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  • Academics for Game Designers

    - Michael McCoy

  •  Non-Game Development Schools and Programs


    So what should you study to become a designer? Anything and everything! Formal education always impresses prospective employers, but no one major is necessarily better than another. Find one you like and excel at it. The more you love it the better you’ll do so find something that clicks for you.

    What is of immense interest is how you spend your electives. Most students enter college, pick a major, study their major courses intently, while choosing their elective courses without any overarching objective. They do so because they believe their major provides everything they need to succeed in the business world. Unfortunately, unless you major in game development, it’s your elective courses that make you a jack-of-all-trades, which results in excellent designers.

    To that end, let's talk about a few of extremely useful courses taught at most major universities:

    o Design – Most universities offer design related classes which provide the fundamental philosophies and methods used by almost every designer

    o Philosophy/Logic – General philosophy is also indispensable, while thinking logically helps you avoid mistakes, converse intelligently, and avoid no-win arguments

    o Psychology/Sociology/Anthropology – Why people think the way they do unlocks huge potential for designers

    o Management – Even beginning level designers typically have modelers and textures working with them, with the designer providing the vision for the task. Good leaders equal good teams and high productivity

    o Public Speaking – Designers often have to present ideas, concepts, and design documents to management and entire game teams. The more convincing you are, the better the chance of getting your concept approved

    o Technical Writing – The majority of documents created by designers are technical in nature, meaning their main purpose is communication. You’d be amazed how many people have problems getting their ideas across on paper

    o Creative Writing – While definitely the minority of designer writing tasks, you still need to be able to write box copy, manuals, intriguing storylines, and convincing world/scene backgrounds

    o Drawing/Art Creation – Try to get your ideas across to an artist via writing is infinitely more difficult than drawing a picture…it’s the way they think

    o Computer Programming – Just as drawing is essential for communicating with artists, programming helps get your points across with programmers. Whether discussing bugs and gameplay ideas in a little pseudo code, or scripting real time cinematics and events, computer programming can make all the difference and really set you above the crowd

    o History – Knowing how and why things happened in the past is the key to the future

    o Physics – Physics are becoming more and more popular every day and knowing a little about it puts you in a great place to take advantage of this emerging trend

    o Algebra/Trigonometry – Not only is mathematics essential for system designers and scripters, it’s extremely useful for other designers as well

    o Geography/Geology – By analyzing planet Earth you gain valuable insight allowing you to design believable, immersive game environments

    o Photography – A great tool for collecting and analyzing the world surrounding us

    o Film/Theatre – Designing a level is very similar to designing a set…you only want to build as much as is necessary to sell the scene

    o Music – Music and sound offer direct lines to player emotions and help the intrepid designer flesh out their game worlds. Music is also a blend of logic and creativity, which is essential for all designers

    o Mythology – What did others believe before us and why is essential to creating believable cultures and worlds

    o Astronomy – Creating a space game? A good knowledge of our universe and the anomalies within definitely helps

    o Game Development Classes – Well duh!

    In addition to formal education, there are also a number of informal training opportunities. First, play lots of games. While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many people lose sight of it. Others focus solely on video games, when all games offer valuable information. Collectable Card Games (CCGs) simulate complex encounters and environments via simple two-dimensional (2D) cards and rules. Board Games of all kinds can broaden your understanding of systems design. Miniature and Hard Core Simulation Games such as those offered by Avalon Hill use table driven mechanics very similar to the combat and artificial intelligence design of video games. Finally, “mod”ing, making alterations and additional content for existing video games, allows you to practice and perfect your craft before you enter the industry. Mods also impress potential employers by highlighting your capabilities, enthusiasm, and work ethic.



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