Student Testimonial: Full Sail Real World Education

By Grant Shonkwiler [10.16.07]

 I started designing games after I got angry losing a Pokemon game, so I designed a game with a friend called Pokemon Killer. Now it's my goal to become either a video game programmer or designer sometime around July 2008 when I'm due to graduate from Full Sail Real World Education.

Full Sail is well-known video game development school located in Winter Park, Florida. I'm enrolled in the 21-month long game development bachelor's of science degree. I started in September 2006.

The first thing that people realize when they start at Full Sail is that it is not a design degree. A lot of students come to this school with the misconception that they will learn to design games here. This is probably the reason the school officials changed the program to be called "game development." While there are quite a few classes that teach game design and design theory, the school is basically a computer science degree on crack. The reason I use the term "on crack" is not just because of the accelerated pace of the course, but also the hours and amount of dedication that the school requires.

The school is formatted so that you have two classes a month, one class meeting two days a week and the other meeting three days a week, each with four hours of lecture followed by four hours of lab. The first month that you start, the program is kind of an easy introduction to the school. There's a design class and a general education class, but starting the second month it all starts to get a little crazy.

When I went through those classes (over a year ago now -- man, has it been that long?) we had a schedule where we had a programming class from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and calculus from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. This kind of schedule happens often. Sometimes it can even be more intense like 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. followed by a 9 a.m. class that same day. It seems to me that they throw this schedule along with the quick start into programming classes to weed out people who come to the school with misconceptions of what game development entails as well as those who are not fully dedicated to their dream.

Most of the classes have really met my expectations and taught me a ton. When I first came to this school I had very little programming experience. The hardest thing I had ever coded was helping make a web site or playing around in editors. Now, just a little over a year later, I am very confident in my programming skills (mainly C++).

For the first year the classes are a good mixture of design and programming, but after the year mark is hit the classes are almost all programming. The programming courses are very accelerated. When I finished my first month, I talked to a friend in a traditional computer science degree and I had learned more in one month than he had in a year.


 The faculty at the school is awesome, ranging from former students, to industry veterans, to 20-year experienced programmers; they really know their stuff. This is not to say that all the teachers are perfect or that you will learn a ton in every class, of course. There have been a few classes in which I didn't learn as much as I had hoped; but mostly I have really enjoyed them and learned a lot.

Another thing that's really good about this school is that the faculty encourages you to study outside of classes and learn from other sources. I feel this is good because this is encouraging us to learn how to continue to educate ourselves once we get out of school, something that's essential to survival in any industry, but especially game development.

There are some negatives that are known about this school, and sadly some of them are true. One of my biggest complaints about the school (though I don't think there is really a way to fix it) is the fact that the classes are constantly changing because of the shifts in the industry. This is really only a problem when you get stuck in the middle of a transition of a class when they are changing up the curriculum. For example, my peers and I had the unlucky privilege of being the second class to take a course that had been moved from month 16 to month eight in the program. Although the reason for moving this class was sound, the teacher had to teach to people who had only been in the school for seven months as well as students who had been there for 15 months at the same time. This created somewhat of a challenge to make the curriculum balanced.

There are definitely a lot of positives about Full Sail, but I think the most important is how hands-on the curriculum is. Throughout the course, the focus is always on games. No matter what you're learning, be it psychology or assembly programming, it's always put in the perspective of games. Another thing that's great about Full Sail is how often you get to make games. Throughout the program, you make games in the classes with teachers or in the labs by yourself. Around month nine, you get to design and program a game by yourself. There's a month-long class called "Structures of Game Design" in which you design and program a game all by yourself. I made a game called Tanks in Space -- check my blog for more details and screen shots.

The month after that, you're thrown in to a group with three other students and are given two months to design and make a game. This is the first really big project in the program and maybe one of the best learning experiences I've ever had. At the beginning of the class, you and your teammates are given four job titles, each with a different focus, and must decide how you will fill them. I was the project officer, and my job was to organize group meetings and determine what we were going to work on, then communicate with our producers about what we were accomplishing. I also took on writing certain aspects of the games code and design. We not only programmed the entire game but also designed it and made a design bible. This is one of the most fun and intense months I have ever had. We learned how to schedule, though the schedules always slipped, and how to work in a team on group code. I loved it because I really love designing games and leading a group. In the end, we had a game to be proud of -- and a lot of lost sleep to catch up on.

Your fellow students at this school become like a band of brothers because no one outside this school really knows what you're going through. From the starting 70 or more students who were in my class, we're now down to just a little over 20, due to people failing a class and falling a month behind or just leaving the school. But those 20 people I have seen almost every day for the last year. The camaraderie that's forced upon you can only be helpful in the future because your peers now will be your peers for your entire career.

Networkig is a big focus at Full Sail. You meet a lot of people in the program very quickly because most of the Game Development classes are in the same building. And during the project classes, it's helpful to know people in other degree programs, too. My team had friends in the Recording Arts program, so we were able to have custom sounds and music for our game.

Currently I am in my 13th month at Full Sail, which means I have about three months left before I begin my five-month final project. So far, I can definitely say it has been worth the money. I've learned a ton and have made a lot of contacts in the industry that will hopefully help me in nine months when I start looking for a job. But if you ask me am I glad I spent $65,000 to go here, I will answer, "Ask me in a year when I have a job."

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Grant Shonkwiler is a student at Full Sail Real World Education and an active community member on GameCareerGuide.com, forum name gshonk. One of his games, Overload, is available online, and he keeps a blog on games, work, and life at gshonk.wordpress.com.

*Disclaimer: This testimonial of Full Sail Real World Education was written without influence from the institution or GameCareerGuide.com staff. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. GameCareerGuide.com does not endorse educational institutions or programs. The factual correctness of this article is the responsibility of the author, and readers are advised to check all official web sites for updated information.

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