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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.

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

        by coastwalker ( 307620 ) <acoastwalker@hotmail. c o m> 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.

        • "Good grief, who the hell wants to be a [code monkey]? what a dull occupation that must "

          Fixed that for you.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

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

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

          by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:25PM (#28560313)
          No offense, but if we keep chalking up video games to being the realm of "pre-pubescent boys" we're going to keep seeing our rights eroded away in the name of "protecting the children." Comments like that are the reason why entire nations are banning video games deemed "dangerous."

          To the OP, if you want to program video games, then start programming them. Get together a portfolio, and save your cash. Digipen institute would be your dream school, because its entirely dedicated to the development of video games. Full sail institute in florida has a number of simulation programs. Most trade schools offer interactive simulation and design specializations now as well. However if you have no portfolio to show potential employers, you're never going to get anywhere. Also, bookmark gamasutra, there are always jobs posted on there from video game companies looking for employees.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            On the downside... everyone I've met from Digipen was crazy. I used to play Capture the flag (in real life) with some of them.
        • by Chabo ( 880571 )

          The best way to become a game dev is to do it at home on the weekends. Assuming you already know how to program, start off making simple 2D games, like Pong and Breakout clones, working through Mario and Street Fighter clones, towards the more complicated games. If you don't find it incredibly boring, then keep going, because you may be able to make a career out of it.

          Most people who start developing a game on their own find that it's either too tedious, or that they don't want to bother making art (which i

        • Hey man, don't knock it too hard. Going through college, game programming is what motivated me to learn everything, all the hard stuff. Whenever I came across an algorithm that seemed to hard to understand, I asked myself, "How could this be used in a game?" Then that was enough encouragement to continue studying. After a while, I realized that there is other stuff in Computer Science that is even MORE interesting than game programming, but I don't think I would have gotten to that point if I hadn't bee
      • 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.

        So take that into account beforehand and design your game with the constraint that it must be implementable on your own personal resources.

        Of course one might also ask why has the once-innovative gaming industry gotten to the point where the opinions of some pointy-haired manager at EA affects anything expect EAs bott

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Beorytis ( 1014777 )

        "I don't think this plays well with our 13-year-old boy demographic"

        I can't believe nobody made a Michael Jackson joke. Anyway, if that's where the money really is, and you want to make a living (not just a hobby), then it wouldn't hurt to find out what that demographic wants. Shouldn't be hard to find some 13-year-old boys who want to try new games.

    • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:39PM (#28559323) Journal

      I also second, but for different reasons: "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."

      If this qualifies as lots of experience, then I have a lot of experience being a porn star, an astronaut, and world dictator.

      • 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.

      • 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.
        • Worked for me (Score:5, Interesting)

          by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:12PM (#28561257)
          I ended up getting quite a few job offers after my Neverwinter Nights modules became successful. It was flattering, but the reality is that my current job as a developer in the healthcare industry is way too good. I've managed to keep it in a recession while the gaming industry has become far more cutthroat.

          I still love making games, but purely as a hobby.
        • Re:Quick advice (Score:4, Informative)

          by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:17PM (#28561353) Homepage

          I also hear rumors that game developers earn far less money and work far more (life-destroying) hours than, well, any other sort of developer or IT worker.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Opportunist ( 166417 )

            Not rumors. I decided to jump and bail when "crunch time" turned into "normal hours". I'm not 22 anymore, and working 15 hours a day for weeks ain't for me anymore.

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

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @04:15PM (#28563571)

            When I worked as a game developer my longest week was 125 hours. I slept under my desk. That was usual but a 70 or 80 hour work week wasn't. The main thing wasn't the long hours, it was the stress, cause you'd be on such a tight deadline and yet changes to the design happened almost every day, and you'd sit there in a panic and wonder where the time was going to come from.

        • by ianare ( 1132971 )

          Yes this is probably the best (if not only) way of getting noticed. For example the Beyond The Sword addon for Civilization IV included some fan-made mods and art. And a few years back I had gotten a couple offers to do game graphics after some recruiters saw my 3D renderings online (I've been happily doing non-game programming though).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Duradin ( 1261418 )

      If you love doing something don't make it into a job. You'll end up despising it sooner than later.

