Advice for Aspiring Game Designers
Seeing as Kilgore is not even a year out of university, he has clear insight into what it means to be an aspiring game designer fresh out of school. His advice is, "Keep working on your own stuff. Don't let your skills fall away. Definitely definitely be persevering."
Though artists and programmer generally know what it means to "persevere" (keep drawing, keep learning programming languages), aspiring designers don't always know exactly what they should be persevering at. Kilgore's advice is twofold: "Designers should be reading and designing puzzles." By puzzles, he means adventure game puzzles and level designs, as long as it relates to "what you want to be doing." Kilgore believes this is the way to effectively build up a design portfolio, but the work must be constantly outpouring. "Designers should also research games as a whole: card games, board games, video games, etcetera. Just because a game is not a video game, doesn't mean its principals can't work in video games," he said. "The industry is constantly moving forward, and if you're being stagnant, you're going to be left behind."
It's just as important to recognize what you can and cannot do as a designer. "My skill set only allows me to do so much," said Kilgore. Designers need other people to make projects happen, and that's just as true at the college level of game development as it is as the professional level.
I asked Kilgore how he had gotten his game projects going in college. Kilgore said he relied somewhat on the people he knew. He suggests connecting with people who are writers, attending club meetings related to games, and taking an active recruitment approach.
"Outside of college it was very different. I relied on .... Well, I'd ask my friends, really. As soon as you find one [person], you've already kind of started something. The hardest part is finding that first one."
If you have the opportunity to make to a game developers conference, go! The experience not only provides you with networking options but gives you an invaluable insight into the inner workings of the industry.
When an aspiring entry-level game designer finally does get an interview, Kilgore says it's crucial to keep in touch with the company and the interviewers. Keep talking to them, he says, and ask what you can do now that would make you be someone they'd want to hire in the future. Kilgore used this tactic when he was interviewing, and it resulted in that company flying him to its offices for an on-site interview.
Most importantly, and regardless of whatever position you are applying for, be passionate. If you're uncomfortable with a company's games or people, don't work there. Games are fun, and making games should be fun too.
Chad Kilgore's Recommended Resources
Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design, by Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams.
Game Design Theory and Practice, by Richard Rouse III.
A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster (recommended for parents of aspiring game designers, too).