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What Are the Best First Steps For Becoming a Game Designer? 324

todd10k writes "I've recently decided to go back to college. I have a lot of experience with games, having played them for most of my adult life, and have always toyed with the idea of making them one day. I've finally decided to give it my best. What I'd like to know is: what are the best languages to study? What are the minimum diploma or degree requirements that most games companies will accept? Finally, is C++ the way to go? ASP? LUA?"
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What Are the Best First Steps For Becoming a Game Designer?

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  • Quick advice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:32PM (#28559205) Homepage
    Get out while you still can. I can't imagine a worse career path.
  • Re:Quick advice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sys.stdout.write ( 1551563 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:36PM (#28559279)

    Get out while you still can. I can't imagine a worse career path.

    Seconded. You'll end up designing this awesome game, and then EA will be like "I don't think this plays well with our 13-year-old boy demographic" and force you to make changes which completely ruin it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:38PM (#28559299)

    C. A taste for ramen.

    D. A willingness to update your resume every six months.

    E. The number of your State Attorney General's Labor Enforcement Division, to file a complaint when they suddenly decide to stop paying you and ask you to work for free until they close the next round of funding, which is always just a week or two away.

  • by synthesizerpatel ( 1210598 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:38PM (#28559313)

    If your approach to a new career is to find out the bare minimum you need to start... odds are you're not going to excel.

    There's not a lot of stories from successful game developers that start with 'When I got in at 8am' and end with 'Then I left at 5pm.'

    If you think you've got 'it', do what the guy who did Braid did -- make it. Don't wait for someone to give you a stamp of approval. Sing it loud.

    Otherwise, stick with your day job.

  • by GreatAntibob ( 1549139 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:44PM (#28559407)

    First of all, good luck, and I hope you succeed.

    But what makes you think that having played games gives you the talent to be a game designer/programmer? Why is this a desirable profession?

    Consider the example of cars (just because it's slashdot). I like cars. I like driving cars and doing some of my own minor repair work. That said, I would absolutely hate to be an automotive engineer. Being an avid driver or mechanic enjoying a particularly well built machine is entirely different from being the person in charge of designing and building a machine.

    Or consider the example of popular fictional universes (like Trek or Star Wars). I imagine there are a lot of geeks who could spout any amount of minutiae about various ships, planets, races, etc. in a number of fictional SF worlds. That doesn't mean they would necessarily enjoy creating them from scratch. And even if they did create one, I imagine the soul-sucking mass of nit-picky fandom would quickly rob what little joy was left.

    Are you sure you don't actually want to be a game tester? It seems to be more in the line of what you enjoy about games - playing them.

  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:45PM (#28559455)

    Game development is HARD. It's definitely in the "deep-end" of computer programming. You better know some serious math, too.

    What I'm saying is, most of the game developers who have jobs doing it have been doing it "for fun" since they were kids. It takes YEARS of work/experimentation/dedication to develop the skills to write a modern game.

    If you are planning just to learn some programming and get a job in the game industry, don't be surprised if you get are stuck in entry-level positions for a LONG time. You aren't going to be game programming, per se. You're going to be debugging the installer for the game, stuff like that.

  • Game Designer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WilyCoder ( 736280 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:47PM (#28559479)

    Game DESIGNER?

    Well, you could try to create some board games or your own pen & paper RPG. No programmers required for either of those.

  • Re:Quick advice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by coastwalker ( 307620 ) <.acoastwalker. .at.> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:48PM (#28559503) Homepage

    Being a game designer is a vocation. Anyone asking the question "what is the best way to become a game designer" will never make it. There is no best way, you have to fight your way in by being both excellent and probably cheap and overworked in most cases.

    Why not aspire to work on head up displays used by the military, you should get paid pretty well, not lose your job in a recession, occasionally get to blow things up for real, work on a really important game. There are tons of exciting things you can do that don't involve dedicating your life to satisfying the desires of pre-pubescent boys. Graphics software for medicine, for chemistry, for car designers. Realtime software for transport systems, for robotic factories, for space shuttles.

    Good grief, who the hell wants to be a game designer? what a dull occupation that must be.

  • You are confused (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:48PM (#28559511)

    "what are the best languages to study? What are the minimum diploma or degree requirements that most games companies will accept? Finally, is C++ the way to go? ASP? LUA?"

    You seem to have confused "game designer" with "game programmer". A good game designer would be able to create a good game out of a story, a die, some arbitrary rules, and his imagination. It sounds like you are thinking of a different job description.

  • Re:Quick advice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nEoN nOoDlE ( 27594 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:53PM (#28559595) Homepage

    He didn't say he has a lot of experience in game programming. He said he has a lot of experience WITH games, just like you have a lot of experience WITH porn, space movies, and the Risk board game. As such, being passionate about gaming is definitely a plus in making great games.