      • Perhaps... Then again the old saw: "if you love what you're doing you'll never work a day in your life" certainly holds true for me and, I'm sure, many others who are passionate about their work.

        • by ianare ( 1132971 )

          It's different though, being passionate before or after starting the profession. You're much more likely to get disillusioned if you're passionate about something, and then see the reality of it.

          For me as an example, I really wanted to do something artistic and got into 3D graphics and animation, as well as 2D art. But the reality of doing art on demand, of having to create something which I feel should come from the heart, and having it exploited commercially for the benefit of some corporate monster compl

    • Old joke, updated:

      What can you get a friend who has decided to become a game developer?

      The second most important thing to give them would be The C++ Programming Language. The first most important thing to give them, of course, is a bullet in the head, now, while they're still happy.

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

      by IronChef ( 164482 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:30PM (#28562717)

      I am a game designer. And whenever anyone tells me they want to be a game designer, I tell them what a cop once told me back when I was in high school and wanted to be a cop. "Be a fireman instead." You like games? Maybe stick with playing them, instead of seeing how the sausage is made.

      Game designer is a job that has the potential to become extremely crummy. It also has the potential to be extremely rewarding. You'll hit both extremes. In a good job, the highs outweigh the lows. Good design jobs are hard to come by. Most games aren't finished and shipped.

      How do you become a designer? The question is hard to answer neatly, because there are many different "design" positions in the industry. My company has design specialties that don't exist at other companies. A highly marketable designer is flexible.

      Many, even most designers have NO developer experience. You don't need to know C++ to create a good first-person shooter level with the Unreal editor. If you are designing a game system, like how some kind of a card game works, or the way your shields regenerate, you don't necessarily need to know programming for that either.

      But for any designer, having familiarity with programming is VERY useful though. When you work with an engineer to bring a system to life you have an understanding of what is realistic to ask for.

      Though you don't need to be a programmer, most design jobs do require some kind of scripting, or at least content creation using hacky, ugly, unfriendly tools. You don't need to be an engineer, but you do usually need to be technical.

      That all said, if you are a whiz designer who is also a developer, that is an excellent skill set to have. Even so, you might not do much programming in a design position. It depends on where you are and how they do things.

      A company local to me does mostly FPS games. I know someone there, and he says that basically all the designers are level designers. That means grinding away in a 3d editor plus scripting language, making playable spaces. They do not seem to have designer/developer hybrids. Seems like you are one or the other there, mostly. Other places might not have such a division.

      Then, take a company that does MMOs. They have designers who just do the game's story. You sit around and dream up factions and NPCs and make flow charts of missions, and collaborate with level designers to make the whole package work. Maybe you write the NPCs' lines, too, and collaborate with concept artists. No programming there.

      In some companies, the engineers don't have much to do with the design. The design staff says, "it works like this" and the engineers make it happen--if it's reasonable. If the engineer is design-minded, it can be a fun collaboration. Or, management can keep devs and designers apart with barbed wire. I have seen it work both ways.

      Then, sometimes there is that guy who is a designer and is fully capable of implementing his designs in executable code... if the company structure allows for it.

      So in the end, programming games does not necessarily mean designing games, and designing games definitely doesn't mean you have to be a programmer. It depends very much on the team you are in.

      Back to the original question... what should you do?

      Make games. Use the editors and mod tools that are out there, and create some playable stuff. Or start doing paper games and making friends play them. If you are not doing something online, try to get a paper game in print, even if it's a small run and self-funded. Like an artist, you need a portfolio. If you can create material that is fun while you develop your technical skills, you are on the right path.

      What technical skills are useful? At my office I see C++, ActionScript/Flash, and SQL stored procedures. Scripting languages I see a lot of include Lua and Unreal's Kismet, but there are many options.

      Your "build" can emphasize either design or programming, but honestly being a whiz at both is the best. Helps if you can write, too, but it's rarely sought after.

      Then, you just need to find a way to get to the top of the resume pile... but that's a different story.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:34PM (#28559229) Journal
    Disclaimer: I am a developer though I don't work nor have I ever worked for a game company. In my free time, I enjoy reading The Game Programming Wiki [].

