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  • Career Paths in the Game Industry

    - Mark Baldwin
  • The Writer

    Closely related to the designer—and often found working hand-in-hand with one—is the writer. While the game designer is concerned with the how to assemble a universe such that the game player interacting with the universe creates a story, there is often a specific need to integrate a rich narrative into the game, both as prose and dialogue to advance the story. These require the right brain creative skills of the wordsmith.

    Contrary to their roles in other media, such as movies and plays, writers are not (typically) the first step in creating a game. Narrative and complex story, the tools of the wordsmith, are for the most part subordinate to game design and game play. Few games have succeeded when the story has been given priority over game play. As such, the writer is creating his work in support of the game designer and the game play. Yet, as games become more complex, and the need for rich narrative and dialogue increases, the importance of the creative writer in the game design and development process likewise becomes more important.

    There are also other opportunities for the wordsmith in the game industry: probably the next most important writer on the team is the manual writer. For this, a writer needs to have the ability to understand a complex piece of software and then be able to communicate it clearly to the consumer. Likewise, composing internal documentation that communicates clearly with the development team requires a skilled writer as well.

    The Programmer

    The programmer is the oldest profession in the game industry. In the bad old days when one individual created a game, that individual had to be a proficient (if not outstanding) programmer above all else. Even today, the game programmer cannot be a “turn the crank”-style programmer, especially in the case of individuals such as John Carmack. Although game play and story are vitally important to computer games, the technology that presents the game to the game player has always been critical. For better or worse, the audiences want their games to push the technology envelope to its extremes. They want faster games, better AI, higher resolution graphics, better special effects, and so on. In addition, games, by their very nature, are almost always unique in how they process the game play and story. This requires that innovative methods be incorporated into almost any new game. This constant innovation in the code for a game requires the programmer herself to be constantly innovative.

    Besides the “typical” game programmer, there are a number of other specialties among programmers these days: 3D and graphics programmers who specialize in putting the game scenes on the screen; engine developers who specialize in the foundations that the game is built on; tools programmers who build tools in support of developing the game; interface programmers who specialize in code that supports the communication between the game and the game player; network and multiplayer programmers who are interested in how parts of the game can exist on more than one computer, and communicate between them (this is especially hot currently because of the demand for network game play); AI programmers who specialize in writing artificial intelligence for games; audio programmers who implement the sounds and music created by the audio artist; physics programmers who are concerned with how objects move and interact in a consistent physical world; and quality assurance programmers who develop the tools and means to test and ensure quality in the game software.

    The Programmer


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