses about that.

    Now a good computer graphics course (you can take one in your CS degree), where you learn about 2d and 3d rendering, recursive ray tracing, visible surface determination, dithering, and other basic techniques, will be interesting. Just look at the discussion (from Tim Sweeney) about the scripting language and scripting engine design Epic did for Unreal Tournament ( [])... this is serious and interesting game programming challenges that involve higher challenges that making a sprite move with directx...

    Now, if this will get you a job in the computer gaming industry, I can't tell you for sure. I just finished this month my CS degree, and I will look into that pretty soon (I already have a job in cs, but i'm really interested in games and computer graphica)

    Hope this helps,

    (P.S. English is not my first language)
    phobos% cat .sig
  • by crashnbur ( 127738 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:51PM (#252455)
    I got my first break coding for my TI-83. The TI calculators use the same (or very similar?) processor as Nintendo's Game Boy, made by ZiLOG [], and I just gradually studied the code for the chips and learned more and more about programming games in that way. Granted that aiding in the design of Game Boy games is not exactly a huge break - in fact I do very little - but I know several people who's game designing careers were sparked by an early interest in programming whatever they could get their hands on... calculators, computers, toasters... you name it!

    Don't take this entirely serious or entirely sarcastically. I aim to amuse, but I'm also partially serious. Find your foundation and go from there!

  • by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @06:19PM (#252456)
    The "experience paradox" is one of the most annoying and overrated problems in all fields. Pay no attention to it: any good employer is really looking for talent. You can show talent through demos, a good interview, personal recommendations, and the like. If a company is focused on experience, you don't want to work there because either a) the owners don't care enough (or consider themselves too busy,) to make good hires, or b) bad management has let an HR department become a power base.

    I've been programming for over 20 years, I don't a college degree, and have had several jobs. Oddly (or not so oddly,), the better the company, the less they care about paper qualifications. If you find yourself being dismissed out of hand by a company for lack of experience, ask yourself why it would be worth your while to work there.

    The way to get a great job is to be a great candidate. It's that simple. This doesn't mean "spinning facts," because if it's a good company, they will detect this.

    1) Decide what skills you have (or could have) that are useful. Be prepared to convince them. If you want to do art, have a portfolio. If you want to write code, have some source code. Be prepared to discuss your work.

    2) Be able to talk about the field (games.) What do you enjoy playing? What makes a specific game good? What feature was a good game missing? Why didn't the designers put it in?

    3) Write a "deep" demo, not a shallow one. No one cares about another bad Quake knockoff. Pick a small domain and master it. For example,

    • the shareware game "Action SuperCross" was simple 2d side-scroller, but with a physics model that was superb, and I doubt the author would have a problem getting hired at the game shop of his choice. Hell, I'd hire him for six figures if he wants to write systems code.
    • Wanna do AI code? Just write a simple simulator of 10 units vs 10 units on a square map. Probably only need 2 or 3 unit types. Show a platoon attacking a base, a squad crossing a bridge, a convey traversing contested territory. It doesn't matter if units are nothing more than circles... show the AI you say you can program.

    4) "If you wanna be a writer, write!" is a good rule. You should be writing 20K lines of code a year. This is how you hone your skills. Don't worry about the code being useful/portfolio-stuff.

    5) "The trouble with most wannabe sci-fi writers is that all they read is sci-fi." Great ideas come because you have deep knowledge of other fields. We all know about war, sci-fi, martial arts, DnD, etc. Great games come from new domains, not recycling ideas.

    6) Tell me your idea for the ultimate "FPS-RTS-MMPOLG," and I will listen politiely. Tell me your idea for a game that my mother would buy (and she probably wouldn't even know it's a game,) and I will hire you on the spot.

  • by Donut ( 128871 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @06:11PM (#252458)
    and they tend to come from three places.

    First, I hired people from the defense industry. That was easy, since I was working on hard core miltary sims. Some of the people had real simulation or real AI skills, and also liked the stuff we were working on. These people tended to be older, and had real engineering degrees.

    Second, I would hire hot young punks out of college. The prequisites for that was DEMOS. The course work was important, but WAY more important was what a person did on their own time. Mods, tech demos, school projects that actually did something real, or real jobs carried a lot more weight. Also, having that inner "drive" to do whatever it took to get the code done. These people I looked on as blank slates, and I could use them just about anywhere. They would work hard, and if I watched them closely, they could learn alot. I am happy to say that a lot of those people grew up to be damned fine programmers, working on award winning titles. One was the lead programmer of Deus Ex!

    The last (but not the least) place I would look would be in the company's QA dept. Our QA staff (back in the day) was the best in the industry. Those guys would know more about our games than we would. They would often do things on the side (tech demos, modding our games) that would make me want to have them join the dev team. I have hired QA people into my teams as assistant producers, designers, and programmers. I had even better luck with these people, since I had already known them through their QA work, and those people grew into great talents. One is working on Star Wars Galaxies now!

