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  • How I Broke Into Video Game Development

    [01.15.08]
    - Steven Yau
  •  During A-levels (roughly the U.K. equivalent of high school but with a specialization), I started to get really lazy at school and more or less went through a rebel phrase where I honestly didn't care about anything, let alone my future, and just wanted to have fun with my friends.

    When it came time to fill out the UCAS forms for university, I really didn't know what to put, and I didn't talk to my parents about it. The deadline loomed, so I literally made a snap decision that I wanted to do something with computers since they interested me somewhat.

    After a short scan through the UCAS courses book with the keyword "computer" in my head, I found a couple of games computing courses, which immediately piqued my interest. I immediately put both courses on my form without doing any research into what the course would entail or at which universities they were offered. This was a huge mistake on my part and something I wish I could rectify in hindsight.

    Now that the damage was done, it came time to tell my parents of my snap decision career choice. They weren't exactly thrilled with the fact that their son made this choice without their consent or discussion, and even worse, I come from a traditional Chinese family where children are expected to take on more traditional careers, such doctor, accountant, or lawyer. It took some convincing to persuade my family that being a video game developer wasn't a dead-end job, and I showed them there were real opportunities available by opening Edge magazine to the job ads section.

    I eventually did get around to looking at my first choice University by attending an open campus day but due to my naivety and lack of understanding about what expectations I should have of the course, I was impressed by anything shiny shown to me when I went to visit the school.

    BSc and Becoming a ‘Jack'
    I started a BSc course with very little knowledge about computers and even less about programming and the video game industry. All I knew was that this course was going to be about games, as did a good number of other first-year students, and what could be cooler than that? This dream was quickly shattered as we realized that we actually had to do work.

    Many failed or changed courses by the end of the first year, either because they couldn't understand the course material or failed outright. While everything was really new to me, I started to pull my finger out of my ass as I was determined to show my parents that I could do this.

    I passed my first year fairly comfortably, and during the free time that I had I learned how to model using 3ds Max. In fact, up until my third year, I thought I wanted to be a 3D animator. My aspiration changed when I was working on my final year project with my friend using the Game Boy Advance as the target platform. That's when I sunk my teeth into a more meaty and involved programming project and decided that programming really was for me.

    While at university, the professors taught us material from different disciplines, such as level editing, modeling, animating, programming, software engineering, and sound. This broad education provided a reasonable grounding in all aspects of game development. However, they did not teach any one subject in enough depth to meet industry standards. Combined with the fact that I didn't do anything extra, such as create a mod or a small game outside the academic course (which was a huge mistake), I became a Jack of all trades.

    Of course I didn't realize any of this until later. The fact that I ended up with first honors didn't help because I suddenly thought I was hot stuff and that getting a job wouldn't be so hard.

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