    What I'd like to know is: what are the best languages to study?

    Hmmmm, I'm not sure this is going to be a fruitful discussion. It's not too clear to me what kind of game development interests you most. The truth is that games have been written in many languages [] and developers often scoff at any guideline to restrict them from writing a game in -- say Java -- when there are more efficient languages. Assuming you want to get into console games and/or PC games, I would suggest starting out with simple authoring tools [] and just tinker with them. Download GameKit [] and get it building on your development machine. Then set weekly goals for yourself to modify the Space Invaders game by changing graphics, sound, maybe even mechanics. Once you've done that and are bored, move on to another kit/sdk.

    You see, I doubt the importance is that you know how C++ or Lua works ... they are both great languages for different tasks. It's more important that if you want to be a graphics engine guy you understand how major APIs are laid out to implement tiles and shaders and renderers ... Go here to start thinking aobut what aspect of the game interests you most [].

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

    This is a topic I could drone on for hours about. Enjoy life, man. They'll take you with a 2 year tech degree or less if you're built for coding. But don't do that. Enjoy the college expereince, go to a four year liberal arts college. Explore math, physics, chemistry, biology, literature, music, etc. I took enough music theory to major in music but I didn't. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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

    You should really concentrate on one of three types of games: web, console, PC. While the last two are related, the idea of catering to hardware probably has an effect on games. Is a PC developer going to care about Sony's Emotion engine while a console guy might live and breathe it. Honestly, fool around with Allegro, SDL and OpenGL if you're looking to do serious game coding.

    You've got a long difficult road ahead if you're going down this path. You're going to have your heart broken by Blizzard and end up over worked and underpaid at EA. Game programming seems to find you, you can only prepare yourself for it. Read John Carmack's story in Masters of Doom or just wait for the upcoming movie about it.

    I've also heard -- and I can't verify this -- that it helps to have a notebook full of sketches, stories, game mechanics, ideas you've had in relation to games. You keep this and bring it to an interview. You pass the technical aspects and then you let them know that you really want this and that you are also creative and not just technical.

    Don't forget to have fun and good luck!

    • > You should really concentrate on one of three types of games: web, console, PC.

      Which are all spiraling into oblivion at this time. Certainly footnotes by the time the OP finishes courses. Talk about out of the loop. gaming - do it - do it now.
      • The PC platform has been "dying" since NES came out. Keep in mind that, by definition, the PC is always the cutting-edge platform. I can go down to the store and buy whatever $600 graphics card is on the shelf and it will blow away anything that any console has. Consoles are fine, but the technology is obsolete as soon as it hits the shelves (and the WASD control scheme is ingrained into me - if I could play Xbox with a mouse and keyboard I might actually turn the thing on every now and then). Consoles

        • I can go down to the store and buy whatever $600 graphics card is on the shelf and it will blow away anything that any console has.

          I should hope so - you're spending twice the amount on a graphics card as a whole console costs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I've also heard -- and I can't verify this -- that it helps to have a notebook full of sketches, stories, game mechanics, ideas you've had in relation to games. You keep this and bring it to an interview. You pass the technical aspects and then you let them know that you really want this and that you are also creative and not just technical.

      I'll verify it for you. It's mainly for 2 reasons. Firstly, in most area's of software development you have a teams of programmers, some testers, customer support etc. In game development by far the largest chunk of the development team are made up of artists and animators. Since development is a team process, it helps significantly if you can communicate (well) with the artists on the team.
      The other reason is that by and large, most of the game programmers will be in some way involved in creating a graphi

    • I've also heard -- and I can't verify this -- that it helps to have a notebook full of sketches, stories, game mechanics, ideas you've had in relation to games. You keep this and bring it to an interview.

      Also, Don't forget to have the local courthouse document all pages of said folder first, in case they ask to keep it for further review. They may just use it and not credit you for it.

  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:37PM (#28559281)

    Game Programming? What in particular:
      - UI / Tools
      - Graphics, Physics
      - Networking
      - AI
      - Mobile Gaming

    But in general if you want to go into Game Programming hit a CS degree and do a game development masters. All while learning C++ and trying to develop a nice portfolio of little games you've created yourself. Try and find a Masters program with hooks into the games industry because they will be your best bet to even get a foot in the door.