  • Finish Something (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:56PM (#28559671)

    Look around any indie game developer forum and you'll see tons of posts about games that sound great, but only a handful of posts about games that are working and finished. Many of these get through the initial design stages, but their creators stall out at some process after that. Sometimes the design is simply too complicated for a first project. Sometimes they get a few lines of code down, but never return. Sometimes they implement all the interesting parts, but get hung up on the final details necessary for making a release.

    My first suggestion is to use Apple as a model and never talk about things you are planning. Only talk about things that are finished or very close to finishing. You may need some outside programming help at some point along the way, of course, but there's rarely a need to get too specific about your game when asking for help.

    Second, finish something. It can be a simple as a pong clone. Doesn't matter if anybody ever downloads it, just finish it and release it. Just getting that far puts you above 90% of the indie "developers" out there.

  • Re:Quick advice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LrdDimwit ( 1133419 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:56PM (#28559681)
    To put the point more directly, don't try to get a job as a game designer, then start designing games. Once upon a time, in the late eighties, this is how things were done. Now, trying to become a game designer is like trying to become a movie star. Huge numbers of applicants mean the few entry level designer positions that ARE available, are snapped up immediately by people with better qualifications than you.

    You want to be a game designer? Then design games. If you have programming skills, grab XNA or Flash, or even (like I'm using) Java and start coding something. You don't? Then get an existing games with already-developed toolsets like Neverwinter Nights or any of the several FPS'es with level editors, and get cracking. Even this is beyond you? Go buy a pen and paper RPG system, and start desigining adventures.

    If you can't hack it, then this is a sign you have not got what it takes.
  • by sgt scrub ( 869860 ) <saintium@ y a h o o .com> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:58PM (#28559727)

    what are the best languages to study?

    Considering you ask about computer languages too, I'm assuming you are being literal. Hindi and English.

    What are the minimum diploma or degree requirements that most games companies will accept?

    High school dropout with proof of code.

    Finally, is C++ the way to go? ASP? LUA?"

    C++ and LUA.

    IMHO Listen to the "don't do it responses".

  • by Matthew Weigel ( 888 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:00PM (#28559753) Homepage Journal

    There's not going to be a simple answer to your questions. If you want to make games, make games. You can write them in Flash or Objective-C or Perl or PHP or Lisp or C++ or... Obviously you'll have a little trouble writing an iPhone game in Flash, or a Flash game in !Flash, so choose the right tool for the job; but if you're in college, your goal shouldn't be to learn a single tool and then pretend that all the jobs you might get later in life use that one tool.

    Also, most of the game industry doesn't care about your degree(s). They care about what you can do, and in particular how you've demonstrated that you can do things by having done things. So do things, and get them done. Get the degree to help you have a career to start on, a career to fall back on, and a career to move on to... burn out is common, and doing this your whole life and then retiring is ridiculously rare.

  • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:11PM (#28559991)

    Sorry to burst your bubble but game designer/game programmer is one of these professions that you can't just say "hey, I know what I wanna do in life, I want to be a X. Now I'll just go to college to become that!". You can't right out of the blue suddenly decide to go to college to become a successful game designer/programmer/pianist/geologist/astronomer/graphical artist, because to have a successful career in those things you need a passion, and if you had the passion for it then whatever you want to make into a career would be your hobby to begin with.

    From what you told us you don't seem to have any such passion, it sounds more like you decided "hey that sounds kind of cool, I'll just put my mind to it and surely I'll succeed". It doesn't work that way, because half of your colleagues will be people who code 512 byte demos in ARM assembly in their spare time just for fun, and who've been doing that type of thing since a decade before you had the bright idea of considering making games. My advice would be, either follow whatever passion you REALLY have, or go for a job that doesn't take any.

  • by robthebloke ( 1308483 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:28PM (#28560361)
    I'm sorry, but having been a programming lecturer at the ncca, i actually think it's the worst possible place to start. The industry uses C++; standardized API's (eg, openGL, D3D, openAL); middleware (physX, morpheme); and is largely based in 3D graphics (BSP trees, quad trees, quat blending, shaders etc etc).

    I can't see any advantage in wasting time with a basic-like language, on hardware that has very little relation to current consoles (single threaded, no GPU of merit). It may be of some benefit to programming handheld consoles (ok, just the DS), however even that is not going to help in a few years time (the next generation of handhelds are likely to include fairly powerful GPU's - eg PSP).

    There is a huge amount of information to learn and digest before you can expect to get a job in this industry, so spend time learning that (by writing games) and not on information that has little real world usage.
  • by mugnyte ( 203225 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:14PM (#28561299) Journal

    Well, to expand on the above... IF you really want to build that passion, then guided learning is best. You'll not waste time on the wrong things, and you'll learn quickly if an unbearable amount of work - even to make something as stimulating as a game - is your type of thing.

      New people are necessary in all careers all the time, except you may have to compete viciously. If you want to make a game, this is much different from wanting to make a living (in games).