    So, I have used three paths: Real world experience with the subject matter (really prevelant now that everyone is doing client server stuff), hot punk out of college, and rising through the ranks from QA.

    Each has its plusses and minuses. But it always comes back to hard, good work, enthusiasm, and just being a good person.


    ps. I was a young punk from college. Thank you Warren Spector and Rich Garriott!

  • by baxissimo ( 135512 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:33PM (#252464)
    That's completely silly. Run a website and game companies will suddenly hire you as a game designer? I doubt it. Learn some math, code up some demos that show what you can do. THEN maybe they'll hire you. A mod will definitely get you points. A website might get you noticed, but it won't get you the job you want.
  • by TomV ( 138637 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2001 @01:09AM (#252468)
    (I'm thinking of Crammond, the Oliver twins, Braben and Bell, etc etc.)
    two undergraduates could introduce a totally new genre into gaming with one game (Elite)

    this put me in mind of a friend who's currently doing something that could provide good portfolio (she doesn't need it, it was actually a bit of fun and a chanceto play with WML)...

    I'm thinking of WAP Elite []. What she's done is re-created the Elite environment in client-server multi-player guise, for WAP phones and emulators. A potential employer could see the site, check the gameplay, because Elite is such a classic, they would rapidly find that she's implemented all the canonical stuff with near-total accuracy, whilst still introducing new stuff (the multiplayer aspect, implementing it in coldFusion and WML etc). They could also see that she's got 300+ players by word of mouth while the game's still in Beta, and plenty of traffic at

    Now that would get me interested. As would a long list of Quake mods she's done.

    Go there. Check it out. Enjoy.


  • by LordZardoz ( 155141 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @04:06PM (#252479)
    I graduated DigiPen. There was exactly one SNES related course, and that was because they had some Dev Kit's for it. (As it is, the SNES is not too different from the Gamboy color and the Gameboy Advance, though that was the course that revealed to me the simple fact that I do not want to work at the Assembly level for any length of time if I can avoid it). And DigiPen is not only for US students. It is for anyone who can afford the tuition and living costs. Also, I have yet to work on a Nintendo Console, though I would not mind the chance to do so.

    At the time I graduated, there were plans for the new course to incorporate more recent console tech. Though I cannot speak with any accuracy on what they teach now.

    As for how much weight A DigiPen diploma carries, it varies. Some companies hired DigiPen grads, liked what they got, and hired more. Others did not like what they got, and those companies did not hire more.

    Since I am currently employed and truly love my job, I have to say that for me, DigiPen was a great choice.

    And as for the primary thread, I can say the following. The one thing that helps for getting a job as a designer is knowledge of a wide range of games.


  • by _|()|\| ( 159991 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:32PM (#252483)
    Here's another vote for Gamasutra []. Check out the Business and Legal features.

    Also, check out the Ask Devs section of Voodoo Extreme []. Kevin Levine, Brian Hook, and Tim Sweeney have addressed this topic.

    "Meet the Next Game Gods" in PC Gamer 11/00 touches on how some current designers got their start.

  • From what I've seen (I've been in the Half-Life mod development community for over a year now) is to get involved with an editable game and do some design work. Come up with ideas and implement them. In my (albeit limited) experience with CS, you don't learn much if anything that's directly applicable.

    Not to pimp myself unduly, but I've learned a LOT about large-project management, design, and the like by working on my own projects for Half-Life(Granted, HL's not Linux friendly yet, but the same deal applies for really any game. It's just that HL has a very actuve community). Nothing will prepare you as well as actual experience will... I know probably half a dozen people who were hired at games companies solely because of their work on a mod or independant game. They're looking for those kind of people, and if you happen to be where they're looking, well... =)

  • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:03PM (#252488) Homepage Journal
    From a personal experience, companies may rate interests and hobbies very high. I've never had formal training in electronics or coding (well except bits of op-amps and FORTRAN with physics :-), yet I've been hired for responsible positions in serious projects involving both. Real life experiences are usually valued more than theoretical education. Of course, the best of such experience is often from a paid work... Nevertheless, if you're interested and talented in a certain area, why not get the formal qualifications as well?

  • by IvyMike ( 178408 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:51PM (#252492)

    I recommend a CS degree; you'll learn higher-level concepts that will be hard to pick up otherwise. However, you might not apply those skills day-to-day.

    For that, the only way to go is to start programming games. You might not be able to make a world-class first person shooter during your spare time, but you might be able to make a Wolfenstein 3D. Consider it a necessary part of your education; you will never take a class that teaches you all of the skills, so you have to force yourself to make time. The experience you gather from doing something like this cannot be gained any other way.

  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:51PM (#252498) Journal
    How can you gain experience if all jobs require you to have had prior work experience?