    If it is Game Design they do an arts degree like English Lit and then do a Masters in Game Design. Same deal with the shoe in the door thing, find the college with the best links not the best course.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jddj ( 1085169 )
      Yeah, really - Designing a game doesn't require knowledge of a computing language. It requires design skills, story telling, previsualization, facilitation and salesmanship skills, among many other things. Look toward Jane MacGonigal [] for some leadership - she's awesome.
  • 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 smackenzie ( 912024 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:38PM (#28559301)
    You'll get a lot of decent answers, and I won't try to duplicate any of them here. My addition: amidst many mediocre books about Game Design, there are a couple that really stand out. The first one to come to mind is "The Art of Game Design": []

    While you are perfecting everyone else's good suggestions, give this one a read...
    • by eln ( 21727 )

      You'll get a lot of decent answers

      I'm not sure what site you think you're on, but this is Slashdot. Our answers are generally some variation of "don't do it" and "what are you, stupid? I said don't do it!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by GaratNW ( 978516 )
      That is a very good book. And as one of the few posts that isn't raging negativity, I'll add the following.

      The games industry is one of the least degree centric fields around. A degree will not get you a job in the industry (usually). It might land you an internship, which in turn might land a job, but in and of itself, it will not be the thing that suddenly gets you in. Focus on fields of study that matter to design. Human interaction. Psychology. Math. Statistics. Get some coding and tech skills as wel
    • and many years later ....

      P. profit.

  • 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.

    • C++ is the language of choice, as I understand it, but a Bachelor of Computer Science is really what you need. However, as parent said, there's no way you're going to get in with just a degree. Think of how many gamers there are out there, and how many of them want to make a career out of games: almost all of them. That's who you're competing against.

      You'll need a substantial portfolio of game dev work you've done, so get coding right away: Join open source game dev projects online, build your own games/pro

      • Get into a community, would be my recommendation. There's XNA for Xbox games (and that uses C#, which'll be easier to learn than C++ if you're starting from scratch.) There's Torque. There's modding communities for every game engine you've seen.

        The language question is kind of misleading, for a few reasons:

        1) You don't need to be a programmer to be a great game designer. Writing a design document doesn't require writing code; only a basic knowledge of what is possible with code. Now, that said, you have lit

    • Please don't recommend anyone following Johnathan Blow's path. He's only famous because he made the first XBLA game that wasn't awful AND was done by a single person. There are a number of other XBLA games that are far superior in quality (both by being less esoteric in the story and having superior gameplay), but they were done by teams. He also had about $200k-$300k to expend while he worked 4 hours a day and lived like he had money, and he made it in 2-3 years. He got lucky that it did well. Honestl
    • If you think you've got 'it', do what the guy who did Braid did -- make it.

      If "it" is the design document for a multiplayer party game that could be the next Super Smash Bros., then how does one get the console developer kit? Or is one supposed to develop a comparatively simplistic game for Microsoft Windows and publish it before developing his real project?

  • See a competent therapist. No rational person would willingly sell himself into indentured servitude in exchange for a salary, and that's exactly what you'll be doing by becoming a game designer.
    • While parent is a bit hyperbolic, there is a valid point hidden in there.

      Game development is an extremely competitive, high-turnover, low reward field. The new grads who want to be on the team to make the next wizz-bang game because they love their Xbox360s are legion. If you manage to beat them out for the spot, expect to be treated exactly as they would be (massive overtime, probably unpaid; lousy conditions; high stress). Complain about it and get cut loose. There's always another code monkey to replace

  • 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

  • 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.

    • He wants to be a designer, not a developer. He wants to be the Producer or Director, not the Set Carpenter. Totally different role. (And much, much harder to break in to. Heck, it's probably easier to produce a movie, frankly.)

    • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:43PM (#28560691) Homepage

      I'm a game developer, having worked at Elixir and Lionhead, and now running my own indie show --> [] Parent poster is right, most people who now work as game designers started young and worked for years. i wrote my first code in 1981, aged 11, so that's about 28 years to get to where I am now (albeit with some major detours, you can do it much quicker).
      Key points to be aware of are these:

      1) The competition to be designer is harder than any other role, so the chances of getting work as a designer are way way lower than getting a job as an artist or coder or tester, so you need to be uber-good.
      2) What most people consider to be game design is being 'lead designer' or even better 'concept designer'. These roles are even rarer. You need to run/own a studio or go solo to get this job.
      3) 50% of the coders and artists at each game company also harbour design ambitions. They are also ahead of you in the queue.

      Having said all this, you can do it, I certainly have. I've even designed games for Maxis (SimSocial) as well as my indie stuff. The key thing is, that I did it through the route of programming. I didn't have to persuade a coder to make my idea, I could code it myself, which is 90% of the battle. I have to employ an artist or three, but at the start, you can get away with coder art.

      In short, if you are one of the game design wannabes who aims to never learn any code and is afraid of C++, you are very likely doomed, unless you get in through the route of game testing, and then work your balls off or show incredible ability. Even given that, you are looking at 5+ years minimum before you get to really design. Thats 5 years of checking that barbies new riding game doesn't crash with a French keyboard and other exciting tasks.
      On the other hand if you are happy to learn some code, and willing to start out small, you can do everything yourself. With platforms such as wiiware, iphone, the web (flash and PC downloadable) there are many opportunities to get to be a game designer on a smaller scale.

      Indie dev may not sound as exciting as working at epic, but today I spent my working day fine tuning the circumstances under which AI-controlled space cruisers retreat to engage auto-repair systems*. It beats working in a call center :D
      Good Luck!

      *that was for this -> []

  • I've been developing games with XNA for the past few years as a hobby. Compared to using C++ with OpenGL or DirectX, it is very easy. The programming language is in C# (very easy to learn if you already know C++). XNA is created by MS and basically wraps around DirectX. It contains a good amount of classes that you normally see in video games, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to vectors, matrices, textures, models, managing your content, etc. My favorite thing about XNA is that if

    • I second (or fourth?) this advice. Game studios aren't going to care about what obscure technologies you're working on, they're going to care that you found the right tools and started pumping out products. They want to see you get through projects from start to finish. Essentially, they want to know that you'll be adaptable to the technologies they use internally and have the attention span to focus on what building games is really about.

      The fun part of game creation is the first moment you think of a new

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )

      Exactly. If there's one thing I've learned at my current job, it's that programming and designer are completely different things. You -can- do one without doing the other, and most companies want to keep the separated.

      The reason I never understood that before was that I have always done all of it.

      So yeah, a game designer can also be the programmer... Right up until you start saying 'in the industry', and then you can't, if for no other reason than 'there's no time, you have too many other things to do ju

  • Do it yourself!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by filesiteguy ( 695431 ) <> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:53PM (#28559605) Homepage
    First off, forget the college degree if all you want it for is to design/develop games. You can do so on your own without the degree. *** I'd suggest laearning C/C++ and at least one .NET language as well as studying/learning UI and graphic design theories.

    Now - I see a lot of comments previous to mine that suggest getting out and not working for a game company. I agree wholeheartedly. If you want to design just games, start your own game company. You will want a niche market - DS games, PC games for Thai Children, Mainframe Games - and focus on doing just that. Then you can expand out. One designer I know who's been somewhat successful is Bill Kendrick. He writes multi-platform educational games. My kids love them:

    Good luck out there.

    *** Now, I have recently hired two developers who got the job partially because they worked on games while in college. They had collaborated on a C++ based game which was installable and playable. This put the two of them above the average applicant who had only done coursework. Keep in mind, I manage a government-based software development group so we don't "do" games here. However, their experience did help them get an edge when starting. (We do most development in C#/.NET.)
    • College / Uni games courses are to help you get educated, not to get you a job.

      As parent said, you probably won't get into a games job with just qualifications, you need to show that you actually LIKE it, and that you're actually good at it, which normally means working on games in your own time.

      Three years ago I got my first games programming job while still waiting to find out if I'd passed my final year and got my BSc Games Programming degree :)

      Now, I'm days away from losing my job to the studio I work f

  • I don't think people often learn programming because they love gaming. Rather, they learn programming because they love programming.

