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  • Ten Survival Tips for Aspiring Game Development Students

    - Michael Prinke

  •  4 - Try and avoid making enemies

    This one is self-explanatory. Try to avoid antagonizing people. This seems like such an easy rule to think about but there's a hundred ways you can break it, especially since gamers tend to be strongly opinionated when it comes to their tastes. The game industry is so small and the barriers to entry are big enough without people talking smack about you or harboring grudges, though.

    The last thing you need is for that one guy you really hated in school to get ahead of you years down the line and become a major player at a big studio or publisher only to remember how much he didn't like you in school when your application hits his HR guy's desk. Developers and publishers talk, and anything from personal squabbles to mere perceptions that you're a lazy team member can come back to bite you in the rump at any time. To avoid having this happen try and be open with your teammates. Be personable and social, and let them know how things are going with your life if real-life problems start to get in the way of your work.

    Sometimes you really just can't avoid it, though. There's always that one person who seems to seriously grate your cheese. What you do about that depends entirely on your reasons for not getting along with them. If it's something petty, like taste in games, swallow your pride. Stuff like that ranks somewhere below "color of socks" as a reason for hating someone. If it's something bigger than that, though; something political or philosophical; you could have a lot of problems. Just be the bigger person and try to avoid exploding at them or talking behind their back. They aren't worth it.

    However, don't let people walk all over you, either. As student game developers your classmates will do so without even realizing they're doing it. The simple fact is that they aren't psychic, they don't know what your needs on a project are, and all of you need to make one another's needs clear to each other in order for a collaboration to work and in order to establish trust.

    5 - Work on what you want to work on

    They say that you have to spend a few years doing what other people want you to do before you're given license to do what you want to do.

    This is the absolute biggest load of crap you can ever be told or will ever be told, and there's a few reasons why, the most important of which is that you'll actually put forth effort and do good work for a project you enjoy and will likely slack off on a project that you have negative feelings about. You'll have to compromise a lot, especially as far as project scope is concerned, but there's absolutely no reason that you should be working on a game that you don't think you'll be interested in when it's finished or doing a job that you don't want to do.

    People will tell you that you should try and find "points of pride" and try to make the project into something you'll be interested in. The reality is that you can't work on exactly what you want to work on all of the time, so this is a valuable skill to learn and you should practice it whenever you can, but there does get to be a point when it's too much of a stretch and you compromise yourself too much for your own good. Where that point is can be very subjective and depends a lot on your career goals, but there's one universal rule of thumb: you should consciously get something out of it.

    Somehow it should contribute to those goals rather than step away from them, otherwise it simply isn't worth your time. More often than not you can make this work out, and the key is knowing what you want to do and asking yourself if you're doing it on your current project. To put it simply, if you're a writer and you're writing, if you're an artist and you're making art, if you're a programmer and you're programming, or if you're a designer and you're designing, then you can make it a good project for yourself no matter how much you've got to compromise on its scope and complexity.

    6 - Know Your Limits; remember K-I-S-S.

    I've seen so many students attempt projects well beyond any kind of reasonable scope. For whatever reason, we who would work in digital games love to run against the grain and try to get huge ideas seen through. It comes chiefly from a desire to innovate, tell stories, and live up to the standards of production of major game companies. None of these are easy things to do in the gaming world, even for professionals.

    Innovation often takes a revolutionary idea -- usually as the result of sheer accident--and a ton of computer engineering to pull off, and storytelling in games often requires a lot of gameplay apparatus that no student group can put together, including complex environments and interactions. Use your projects to create modest but polished, finished projects, not as an outlet for your ambitions. Start small, with a basic concept for a game, get the basics implemented, and then add features if you have time. As a very wise colleague of mine once said: under-pitch, but over-deliver. In terms of whole student projects, nothing looks better than that.


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