    As a rule of thumb, it usuallu takes 5 to ten years to get enough experience and expertise at something to be good enough that someone would want to hire you for a skilled position. This includes related experience, and all of the school of hard knocks stuff. This works out to be about 10,000 hours of screwing around with something (40hr.wk X 50 weeks/year X 5 years) You can short cut this to some degree by being talented, or putting in an awful lot of hard work, more hours per week. This is not restricted to formal schooling

    Note: Prior Experience with related stuff will count against this. Also, hours daydreaming, watching tv shows, and other brain fart class activities do not count. There is an awful lot of learning time that gets wasted, instead of being really focussed and picking something apart.

    (I would love to see a graph of learning rate plotted against IQ sometime. I wonder where the point is where someone learns 2 or 3x faster than a normal person.)

    Here is a possible plan of attack:

    • At age eight to ten, really get into games, get really good at them
    • At age twelve or so, get bored with just playing the games. Pick up a book to figure out how to add levels to the games you do play (such as doom, quake, or whatever) These certainly used to be availble, but things change(?)
    • by age 13, start getting familiar with the inside of your machine, or maybe with an old throw-away machine, you might do this if you wanted to install upgrades into your box
    • By age 14, get into messing with the game engine. This is certainly available for a number of games. Use this to enhance your games.
    • by age 15 start getting into somekind of programming so you can start doing your own stuff, especially building more exotic addons for your favorite game.
    • By 17, actuallly build something that runs somehow.
    The order is somewhat arbitrary, and shows how you could get several thousand of hours of related experience while being a teenager. Y'know spending maybe 20+ hours /week messing with the stuff. And you have a portfolio that has been debugged with the help of all your friends.

    Now if you do this while in college, you would have to put in more time while doing classes at the same time. This could get intense as you could be putting in 80 hr weeks (courses, course work, game work, design) on top of trying to make money, and socialize. (This may be why some geeks have not developed all of their social skills.)

    Now If you are older, you'll have to fit this in while indulging in this thing called "having a life", because the earlier plans take advantadge of your free time as a teenager to get things rocketing. Later on, this becomes more difficult, and it becomes far more difficult to find 10 or 20 or 30 free hours in a week to get things rolling. To get the requisite 5 to 10 thousand hours of practical experience will take longer if your are devoting only 5 or 10 hours per week. It is easier if you have a job in a related field, even if it is something like a repair shop at "Computer Jungle" or whatever the local shop is.

    So that is a quick overview.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • by dstone ( 191334 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @04:20PM (#252502) Homepage
    I have worked in the games industry for 10 years on and off, on platforms from Game Boy to PC and many consoles in between. For companies like EA [], Relic [], and some that shall remain nameless. Between projects in games, I've worked in "traditional" software for about half that time.

    My summary (it varies from day to day) is this...

    The games work is much harder, much more challenging, sometimes well-paid, sometimes not. And I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. The most brilliant programmers I've worked with are game programmers, bar none. (Not the most organized or best planners, though!) I hope this doesn't sound too idealistic, but... Games aren't made because they're necessary or because a client needs a feature set, or because a competitor is neglecting a niche in the market. Games are made for really noble reasons, IMHO -- so people can have fun, and interact, and be challenged. People play (and hopefully, buy) your creation. And they use it because they want to. That's rewarding. To me.

    I have a degree in CS, which still puts me in the minority of games programmers. I have programmed, led, hired, and designed. (Though design is becoming less and less accessible to programmers.) I believe that on the planning, organization, and methodology front, some education and non-games experience is good for the games industry. But make no mistake: you're going to suffer a bit working in that industry. So it's all going to come down to single-mindedness and passion to make a game. If you don't have that, then don't waste your time -- you'll make more money and be happier elsewhere. Projects are getting longer and longer. Budgets are getting bigger and bigger. And of course, it's Big Business now, so occasionally corporate boneheadedness gets in the way. So do it because you want to. And have a backup plan for when you burn out. Then take some time off, and throw yourself back into the trenches. It's the Good Fight in software.

    By the way, if Vancouver is in your range of acceptable places to live (and it should be!), then those two companies I named above are fantastic places to work.
  • by Nakoruru ( 199332 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:06PM (#252505)
    If you want to be a designer, then programming skills are not completely required. Design, most of the time, is a management position. Its like being a movie director, you don't nessecarily need to know all the ins and outs of how to use a camera.

    It sounds like you want to be a programmer. For that, you need to know math fairly well, especially Linear Algebra for 3D Math. Program everyday and put together a portfolio of demo programs. Its not nessecary to do everything from scratch! Game developers are looking for people that can take existing librarys and put them together. One way to show them that you can work with existing tools is to do a game mod or two for games like Unreal or Quake.

    Get together with someone who can do artwork and/or music because programmers are rarely artists, and you won't have time to do good artwork and program anyway. Either create your own engine, demo programs, and/or mods and put it all together so you can send it along with your resume to game developers. Make sure its easy to install and virus scan it.

