Game Career Guide is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Get the latest Education e-news
  • The Teaching Game: Part One - Transitioning

    - Steve Swink
  •  [Steve Swink, an independent game designer, artist who worked for Tremor Entertainment, Neversoft and currently teaches game and level design at the Art Institute of Phoenix, addresses questions from academics and game industry professionals alike. In this response, Swink dives into the transition from industry to teaching.]


    I've been in the game industry for almost 6 years now, about the average burn-out time I believe, and my attitude towards the commercial game industry has gone pretty much on a straight slope from "amazing" and "so much to learn" territory to where I am at now, "I can't believe I'm working on this" and "I guess it pays the bills" land. I would love to quit my job tomorrow and work on game prototypes in my garage, but alas I believe I am going to require some intermediary step to get to that goal.

    I have friend who migrated from industry to teacher, and after meeting your online persona, my interests in that direction have been doubly piqued. I am born and bred from the mod community, so self teaching and helping others to learn is part of my deeper character.

    What is teaching like? Is it satisfying? What are your responsibilities? How's the pay? Are there positions for environmental art / level design teachers? What kind of qualifications are required to teach?

    I empathize with this position, especially having come from a ‘yearly grind' style development house (I was a cog in the Tony-Hawk-a-year machine at Neversoft.) I found it to be a thankless, dreary existence, lacking any definable conclusion or sense of hope (I'm ceaselessly amazed by the stamina of the guys who have been there since day one and have continued through eight iterations of the same game.) Plainly put, working at Neversoft wore me down. I was worn down physically (I gained over thirty pounds, stopped shaving or getting haircuts, wore the same tattered rags, and rarely exercised), socially (interacting with two or fewer persons per day leads to anti-social behavior and agoraphobic tendencies), and emotionally (by the end I was having erratic mood swings and pseudo-breakdowns). Clearly, this position was no longer tenable.

    So I left Neversoft, moved to Arizona, and took up off-road mountain unicycling. This was (and continues to be) the greatest decision I've ever made. I'm happy, well adjusted, have lost all the weight (and then some), am fitter than I've ever been, live with my amazing girlfriend, and, perhaps most importantly, believe in what I'm doing. Currently, I'm working as a game designer (and artist, and programmer, and bizdev dweeb, and producer) at Flashbang Studios.

    High Expedition: Everest by Flashbang Studios.

    The reason for relocating to AZ was to join up with my good friends, who had recently founded Flashbang. Flashbang is our realization of the common and naïve game student dream. As in ‘once we get out of college we're going to start a game company together it-will-be-awesome!!!' Well, yes and no.

    What is exciting about working at a small, independent company is the sense that I'm in the driver's seat. If I'm working on a project, it's my dream. I'm not toiling away in a dank quarry, hauling blocks across miles of boiling sand to build someone else's pyramid. If you're going to grind your life away in a masochistic profession - and make no mistake, game development is unadulterated masochism - I say to you this: make it mean something. Spend your life making meaning. Create things that excite you, which get you out of bed early in the morning and keep you up late at night. Create experiences that will set minds on fire and inspire, in turn, to create experiences for others. We all have a reason for wanting to create games and, at some level, it boils down to an experience we had playing someone else's creation, their dream. What was that game for you? Think of that experience. Now, imagine giving that experience to someone else. There's just no excuse for hunching over a keyboard 80 hours a week, forgoing health, hygiene, socialization, and everything else a balanced life needs, to squeeze out something you don't believe in. A paycheck is not a paycheck. Don't drink the Koolaid. Eject!

    So, Flashbang's original plan was to create a hit casual game which would leave us bathing in cashmonies, opening our ‘tech tree' to interesting, innovative, physics-based projects. As it turns out, this was and is much more difficult than one might suspect. We've done much better picking up small contract projects (we recently did a teaching game for Cisco Systems - for their internal sales staff) and cranking them out quickly than we have spending months fretting over the minutia of our casual titles. That said, up next for us is something interesting, something truly ‘indie,' which I'm exceedingly excited about. Anyhow, I realized quickly that Flashbang was going to need some bootstrapping, so I started looking around for teaching jobs, which is how I found the Art Institute of Phoenix.


comments powered by Disqus