    Take a programming course. If you are a virtuoso, you might make it even with the late start.

    Otherwise (or perhaps instead) take inventory of the skills you have now and find a way to apply them to the gaming industry. If that's a dead end, then you are starting from scratch anyway, and it will take some effort on your part to figure out what the best niche in the industry i

  • Play becomes work... (Score:3, Informative)

    by dr_wheel ( 671305 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:55PM (#28559661)

    Just because you have "played games for most of your adult life" doesn't mean that becoming a game delevoper is the best career decision for you. I am also an avid gamer. And like you, I also had aspirations of someday becoming a game developer when I was younger. I started out by tinkering with mod tools and working on game maps and such.

    I decided to take the next step and pursue a degree in CS. I quickly discovered that it wasn't for me. It's not that I couldn't do the work; I just found programming to be tedious. The amount of work involved to write even the simplest program was frustrating for me. I came out with a higher respect for programmers, and a degree in IT.

  • 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.

  • Designing a game is very very different to programming one. C++ isn't going to help you get a design job at all. If you are expecting to be a programmer in the industry, and want to influence the design aspects of a game, then to be perfectly honest you are going to be disappointed. It doesn't happen.
    If you're aiming to be a programmer, then yes C++ is pretty much required, along with a host of other languages:

    - lua/ruby/python or other scripting language.
    - GLSL/HLSL/cg
    - C#, mel, vb, tcl/tk for tools
  • wrong question? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @12:57PM (#28559707)

    Sorry if the paragraph breaks end up jumbled here; Slashdot is being weird for me.

    Disclaimer: I am a professional game developer

    Why are you asking how to be a game designer, and then turning around and asking about programming languages? Decide which job you want.

    Truly, the best way to immediately become a designer is to start your own company. Outside of that, nobody will want to hire an unknown to design things, unless you somehow have an extremely impressive portfolio. No matter how many games you've played and how great that experience is, it is an entirely different beast than designing a game.

    The best experience for designing, if you still want to continue down that path, is to read about it constantly, and actually do it, also constantly, and get lots of people to tell you how you're a bad designer, until they stop saying that. Get a subscription to Game Developer Magazine, read books on game design, and by all means design your own games. Start simple and write a complete design document for an existing game such as Pac-Man. Maybe even figure out how to make it better and incorporate that into your design. Join the nearest IGDA chapter and go to meetings. Form relationships with people in the industry and ask them to critique your design documents from a professional viewpoint.

    Now, you asked about programming languages, which is totally not what a designer should be asking. But if you want to go that route and be a game programmer, then consider what platforms you want to target, and learn the languages appropriate for that. For the iPhone, learn Objective-C++. For consoles, C++ is generally the way to go. For websites, probably ActionScript in Flash, or you could try lua in WildPockets. And if you have aspirations of being a level scripter (much easier than arbitrary game programming), then you should learn to make a mod in a variety of engines using their native languages: lua, python, UnrealScript, QuakeC, etc.

    For any route you want to take, the most important thing for you to learn is everything. By that, I mean study all kinds of topics that you might think are completely unrelated to game design: history, fashion, languages, art, avionics. After you've gotten yourself into the habit of learning with great breadth and depth, and hopefully applying your new varied knowledge to your ideas, the best way for you to get a job in the industry is to meet and hang out with people who are already in it. To that end, join your local IGDA chapter, as I mentioned two paragraphs ago.

  • by sgt scrub ( 869860 ) <saintium@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> 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 LargeWu ( 766266 )

      I would like to add...if you have to ask if ASP is an appropriate language to learn for game development, then you are WAY behind the curve, my friend.

  • The days when a guy who designed the game's main gameplay might also build the levels and code even parts of the title are long, long gone. If you learn to be a games programmer, you will be coding the engine and/or producing tools for the people who will do the actual game design work, or at the very least adapting middleware for those same purposes. You will have no official creative say in the project, and aside from a few exceptions (Kojima's MGS2 team notebooks) your creative input will not be apprecia

  • 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.

  • You question is a little confusing. You say "designer" but then talk about learning C++. I will assume you mean designer.