    Read, read, and read some more, and write programs to make sure you have learned what you read about.

    Good books are:

    OpenGL Programming Guide

    Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice - by Foley, Van Dam, et al

    3D Game Engine Design - by David H. Eberly

    Mathematical Elements for Computer Graphics and Procedural Elements for Computer Graphics

    Good Luck!

  • by Natak ( 199859 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:19PM (#252506)
    Something I've never understood is to many people think that just by playing video games and having ideas would mean they would be a great game designer. I'm not a total expert on how to get a gamming career, but I have turned down job offers from gamming companies (development jobs, not designing), and my current job involves designing software (non game related), at the same time I know several people who do work for gaming companies and I've talked with them about their career path and what it takes. So here is what I know.

    I believe several players think they could be a great game designer because they think of features or ideas that are not in their current game, and then poof 6 months later they see the same feature idea in a different game and they think "hey I thought of that first". Somehow gamers think this will also make them a great game designer. First, most game designers will also be the project manager. The reason for this is the game designer has to weigh the feature idea, to how much effort it will require to implement the feature, along with issues such as staff, figuring out how much art work is required, how much development work would be required, etc. A project manager has to put a dollar value on a feature, and has to weigh it constraints. Designing games or any software for that matter is not just sitting down and thinking up cool features. Anyone can do that. So back to the original question, what does it take to become a game designer? Well given a feature idea, you have to have a good idea on what it takes to make that feature a reality. This means you need to either know how to program the feature yourself, or you've been involved with enough projects first hand that you can make a really good guess. This is why the majority of great game designers are also programmers themselves. But even being a programmer it isn't enough, you just have to have enough projects under your belt that you can run a project with your eyes closed. So if you can do that, you are ready to be a game designer. How do you get enough projects under your belt? Well you get a job working for a game company, and you either write software, create levels, or do art work. I'm not talking about some little mod, but you work as part of team. Do that for several years, get promoted and then one day your name will be on a cover of the next greatest game. You also have to realize, that making games is a businesses. As cool as making games is, it has to turn a profit. So in order to be a game designer, you also have to be in a position where you can be trusted. Some biz guy is going to give you several million dollars, and say ok go make a game that can make me even more money. How is someone like this going to trust you? The only way is if you've done 5 other projects that where all successes.

    The route takes a lot of time, but there is one other way you can do this, start your own game company. The guys at Blizzard where just a couple of guys in college who wanted to do games. Day 1 they where game designers. You can do that to, just be expected to use a lot of your own money, and make sure that if you start you will never give up. You can succeed. I belivie this route may be difficult, because you will be competing with real game companies, but its possible. Now days you see lots of game companies going out of biz because it's a difficult market.

  • by arnald ( 201434 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:49PM (#252507)
    The sad thing is, it's far harder to "break into" the game industry in the same spectacular way as did, say, the wunderkids of the 1980s. (I'm thinking of Crammond, the Oliver twins, Braben and Bell, etc etc.)

    These days, there's such an emphasis on expensive production effects (full motion video, Hollywood actors, life-modelled action, and so on) that you can't really do anything that competes on your own.

    Such is the price of progress. It's a far cry from the day when one teenager could write a best-selling game (Jet Set Willy) or two undergraduates could introduce a totally new genre into gaming with one game (Elite). The question is, have we lost something? Does all this glitz and glamour stifle true innovation?

    Over to you kids...

  • by vslashg ( 209560 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:48PM (#252510)
    You're never going to gain the requisite skills if you post to /. all day! ;-)
  • by ROBOKATZ ( 211768 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @04:43PM (#252513)
    Don't listen to any of these fools. Everyone in the game industry is working now, not reading slashdot.
  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @05:49PM (#252516)
    Most of the post throught the thread talk about all of the ways in - and there are a lot of different ones from coding your own demos and shareware releases to mods to 3D showreels to QA.

    What they tend not to be focusing on is that part of it is blatant self advertising:

    • The creator of the Worms series of games walked up to Team 17 at a trade fair, loaded up his admitedly amateurish but original effort on one of their Amigas and said "This is what I can do.
    • If you read the Lionhead website [], the guys who are the makers of Black and White, they talk quite a bit about how their team members got noticed. One of their coders entered a game design competition when he was a kid that Peter Molyneaux was judging with the prize being to work at Bulfrog. He was too young to enter but just wanted to meet Peter. As a result Peter followed his progression through university and when the time was right offered him a job. I believe their web designer was a QA tester who knew a little HTML and volunteered.
    • Even in the movie industry, there was a thread months back about two kids who sent in their 3D showreel to Lucas Arts and ended up doing albeit minor roles on Episode 1.
    The moral of this post is - there are a huge number of opportunities but most people who take them don't do anything to distinguish themselves. If you're doing QA, use it as a chance to volunteer to help on other projects. If it's a mod, design one perfect level rather than 30 good but not unique attempts. If it's a demo, find out where the heads of the companies you're interested in will be and find a way to show it to them. You need to be something more than one of the many hopefuls.