      Think of game design and game programming as different. Think of game programming and programming as similar. Think of math and programming as similar. Think of design and art as similar.

      Do you have a passion for art? Do you sketch, draw, model characters, sets, stories? Can you write a compelling narrative?

      Do you have a passion for programming? Do you tinker with visual environments, from 2D to 3D on any platform at all?

      If you don't - you should begin. You should fill your time with this - all of it. The only time you shouldn't be swimming in this is when you're tasked with homework or job work. That's the level of competition in these arenas. Start immediately, and remember that your progress needs to quite fast. You're not going to become a game programmer (or much of any kind) by stealing a few hours after the kids go to bed each week. Instead, live & breathe it. Showering and all the rest is up to you, but various circles will give you credibility if you wear the stains of devotion on your shirt.

  • by grahamwest ( 30174 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:17PM (#28561357) Homepage English.

    I am serious. I make games for a living and the most useful tool overall is written communication with the rest of the team. Nobody can remember how every nuance of a game should work so being able to go to the internal wiki or wherever and re-read the explanation is hugely important.

    Also, make games. Lots and lots of games. Board games, card games, dice games, any kind of simple game. Look at other games - start with very simple games - and think about them critically. Examine each part of the game and try to figure out why it is that way. If you can't deconstruct games like this you've no business being a game designer.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:19PM (#28561399)

    Game Designers don't write code, Game *Developers* write code.

  • Re:Quick advice (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:25PM (#28561489) Homepage Journal

    And what's quoted above was his entire (known) resume when he got his big break.

    Wait, so you're saying that being immensely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a subject area, through both formal and self-directed education, can help convince people to back your inexpensive project? Wow, what a country!

    If the joker who posted this article were anything like Tarantino, he'd already be well versed in computer graphics and animation, artificial intelligence, and electronic music. He'd also become a mediocre professional, unable to disengage his fanboy enthusiasm to evaluate the objective quality of his own work.

  • by jrhawk42 ( 1028964 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:35PM (#28562819)
    First you need to ask yourself "do I actually want to become a game designer"? Most people think that the game designer comes up with the idea for the game, and such, but this isn't really the case. Ideas are often a collaborative effort by several members of the team mostly coming from different backgrounds. Yes some studios do it differently, but most of the successful studios make games by committee. Also you need to remember that ideas in the game industry are a dime a dozen so if you think you're an "idea man" then you're going to be worthless to 90% of the industry. Back to the topic at hand. Being a game designer means you hash out all the details of a broad design. You map out how the UI is going to interact, or write how you want a system to interact. You could be part of the level design, or mission design team that helps create the world. Also your work is always at the whim of a rogue artist or programmer who "thought it might work better this way". It seems like most people that don't know much about the video game industry want to design, but few are good at it, and most can put their skills to better use in other fields. While programming is a good/necessary skill to have it always seems like those w/ art backgrounds have a much better idea on how to design things. Most companies can hire a handful of "code monkeys" to do your programming for you, but it's hard to find a good artist, and even then communicating art isn't an easy task. I highly suggest doing art, over programming if you want to move over to design. Next you'll never get anywhere in the game industry w/out experience. Now it may seem like a catch-22, but if you're persistent opportunities will pop up. Also just because it's not professional experience doesn't mean it's not worth trying out. Companies will hire people w/ modding experience over those w/out, and if the mod experience is with their own software then they might take you over somebody w/ professional experience (don't count on it though). Last is do you actually want to work in the game industry. Playing games is necessary for the industry, but just because you like playing games doesn't mean you'll like working on them. First off if you're qualified to work in the game industry somebody else will pay you more outside of the game industry. If you make $60k a year expect to make $30k in the game industry. Second you're going to work much harder in the game industry than anywhere else. Though management in the industry is getting better it's still common for people to sleep at work, or pull 80+ hours in a week. Missing a deadline can be very expensive, and you're working w/ some of the most complicated tech projects in the world. Also just about everything you know now will probably become useless in 5 years. The technology and design in this industry change so fast that being ahead of the curve means you're already late by the time your product hits the shelves. So you'll always be learning in this job, and if you take a break from the field you're probably going to need to start all over again.
  • Step One (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ZorbaTHut ( 126196 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @06:53PM (#28565695) Homepage

    Start writing games.

    Seriously. That's the first thing you need to do. If you know C++, write 'em in C++. If you know Flash, write 'em in Flash. If you don't know any programming language, pick up GameMaker and write 'em in GameMaker. Can't draw? Grab The Gimp, read some sprite tutorials, and draw anyway.

    Then start making games. Don't make epics, don't make blockbusters, spend a week on a game and churn them out, because you'll learn a thousand times more from making ten games than you will from making a tenth of a game.

    I've recently started a project where I make a game every month, spending at most a week on it []. I strongly recommend it. You'll learn fast, and quite possibly end up with real games to show off.

    If you want to design games, you gotta practice your ass off.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351