    As far as I know, companies like EA don't easily hire junior game designers. But a graphics arts degree would help you express your design ideas better than a computer science degree would, especially in an interview. If truly what you want is design, then you really should be approaching it from an Arts direction rather than a Science & Engineering direction. Design is mostly a creat

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mugnyte ( 203225 )

      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 ga

    • I have wanted to make computer games since I was single-digits years old.

      About 15 years of working towards that goal later, I got a games programming job. Now, a little later still, I have my name in the credits of an pretty successful tri-platform game, hopefully the first of many.

      If you really want to do something, you'll work as hard as you need to to do it.

  • So far, you seem to say you are interested in programming games because you are interested in playing them.

    What you really need to figure out is "are you interested in programming".

    Just because you like playing games does not mean you will enjoy, or even have the aptitude for, programming.

  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:20PM (#28560199)

    The question is horribly muddled.

    I want to be a game designer and then... "Finally, is C++ the way to go? ASP? LUA?"

    Sorry, lets start from the beginning. Do you want to be a game designer or a games programmer? If it's the former then language isn't really important, you should be focussing on being able to create a good interactive story so you probably really need to study something like literature or perhaps even a screenwriting class would help if you can't get an explicit game design class. Don't expect to get far though, really there's a lot of people who want to be game designers, in fact, probably too many, because everyone wants to be in control of a team that will make their dream game for them, very few actually come up with ideas that everyone else thinks is awesome too. You have to be able to develop games that everyone will enjoy, not that you think would be cool which isn't as easy a skill as many probably assume. Programming will be a help to some extent, but it's not the first thing to worry about if you want to be a designer.

    If you in fact want to be a programmer, then you need to get some basic knowledge of programming, the fact you suggested ASP is puzzling, I'm not even aware of any web based games written in ASP - I've only ever seen them written in PHP. I can only guess then that you're just throwing around terms you've seen about the net to make it look like you're anywhere near close to even beginning to work towards your ideal career. The issue is you can't even get started as you don't even seem to have a basic idea of what you want to do, or what is involved in these roles.

    So here's the best advice anyone can give based on your question - go read some places like or Actually figure out what you want to do first. Don't come back and say I want to be a programmer, come back and say "I want to be an engine programmer", or "I want to be an AI programmer" or whatever else.

    If you're wondering why a lot of responses here seem hostile, it's because you seem to be expecting answers without even bothering to put as little effort is required to even figure out what you need to ask first. If you had at least done that and figured out if you want to be a designer or a programmer you'd probably find better responses.

    Still, the Slashdot editors should've at least picked that up, I'd like to think they vet questions to see if they make sense first but judging by this one it seems like it was streamed straight from their inbox onto the front page.

    I hope this response will in itself give you a good start though as again you really need to figure out what it is you actually want. When you do finally figure out what you want, may I suggest you start by working with an indie or a mod team to at least get an idea of the facets involved in building a game first hand. I'd suggest you also read some books and so on, but most importantly perhaps - just get involved in a community like that at or somewhere that produces indie focussed engines like Garagegames or the C4 engine community at or perhaps even get involved with an open source rendering engine like ogre.

  • Just do something (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Skraut ( 545247 ) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:29PM (#28560387) Journal

    I ended up getting a job as a game producer thanks to Quake. I was playing online in a clan, and was one of the worst in the group but having fun. To help my score I "cheated" by figuring out how to modify the models in the game, and then adding the rocket attribute to all the player models. This caused them to smoke when they ran (pretty funny) and more importantly glow in a way which allowed me to see them when they hid in dark areas or were just around the corner.

    This was long before Punkbuster, wallhacks, or any other cheats. The result was I played a lot better. One of the guys in the clan found out what I had done, and his father owned a game development studio. Next thing I know I was on a plane for Silicon Valley and working as a game producer for a few dreamcast and playstation games.

    Unfortunately I was only able to continue to work until my life savings ran out. Yes the jokes about eating Tap Ramen are quite true. I was making only about 70% of what I needed just to cover basic expenses. When I asked for a raise I was told in no uncertain terms that there were plenty of other kids living with their parents who would gladly work for what I was getting.