    Finally, a common cry from most of the 3D people who see a constant stream of showreels. "Don't send an animation of a spaceship - we've seen it all before. Show realistic moving light through a window or great character animation. Focus on one thing you can do brilliantly as most projects have a lot of specialists not one person filling every role. Most important, don't send in a group project - how are we supposed to know what you did and what's other people's work?"

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2001 @06:20AM (#252518) Homepage Journal
    You have to want to write games.

    Let me correct that, you have to really want to write games. You have to want to write games so much that you actually write games! You write in Java or C++ or Visual Basic or even C on your Linux box, but you have to want to write games. Writing games is inventing the puzzle in reverse and if you don't enjoy doing it, just to satisfy yourself that it can be done, you should reconsider. But if you have the moxie to come up with an idea and work through the programming challenges, you should be good as gold.

    Today's shops are all full of teams, much like filmmaking. Producers, technical consultants, graphic and sound artists, and even, in some cases, actors; all managed and accounted for by an office of managers, paper shufflers, meeting facilitators, bean counters, marketing, etc. If you don't fit in as a designer, there's many of these aspects you might consider.

    The best true guage tho, is if you actually have what it takes to sit down and code up games on your own. The tools are out there.


  • by BigumD ( 219816 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:45PM (#252519) Homepage
    I can't imagine a better way to break into a game company other than getting involved in the industry. Run a gaming website (or work for DailyRadar... oops! heheh), make mods for existing games (the guys that did 3wave CTF and Rocket Arena got jobs this way), or even do skins (read: Paul Steed). Anything that you can do to attract the development companies' attention has got to be a definate plus.
  • by infiniti99 ( 219973 ) <> on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @07:14PM (#252520) Homepage
    I started a small company last year (Affinix Software []) and we're working with GameBoy Color. The good thing about making a game for a low-end system like this is that it is actually possible to create a good game with a small team on limited funds. Once we get "our foot in the door", we should have no problem expanding to other platforms (our next target is GameBoy Advance).

    This is all without any CS degrees in the company, however we all are extremely experienced in our respective areas. The two programmers, Hideaki and I, got quite a bit of experience from our days with the TI scene/community []. Because these calculators use a very similar processor to the GameBoy, we were able to walk right into development. It is actually quite common for TI folks to move over to the GameBoy world (see Icarus Productions []).

    Unfortunately, the GBC is about to be phased out for the GBA, so it's a little late in the game for you to begin a GBC project. However, a GBA game still does not take quite a large team as the powerhouse systems (PS2, XBox, GameCube, PC) do. So if you want to enter the market, I say enter from there. Of course, this advice is really only useful if you plan to start your own company.


  • by mike260 ( 224212 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @04:09PM (#252521)
    You work 80 hours a week (no overtime), have co-workers egos to battle with, endless paperwork. Every aspect of the code has to be documented. Programmers have nothing to do with the creative process, that is up to the producers, designers and publishers.

    Wow, my experience of it is pretty much the opposite of yours. Unlucky, dude.

    Yes, we work stupid hours with no overtime at my place when it's needed. But I find my co-workers all have their egos in check and they keep mine in check too. We don't document code much, we just communicate well. Coders have plenty of say in the creative process. Yes, publishers are a gigantic pain in the arse, but that's what management is there for - they deal with it and filter out the worst of it.

    All in all, it's a shitty job and not worth the effort.

    In terms of salaries, I totally agree that it's not worth the effort - you could make a hell of a lot more money with the equivalent skills elsewhere. But where else could I find a job where:
    - I can wander into work at 11.00 in casual clothes
    - The company has a budget for buying cool video-games and movies and stuff
    - I like and respect everyone who works there, including the guy who's nominally supposed to be my boss
    - Just dreaming up a cool new algorithm or special effect is reason enough to go ahead and spend time investigating and implementing it
    - The end result of my efforts is something *fun* that I can *play*

  • by PVTRonin ( 228335 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @11:05PM (#252523)
    I must preface this reply:

    This is my first so forgive minor breeches of ediquette(and mispellings)
    I am a college student now trying to get into this field.

    Now here is what I know:
    thios is for the software companies:
    programmers skip ahead

    A CS degree is worth nothing, at least not at my school. There are no classes in most universities on actual windows programmig. Many universities don't know what language they want people to code in.
    What does this mean to you. You get a guy for 75G's that can write "hello world" in basic, cobol, fortran, and maybe in VB. Yeah, hew/she knows what an 8bit cache is, but so can 255 out of every 511 people, coder or no. In college you have no time to write your own code. If you are going to be competitive in todays classroom you must spend at least 25 hours outside classroom to keep up. so if you take 15 credit you will spend 52 hours a week on school, not counting nutrition, sleep, and in the case of those of us who's parents wheren't coders to, work to get through school. You do the math you'll see what i mean.
    A degree in Cs means nothing next to 2 yearts of good hard coding.
    "Don't believe the hype"

    This is for the future programmers

    Step one:code
    If you can't code "hello world" then you can't code DiabloII. Code a lot. Sit a yur computer and when you find a progream that sucks fix it. Write a new program that fixes the problem. Your eyes will go bad and you'll get carpal tunnel, but that's the price of success.

