Who Should Read This Book?
You love video games. Maybe it even seems like you’re obsessed. You’re considering a career and you don’t want to be a flight attendant, a lawyer, or a cowpuncher—you want to make video games.
Or maybe you’re reading this because you know somebody just like the person I just described. Either way - this series was written just for you.
What This Collection Is
Game development can be a vibrant career with exciting opportunities in a variety of interesting fields. Video Game Careers is a series of handbooks for anyone interested in a career in this fast-paced industry.
The books take you from a basic understanding of the games business, all the way through the hiring process, including descriptions of specific career paths, complete with professional tips and insights.
Along the way, I’ll offer some anecdotes from my own career to illustrate the points I’m making. I may also occasionally try to be funny. Sorry, I can’t help myself.
Updated with second-edition content for 2019, the Video Game Careers Ultimate Collection combines all three books of the VGC series into one handy package, including -
Book 1 - Beginners Guide : An introduction to game education, and game development with exercises designed to help anyone decide if a career in game development is right for them.
Book 2- About the Industry: An overview of the business of games, and a breakdown of the game-making process. The ideal resource for anyone curious about how games are made, and how the business works.
Book 3 - Game Jobs: An in-depth analysis of the major disciplines in game development, complete with career tips, behind-the-scenes anecdotes from triple-A game development projects, and a strategy guide to identifying and landing your dream job.
What This Book Is Not
This is not a how-to book on making your own games. But along the way, I will offer tips and insights about making games gleaned from my own career—lessons that have helped me, and I know will help you as well.
Who The Heck Am I?
I’ve been a creative professional in the video game industry for over 20 years. You might know my design work on games such as Halo, Halo 2, SOCOM 3, Midnight Star, or Far Cry 2. You might have played some of the games that I helped publish, like Dungeon Siege 2 or Jade Empire. Maybe you’re even old enough to remember Oni, Pac-Man World 20th Anniversary, Vigilante 8, or the first game I ever worked on: Apocalypse (starring Bruce Willis).
Hardy Says: Those already in game development could also benefit from this book if they were looking for an additional perspective on the job, tips gleaned from decades of experience in the trenches, or possibly just some more fun anecdotes to share at parties.
Games are always changing. The industry continues to evolve, just as technology continues to evolve, so trends and opportunities that are hot today may change tomorrow. I will update this book to stay current, but be sure and do your own research as well.
EXCERPT FROM BOOK ONE - BEGINNERS GUIDE
It is an open secret of the game development industry that an advanced degree in computer science (or the equivalent) is not the only way to prepare for a career making games.
Hardy Says: I’m amazed at the number people I’ve worked with who didn’t have any kind of formal degree. They just started with a passion for games and began learning all they could on their own. These are folks who regularly make million-dollar (or more) projects, and you can too.
Let’s discuss what you can do on your own to get the skills that you need before you decide whether a full education in software development is the right path for you.
Learning The Basics
The ability to program computers is projected to be the number one skill employers will be looking for in the future. Not just in game development, but in virtually every field.
The great news is that there are some amazing tools to help aspiring developers learn more about programming and software in general. In fact there is a great organization called Hour of Code - their website is a good place to start your own education.
The following tools are geared toward elementary and middle school kids, but anyone who’d like to understand basic programming concepts could start here.
• Hopscotch: A nifty app for iOS devices that teaches the basics of programming. It has a super-clear interface, charming graphics, and step-by-step instructions in a long series of ramped tutorials that walk anyone through the basics of programming. Any kid who can read and play mobile games can start learning to program here.
• Scratch: A web-based platform that allows people to program their own games, animations, and stories, and then share them with a large online community. It has links to MIT Media Lab, and is specially targeted at educators who are teaching kids about software development and programming.
• GameMaker Studio: A software platform and application that you can download to your PC or Mac. It’s built around a drag-and-drop graphical interface with advanced scripting options for folks who really know what they’re doing. The basic version is free to download and use, while more advanced versions and features cost money.
The Tools Of The Craft
The amazing thing about modern game development is that many of the top-tier companies have realized that giving students access to their software engines and tools is a terrific way to get them ready for jobs in the future. The following engines are the same tools that major game studios license to make AAA titles every day. But they’re free for the asking!
Hardy Says: You’ll need a powerful computer with good 3-D acceleration to run these game development tools.
Epic Games: Any serious gamer knows the name Fortnite - it’s one of the most popular and successful game franchises in recent memory. Epic Games - the company that makes Fortnite - also licenses their game technology to anyone looking for a head start on game development. Their Unreal Engine 4 can be downloaded right off the internet, and is free for academic use. Not only are their technology and tools top-notch, there are a vast number of fantastic tutorial videos on the web that can help anyone get started using Unreal.
Unity: Not to be outdone, Epic’s number-one competitor, Unity also offers their amazing game engine and tools for free. One highly attractive feature of Unity is that it can effortlessly configure game projects to work on a variety of hardware platforms. This makes it the preferred choice for indie games, as they often have a limited budget but also want to reach the widest possible audience. Like the competition, there are countless tutorial videos and other resources available to help anyone learn and master the Unity tools.
Source: Finally, you could dig into the popular Source engine from Valve. The Source engine is the basis for many popular competitive online games, from the worldwide phenomenon that is Counter-Strike 2 to the hat-wearing madness of Team Fortress 2. If you’re serious about building an online competitive game, Source may be the place to start.
A Culture Of Learning
Many high schools have developed specialty classes and student organizations dedicated to game development. Look for classes, clubs or organizations that are focused on the practical skills and get involved.
With so much interest in the topic, fantastic communities have sprung up around game development as a hobby. “Indie” game development is a thriving community of game makers around the world. For one week every year they unite during the Global Game Jam, but you can find organizations year round near you through services like Meetup.
Hardy Says: I once worked with a game designer who got his start in game development at a summer camp for kids. His parents sent him away for two weeks of fun in the sun, but he stumbled across a small team of campers working on a game project and spent the time indoors with them instead. When the camp ended, the designer continued to pursue game development, learning and developing every skill he could. Eventually one of his student projects was submitted to an independent game development contest and he won a scholarship to a prestigious university. Even at the entry level, companies are looking for people that are self-starters, and who have a passion for the work they do. Take advantage of every chance for learning and growth that comes your way – that’s the best preparation you could have for any career you choose.
Teaching yourself game development isn’t the only way to go, nor is it the best option for everybody. Different people have different ways of learning, and educational programs that teach the skills to work in software development can be a good investment for aspiring game-makers.
Many of the skills included in Chapter 5, “Are You Ready?,” are part of the core curriculum at accredited colleges and universities. College-level student game development projects add a great deal of practical experience that helps prepare aspiring developers to be working professionals.
If you’re considering attending a school of higher education to pursue training as a game developer, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Choose a school with a good reputation - This can have a huge impact on your career. One prominent Southern California university features a game demo day where student teams show off their work to game industry representatives. The school does an excellent job of publicizing its program, and often the visiting professionals come seeking to hire particular students for key roles.
Pay attention to the practical side of the program - Even at highly regarded schools, some programs don’t make the practical skills of game development a mandatory part of the studies. That same prominent Southern California university doesn’t require students to take classes in programming, scripting, level design or computer art, and they are instead offered as optional electives. Make no mistake—game companies are looking for superstar candidates, and practical experience is the best way to prove that you can handle the challenges of a professional situation. Check to see if the program you’re interested in has a format for student -directed and -driven projects. Sometimes these take the form of particular classes with playable deliverables as part of the program, or placement as an intern at a local development studio.
Consider the “crossover” effect - Some high-profile school programs farm out game-development work to other schools. The core development work of a student-directed game might be done on campus, but art or programming work are sometimes done by students at other nearby schools in collaboration. If a high-priced program seems out of reach, perhaps find a “sister school” or an affiliate to the game-development program. This can be a great way to get in the back door of a top-tier school.
If you decide that a four-year degree is the way you’d like to proceed, college assessment listings in places like The Princeton Review are a great way to weigh the strengths of the various programs.
Don’t Wait - Participate
I hope you’re excited by all the possibilities that are available to aspiring game developers. In addition to the tools and resources that I’ve listed, there are hundreds, if not thousands, more resources available on the web, including blogs, websites, forums and YouTube videos, with more appearing every day.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get started!