    I'm now a sysadmin living in the midwest making about 3x what I was making in the games industry, and my mortgage payment is less than the rent on my studio in Silicon Valley. I love what I do, but am really glad I took the opportunity to work in the video games industry. Have I thought about writing something on my own, sure I have. I even have a couple notebooks with fully fleshed out game designs. And I have time to do those because I'm not working 90 hours a week on somebody else's game.

    So my advice for somebody wanting to get in is simple. Do something, anything, to stand out from the other potential applicants. Find a game you enjoy and mod it. If you're into graphics, find an open source game and help them out (Open source games are notorious for needing graphical help) Write flash games, make something with the XNA. In short, just do something. You'll find out a lot about yourself, and if you have the drive and dedication necessary to make it. Set yourself timelines, make milestones and meet them. But most importantly, do SOMETHING.

  • simply to make contacts and friends with people in the field. That's true with 90% of all jobs.

    So, go to user groups, get on forums and make contacts, buy a few lunches.

    Now, if they are real friends they will flag you off and point you to something that allows you to have a life.

    I was moving into game software met a bunch of people and realized a couple of things.

    These people are at work 12+ hours, they get paid shit and treated worse.
    Now, I was married at the time. If I was a single male, 19-24 maybe I wo

  • by Drafell ( 1263712 )
    You might find my own story interesting with regards to this subject. I more or less fell into game design, and although I still don't get paid for what I do, I get a great amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from it.

    As for languages: a familiarity with C++ is a must. Once you have down the basics, most other "C" based languages will be pretty easy to pick up.

    The project I work on has also recently released the source code for the Medusa Engine SDK, a fully featured MMO development platform. the sa
  • This is great advice. However, you need to realize that what you love is playing games. This is not the same thing as programming/designing them - much like driver a car has little to do with building one.
  • Really, most studios won't require a "game designer" to know how to program. Knowing how to work with a language like LUA or C++ will certainly be to your advantage, but it's not going to land you paying job. The only way a company will hire you as a game designer is if you can show them a game that you've designed.

    I would recommend that you start by taking an existing game and making a mod for it. A large number of games for PC ship with the development tools included: Quake, Unreal, Half-Life, Oblivion

  • The answer is easy. If you want to be a game designer, make some games. You dont need a college degree to download and start coding on any number of platforms. Everything from the PC to the Xbox360 to the iphone have free tools available and enough documentation to have you creating stuff in a couple of days. Then its up to you to keep doing it until you get good at it. But the first step is to do it.


  • The answer is.. if you want to do it, do it. Don't wait for people or schools to feed you the answer.. make a game. Get kicked in the ass by each problem, overcome them, figure it out and simply do it. I suspect you dont want to be a game designer or programmer if you are asking this question and have never lifted a finger towards making a game, you are really looking for someone to hand you the answers on a platter so you can enjoy the Rock Star life (music, not developer/game company) and you will find it
  • 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.

    1. Game designers don't get to program; game programmers don't get to do design. Design is more like writing a movie script.
    2. Games are like sausage. Just because you like to eat sausage, doesn't mean you would excel at, or even like, to make sausage.
    3. You better not be in it for the money or the fame, because you'll get little of the first and less of the second.
    4. Game companies are modern day sweat-shops; they'll run you to burn-out, and then discard as the next flock of eager, starry-eyed freshmen graduate.
  • Look at the top 20 games on If you haven't played any, don't tell me you "have a lot of experience with games". As a mere coder, that could pass. But as a designer you would need to understand the mechanics that makes each game ticks.

  • >I've recently decided to go back to college.

    It's clear that you already have a job.
    You did not mention your age, if you are above 25, don't ever try to write games, it's a vocation and you need to start young (I started at 18, I'm now 44).

    > 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.

    Okay, this counts as ZERO EXPERIENCE.
    Having played with games leads to no experience at all, and it may even be a drawba

  • Saying you're well qualified to be a game developer because you have lots of experience playing computer games is like saying you'd make an excellent mechanic because you drive your car lots, or that you're a master of cellular biology because you breathe.

    May I make a non-car analogy? If I wanted to be a writer, what's the most important thing I could do?

    A) Read lots of books
    B) Go to university and get a Masters in English Literature
    C) Begin writing small stories and see how it goes

    In a couple o
  • 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.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter