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  • Industry Hopefuls: Prepare Intelligently!

    [07.07.09]
    - Lewis Pulsipher

  • Understanding of the pipeline process

    The "pipeline process" is the stages a video game passes through on the way to completion. Books have been written about this (e.g., https://www.amazon.com/Game-Asset-Pipeline-Development/dp/1584503424).

    This does vary some from company to company, but is fundamentally the same. It's hard to truly understand these stages unless you make games and complete them. That means, make small games, because you won't have the manpower or variety of skills needed to make and complete big ones. (Will your little group produce more than 100 man-years and millions of dollars of professional effort? Certainly not.) Any game that takes a small fraction of a semester may not teach you enough about the process, because there cannot be much detail to it, while any that you think will take more than a year is far too big.

    There are three things every employer wants from you:

    Good written communication skills

    Everyone in industry needs these skills for making pitches and proposals, understanding contracts, dealing with email and everyday announcements, and the like.

    Most video games must be made by a team, not an individual. The game designer must communicate in writing and orally everything about his game, in a manner that enables the artists and programmers to reproduce it. This is much harder to do than you might at first think.

    Non-electronic game designers can make the prototypes and write the rules themselves, but still must communicate well with playtesters to improve the game. Moreover, since the rules are not enforced by computer, it's especially important to write rules that are clear, concise, understandable.

    Good oral communication skills

    You need to be able to speak clearly, whether informally or in presentations. You'll have to help your supervisor understand why something will or will not work, help the game designer understand how the game might be improved, help the potential funding people understand why your game concept is worth the expense. Everyone, but especially game designers, make oral "pitches" in the video game industry.

    A class that makes you speak formally in front of a group of people is a Good Thing, not something to be avoided.

    (Pedantry for the day: "verbal" means "with words", so applies to both writing and oral communication. It is not a substitute for "oral".)

    Ability to work in a team

    Yes, that again. It's true for all industries, though especially in the video game industry where big teams create the big games.

    Develop a productive orientation

    I recall one student, 27 years old, who said after a three-day break from classes that he'd played games for forty hours during that break. That may be fun, but it won't help you get where you want to go -- in a practical sense, it's a waste of time! I encounter far too many people who think that playing games is a path into the game industry.

    Making games is quite different from playing games. Yes, you need to know games, you need to be enthusiastic about games, but playing games that others have devised is productive only in limited ways, especially if you play four hours a day. I've known way too many students who define their self-worth through game playing; unfortunately, in the real world game playing, unless you're good enough to make a living at tournaments, counts for nothing. Make no mistake, the game industry is part of the real world, however extraordinary it may appear to be.

    To be an adult, someone who can be a good employee, you must be responsible and productive. When you're learning your skills, your responsibility is to yourself, to do what needs to be done. And that is to be productive. If you want to design, you need to make games, not play games (unless you made it), not talk about games, not analyze games, but to make games.

    Whether it's a non-electronic game (the best way to learn), or a level, or a mod, or a game you make with a simple engine like Gamemaker, you must make games. Don't be disappointed that you can't make a AAA list kind of game that requires 150 man-years of effort; make a small game that is nonetheless a good game.

    If you're interested in art, then draw by hand, draw on the computer, learn 3D modeling programs, and so forth -- and use your art to help make games. If you want to be a programmer, then write programs, study programming, experiment with game engines, join with others to make games.

    Build a portfolio so that, when a chance comes to get a job, you're ready with proof of your best work.

    Make something, don't just talk about making something. If you do that, and you have some talent, everything else will fall into place, sooner or later.

    ---

    Title photo by Beth Kanter, used under Creative Commons license.

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