    Step two:don't code
    If you don't have another job or enjoy sports, then you will hate your life and you will be a bad game designer. Get out play frisbee, drink with your friends.

    Step two b:code
    take those things you esperienced while out and turn those into programs. Here is an example, my roommate is a big drinker,he is also a programmer, so he took a drinking game called power hour and wrote a progam to make it easier to play.

    Step three: Game on
    You have to love games to be ready to code them. If you can't play for hours and enjoy it, then yu'll never code for hours and enjoy it. So Game on, you deserve teh code break by now

    Step four: code
    I know it's getting repeatitive, but now you've looked at another game,a proffesionl game. So what sucked, what was cool. How can you incorporate that into your game.

    But wait there's more...
    Ther are other things you can do

    Make connections. Everyone says to write a game. That's pretty big undertaking especially the first time and later when you make bigger projects, so make geek friends. It doesn't matter if you've met, work via or something. You can do bigger cooler projects, your more visable, and like any class if you don't understand you've got a study buddy. Another recommendation in this area is the national Game Developers Conference . get on the volunteer programand you can met fellow programmers and companies.

    Last thing other than more coding:
    there are a million webstites out there just for this. I will not list them all, just run a search and go to all of them. Bookmark it than read it for updates daily. Read books, there are tons of books out there, programming, windows programming, game programming, openGL, DriectX. You want to know everything about all of them. So read, then code some more.

    Wow, this seems like a lot of work.

    just remembe what Henry Rollins once said:
    "The scars will take me far, they always do."

    Good luck and remeber me on your way up, I'll be out there looking for a job soon.
  • by wrinkledshirt ( 228541 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:50PM (#252524) Homepage

    here []

    If you're keen on building games, you ought to be hanging out on sites that deal with them, like the Linux Game Development Centre [] or Gamasutra [] and such.

  • by openbear ( 231388 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:13PM (#252526)
    I came across this article a while back and for some reason mentally filed it away. Read through it, it appears to answer all of your questions. Its by Kenn Hoekstra at RavenSoft.

    Getting A Job In The Game Development Industry []

    Here is the index of the article:
    • Introduction
    • The Basics
    • The Question of Education
    • 2D Art
    • 3D Art
    • 3D Animation
    • Game Designer (Idea Guy/Think Tank)
    • Level Design
    • Programming
    • Sound Designers
    • Webmasters
    • Writers
    • Putting Together A Resume
    • Where Are The Jobs?
    • Interviewing Skills
    • Get Your Foot In The Door
    • I Have A Great Idea For A Game...
    • Last Minute Advice?
    • Recommended Reading
    • News Groups
  • by shik0me ( 235948 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @05:57PM (#252531)

    What you've described is exactly what my friend did. I'm graduating from college this May. A buddy of mine from HS enrolled at the same time I did, so he'd be getting out too - if he hadn't dropped out to work for EA. This kid skipped class almost all the time, drank like a fish, and thought having a "3.0" meant your car wasnt as good as the Mustang 5.0.

    But although he wasn't a great student, he WAS a great level designer - he spent all his spare time playing Quake and Quake 2 and making levels for them. I thought it was the biggest waste of time until sophomore year, when he told me he was packing his bags and moving to sunny Cali. His starting offer two years ago was higher than mine is now. So you never is funny like that.

    (and if you're reading, Sean - rock on, I'm proud of ya.)

  • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:55PM (#252541) Homepage Journal

    To be a game designer/programmer, you have to spend almost every waking hour playing Quake III, Unreal Tournament, and every current first-person shooter. Sure, I know that some kill-joys are going to tell you about becoming a proficient programmer, going to college, and all that stuff. Or they will go on about how there are so few jobs in that field and so many eager candidates that it's real unlikely you will get such a job. Don't listen to them. Just sit there day and night playing games until your fingers bleed.

  • by Srayer_CA ( 303596 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:51PM (#252553) to start at a lower position. I work in the industry, and started out as a tester. Over here, when a team needs a designer, they often look in-house. They usually start with the test department, since it's full of people who know and play games. Hell, a lot of the designers and artists around here don't even HAVE degrees. (Having one doesn't hurt, of course.) The other benefit is that you can learn how the design process works before actually diving into it yourself... not to mention learning how company politics work.

    The company I work out does mainly console and coin-op games, though, so YMMV in the computer gaming world.

  • by abucior ( 306728 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:59PM (#252555)
    I work for a major gaming company as a programmer. Most of the game designers I've worked with seem to come from a variety of backgrounds. Quite a few start off as game testers and work their way up through the ranks. Others are programmers who decided they they preferred the design side of things. Some are writers or video-game store managers who decided to pursue other careers. Still others come from even more obscure backgrounds. Often it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right experience. The main thing is you need to be able to prove to the company that you can be a competent game designer, however that may be. But getting your foot in the door is the first step. Very few people start out right in game design. Often it's a matter of working your way up from something like game testing. Best of luck!
  • by Nurgster ( 320198 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:13PM (#252568) Homepage
    As someone who worked in the mainstream game development industry, I can confirm your statements.

    You work 80 hours a week (no overtime), have co-workers egos to battle with, endless paperwork. Every aspect of the code has to be documented. Programmers have nothing to do with the creative process, that is up to the producers, designers and publishers.

    All in all, it's a shitty job and not worth the effort.

    BUT.... if you really do want a job in the industry, contact an agency. I don't know where the poster is, but in the UK there's Aardvark Swift [], Datascape [] and Gamejobs [].

    Experience is not required, but good indepth programming knowledge is (I was quizzed on preventing memeory fragmentation and fast database sorts. I wasn't asked a single questions about graphics).

    I have no qualifications, and all my expereince before the games industry was working as a sysadmin.

    I got involved with GameDev.Net (me=Godfree^) which was all the C.V. filler I needed. Oh, and I was writing a book a game programming at the time.

    That;s it.

    P.S. I was drunk during my first interview, and got the job. Maybe being drunk helps...

  • by kruhft ( 323362 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @02:59PM (#252572) Homepage Journal
    I've worked in the game industry for about 6 years now, and I'm not sure if you really understand all that much about what you're asking. Game designers and game programmers are two completely different beasts (except for a select few, but most of those have moved on to being producers in recent years (lord british, etc)).

    You can get all of the basic skills of being a game programmer from a CS or Comp. Eng. degree. But remember, those are the basic skills. The main thing that seperates the good programmers from the bad is experience. Being able to create a doable schedule and make milestones is just as important as knowing killer 3d and ai hacks. As a game programmer you don't really have that much input into the design of the game simply because you are too busy trying to get everything done on an impossible time frame. Sometimes you have say in the design but that job is better left to...

    Game designers are people that eat, live and breath games. Most of the game designers I have met have generally been people that were good at thier job (testing, art generally, but sometimes programming) but wanted to move up the food chain. The best skill a game designer can have is the ability to organize reams of data and present it in a clear and coherent form for the programmers and artists (in the design doc). Having moved from the more technical side of game development they have a better idea of what goes into each part of the game, be it technical or artistic.

    The best game designer i know was an artist that started out on the Atari ST and worked his way through all the consoles up to the Playstation. He had great technical knowledge about artwork and the limits of each console and could design the game appropriately for whatever system he was working on.

    With all that, your best way to get a first break is as follows. If you have no skills whatsoever, try and get into the testing department. Slowly but surely, if you're good at your job, you will have to chance to learn the skills that will let you move up in the company (just don't but everyone while they're working :). If you have or art taking a CS degree, try and get a co-op term during school, or try and get an entry level position on one of the game or tools teams. Then you just work and work and work while you get some real experience making games. It's kinda like climbing the corportate ladder, but slightly more fun.

    But always remember, making games is fun, but it's not as glamorous as it seems.

  • by Magumbo ( 414471 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @03:01PM (#252580)
    Yeah, but simply having eye candy doesn't make a good game. I mean, look at nethack. I know it doesn't have the widespread appeal of your typical first person shooter, but it is a far superior game.

    I think gameplay needs to come before flashy effects. People will notice quality in the long run, so if you can do this you CAN make something that competes.

  • The sad story is that some kids (including myself) go to get a CS degree simply because they play pc or video games whenever they're not doing homework. "Duh. I like playing Metal Gear. Therefore it follows that I'll enjoy programming." That was my mentality, anyway.. NOT GOOD. You have to love math and graphs and lab science to begin with. 7 years experience as an adult:

    - place science first in your life (assuming that's you're 1st love and philosophy)
    - happiness second (ie stick to your hobbies, quit your job if you're miserible, etc..)
    - money is third (assuming you want to eat and maybe support a family someday)

    Not that you should listen to me, for I am only One Man.
  • by Zileas ( 448517 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2001 @06:07PM (#252594)
    I'm a young game designer myself, with 1.5 titles under my belt (intern on dark reign 2, lead designer of Strifeshadow)

    There are a lot of ways into game design, and a number of skills that are useful.

    Designers get their jobs one of four ways:
    1) They get peter principled up from game tester by kissing ass or seeming particularly smart.
    2) They are good game programmers who have a knack for game design, and manage to switch over
    3) They are a management guy (assistant producer) who feels he has a knack for game design, and transfers over (I say he, because 90%+ of game designers are male)
    4) They cut into game design directly by displaying an extraordinary understanding of game design either through level design, making a shareware game, or extreme playing skill + analytical ability.

