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  • Academics for Game Designers

    - Michael McCoy
  •  Introduction


    As our industry matures, so does the talent pool and the expected skill level of new employees. Gone are the days when you could walk off the street, show enthusiasm, and break into the game industry. With so many industry veterans out there and wonderful new schools dedicated to preparing people for game development, you’ve got to stand out of the crowd.

    So, what should you study? Unfortunately, the answer is everything! Designers, both game and level, are jacks-of-all-trades and must know a little about everything in order to excel at their jobs. During my 12 years in the computer industry as a game designer, I’ve performed in the role of producer, game designer, systems designer, interface designer, level designer, scripter, writer, and even sound designer. Level designers must be competent game play designers, level builders, both model and texture artists, event and cinematic scripters, and extremely skilled researchers covering architecture, geography, historical time period, lighting and textures. If that’s not enough, small companies often require you to wear even more hats!

    A wide variety of skills also makes you an indispensable addition to any game company and guarantees a place of honor in the Cockroach Club: a term derived from the fact that cockroaches can survive a nuclear blast… the occasional layoffs of the games industry. Don’t you want to keep your job when companies inevitably downsize and layoff personnel?


    The talented designers I’ve worked with come from all walks of life, although the two most common backgrounds are history majors and “scroungers”. History opens your eyes to all kinds of possibilities and knowing the past, in my opinion is the key to the dealing with future. If you don’t know how countries and people reacted in different situations, how can you possibly create and maintain a believable vision of how they’ll react in your games? History also gives you a firm grip on writing, communication, and research, all of which are essential in design.

    Scroungers, on the other hand, overcome their lack of formal education through sheer enthusiasm and passion. They get into a game company via any open door (testing, customer service, sweeping the floors, etc.) and then grab every opportunity to learn new skills and show off their abilities. While this course was common in the past it is becoming harder and harder to pull off today… hence the reason for this article.

    I got into the industry via a little of both methods. I’ve been an avid military historian all my life, but got my formal education in physical geography and meteorology. After working in the environmental industry for three years, I answered an ad in the newspaper for a computer gaming company. Unbelievably I landed the job of Lead Game Designer based on my knowledge of history, team/project management, and technical writing skills.



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