    The skills/qualifications necessary for good game design are:
    1) Strong understanding of systems design, or even if you dont possess a formal knowledge of it, an ability to make "big-picture"-centric decisions on a project. Game design is ultimately about taking a core set of atomic gameplay "fun elements" and building a game system around them. Thats an engineering project -- make a vehicle based on a combustion engine, design a software system for certain strengths, etc. I personally feel that engineers are better qualified than most other types of people because more engineers are good at systems-design related stuff.
    2) A wide playing experience (gives you good ideas, gives you a contxt to compare, gives you a feel for what sorts of things can be fun and which are not)
    3) Ability to communicate. Game designers are responsible for bringing the art and programming teams together for a common purpose, and making sure everyone understands the central vision (so they can all contribute coherently). This is the case because game design dictates so heavily how the rest of the project will be. Well most of the time...
    4) Ability to be objective and not get too attached to ideas. Game design is always a little hit or miss, and people that grow too attached to ideas can easily compromise themselves when the ideas dont work out too well.

    If you want to be a game designer, I recommend the following:
    1) Play games. With bad games, try to figure out why the game is bad, and moreso, why the designers made the decisions they did (i.e. what they were trying to accomplish, but failed at doing). With good games, try to figure out how they couldve been better, and also why they are good. Serious thought spread over years will make you very good at designing your own games...
    2) Take some systems engineering classes.
    3) Design some games on paper, analyze them, then do some more. I recommend also getting involved in game projects like shareware and MUDs -- good experience.
    4) Try to actually make a shareware game if possible, but its dicey if you just want to do design and have minimal programming skills...

    Game design, unlike what most 15 year olds think, is not about having cool ideas, or lots of great ideas. Its about choosing good ideas. Everyone has good ideas, but the best designers know how to combine them into a coherent, fun game, or better yet, come up with a gameplay concept, and assemble good ideas around it that fufill the concept. On the topic of getting into game design, like anything in life, game design comes to those who want it the most... Tom Cadwell Lead Designer Ethermoon Entertainment (a small indy developer) my ancient course notes from a class i taught over IAP at MIT:

  • by Archvillain for hire ( 448585 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2001 @01:27AM (#252598)
    This is a Frequently Asked Question for people in the game industry, and the standard response is usually along the lines of there is no such thing as a game designer, at least, not in the sense that you mean.
    Other's here have talked about the reality of the "game designer" position in the industry, so I'll take a different tack: What is it that you want to do?

    If you want to program your own AAA games, you're going to need to be in a position where a publisher or studio trusts your track record enough to finance a multi-million production with you at the helm. The key word here is track record, and in an industry where most games fail to break even, you'll exceptional ability and luck to get there. But I don't think you really want to get there - you'll discover that you spend all your time "managing" the project, and barely any time actually creating anything yourself. You also need your "vision" to be flexible - meaning the final result might not be what you had intended. Indeed, chances are your vision needs to seriously bend accommodate others, eg your dream project might be a first-person shooter, the studio says "our position in the market demands a 3rd person Tombraider clone - do it like that" and from day one your baby is not what you wanted it to be. When you're working with other people's money, you generally have to work in their interests.

    Another option is the go-it-alone garage route. These days it is next to impossible to compete with the AAA titles on a garage budget, but there is still the occasional exception to the rule. I would advise against this route however, unless you have a solid concept that is so far outside the box that it's revolutionary, and some means to support yourself during its production. Even then, I would advise extreme caution - as I said, most games make a loss. That means that even if you've spent two years of your life living on 2-minute noodles and burning the wrappers for warmth, sacrificed your free time, time with family and friends, career opportunities, etc., in all likelyhood it will not make you money. But it could be used as lever into the industry. I would advise a less harrowing lever however :-)

    Of course, you don't have to compete with the AAA titles - there is a substantial market for simpler, cheaper games. Go to the local store, find the cheap games (not old discounted AAA titles), look at who publishes them, and check out their website. Many are always on the lookout for new games. Some people who have taken this route can make a decent living, some can't. Either way, having a published game to your name is a HUGE asset should you want to get a job with a studio.

    As many have advised, the closest real-world position to being the imaginary game designer, is amateur game modding - you have the creative control. I would suggest, however, that you try to think a variant on this approach. For example, Valve have just released the beginning of new technology to greatly increase the spectator-participation potential for gaming tournaments. If you had come up with that concept and mod, eg something that makes new things possible, you'll go places FAST :)

    Working on the AAA titles in the industry, there is no escaping that you will be part of a close-knit team. You can be a creative contributor as well as code-monkey, but there is no one person whose Word Is As Law. And if there is, chances are the work environment will not be healthy :)

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard