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Getting your foot in the door

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#1   Members   -  Reputation: 122


Posted 11 July 2000 - 03:36 PM

I find myself in an infuriating position: I like to design games {and I feel I''m competent at it}, but I can never rally together any talent {due to a lack of any social skills, whatsoever}, and I''m not good enough to do it myself. So, I was wondering, how does a beginning designer, such as myself, get their foot in the door to prove their worth. I''m not looking for instant gratification, but would like some idea of where to start. If it helps any, here''s a list of skills I''m fairly good at: -Static object 3D modeling -MIDI clean-up {orchestration, dynamics, sound card consistantcy, ''oomph''} -User Interface design {mechanics and graphics} -Explanation {perhaps user manual writing} -Bug recording {though I''ve never Beta-tested before} Thank you, in advance! ----Sonic Silicon----

#2   Members   -  Reputation: 123


Posted 11 July 2000 - 04:07 PM

Well, first off, if you haven''t read any game design books, I suggest you do so. Game Architecture and Design is a good one. I would say any designer worth their salt would be anxious to find as much info as possible about their craft.

Next, you could start out by taking a game you admire and trying to design some levels for it. The most likely way you will start off is by being a level designer or some type of script programmer. You will be responsible for small segments of the game.

I''ve heard both positive and negatives on this next one, become a play tester. Personally, I don''t feel that companies are going to get the best designers just by mining their testers. It''s like saying just because I like to watch movies, I''d be a good director. Not really. But that said, some companies are more prone hire from inside and alot of times that means starting from the bottom and getting promoted.

So if you want a checklist,
1. Read everything you can about your craft ( not just websites, but books too, and learn a little programming, it''s not that hard and it shows initiative )
2. Design lots and lots of levels. Throw in a game design document or two (5-10 pages?)
3. Try to find work wherever possible, even if it''s a side job.

Keep at it and something is bound to stick.


#3   Members   -  Reputation: 138


Posted 11 July 2000 - 05:43 PM

Lemme'' just reinforce two obvious points:

1) A college degree helps. A BS in Comp Sci is good for programmers; I dunno what the ideal degree for a designer is.

2) Have a portfolio of demos/samples that showcase your various areas of skill. This is always good for artists/musicians/programmers, but again, I dunno exactly what a designer should have in a portfolio.

I have heard only negative about "getting in the door" via beta-testing. If you''re any good at beta-testing, they''ll probably want to keep you in beta-testing rather than promote you.

#4   Members   -  Reputation: 99


Posted 11 July 2000 - 06:03 PM

In most designer related material it is said that the number one way to get into the design business is to start out as a level designer...

You should probably take some advanced writing courses since thats all you would be doing most of the time....even a business related major would be nice to fall back on.

Its hard to jump into a company as a designer in the US, since they are usually appointed from ground up, but in the UK there seems to be alot of opporunities to start in on that position right off the bat.
Strange but true.

But also a good point that if you were a good beta tester, they probably want to keep you there...but most say that is another good way to get your foot into the door.

It all depends on the situation. Try to do some net projects with afew others, and build up your portfolio with games that you designed (no matter how small)....include full design docs, stories, anything related to your writing talent.

Definately take Ut''s advice on reading everything. I also recommend Game Design : Secret of the Sages...pretty nice if you are starting off. Also read up on Gamasutra.com.
Best thing to do is get familiar with atleast alittle of all aspects, from coding to art...its essential to have knowledge in all areas.

Good luck!

#5   Members   -  Reputation: 145


Posted 11 July 2000 - 06:38 PM

Mate, to bring it to the point:

Ok now that I said it let me explain it.

No single company out there will give someone less famous than Sid Meier or Peter Molyneux a game designer job.
Some will cry out now: "But designs the game then?"
The games are designed most times from someone with much experience (not necessarily famous though) - and now comes the point - that will get the job of the lead programmer (or lead artist maybe)too.
Yes, that''s right. No full time game designers except the really famous people.
Maybe if you are good in economics you can get a job as a producer/designer, but better get a master in economics then.

That''s why all those applications of people wanting to become a gamedesigner in my company are landing in the dustbin ASAP.

Btw this is not only my opinion, but EVERY single professional in the game industry I talked to (not that much, but more than I have fingers on BOTH hands) agreed. Hell, I even got this opinion by them.

#6   Members   -  Reputation: 122


Posted 11 July 2000 - 09:05 PM

I agree with the last post.
Most people seem to get the job through being lead programmer.
Maybe these days you could get in via the film industry, games are getting more and more cinematic.
I say learn C++ ;-)


#7   Members   -  Reputation: 145


Posted 12 July 2000 - 05:30 AM

I dont know if the game industry really goes Hollywood. The business is getting tougher that''s right.
I don''t remember which famous designer (Warren Spector?) said that he doesn''t like games with movie sequences in them. He mentioned furthermore that he would be very happy if the day would come in which game industry wouldn''t even need rendered sequences and all cutscenes could be played within the game engine.
If one looks at games like the Wing Commander episodes, I would say that movies have no place within computer games. I personally liked Wing Commander 1 the most. Movies in games are limitting the freedom of design. For example you know you can''t give the player the Silver Star because you can''t make the movie scene new for each Silver Star, Gold Star, and-whatever-medals.
On the other hand rendered cutscenes can be something that motivates the player to "play only the next level before going to lunch", and then the next and next...

Yes! You need definately to be able to have programming skills like a little god, even if you don''t want to.

#8   Members   -  Reputation: 122


Posted 12 July 2000 - 05:45 AM

Game designers do actually exist, but they generally fall under the level designer title nowadays. They know the behavior of the actors in the game better than anyone else and how they all fit together to make something that is fun to play. So I agree with Ut''s three points.

Going the testing route really depends on the company. Unlike most companies, the one I work for develops, tests, and publishes games inhouse. The testers are literally on the other side of a wall and there are many level designers and programmers who started as testers. This is an example where going through the testing route is ideal, whereas a company that doesn''t develop games internal doesn''t have any designer positions that they could promote you to.

#9   Members   -  Reputation: 100


Posted 12 July 2000 - 05:51 AM

If you want to get together some talent, try throwing money at the problem.

#10   Members   -  Reputation: 145


Posted 12 July 2000 - 08:06 AM

Yes. Level designer might be a third way to be able to do some core design. However, if you ask me and this is my personal opinion, level designers should keep to their level design tools and keep away from the core design.
Hmmmm...maybe I have a bit negative attitude against those pure design guys...ok...but I wouldn''t hire anyone writing a letter like: "Hey, I have a awesome idea. May I design the game and the team makes the rest?"

#11   Members   -  Reputation: 122


Posted 12 July 2000 - 10:07 AM

Oh, these responses are quite discouraging.

I''ve tried learning programming, but I get so stuck on syntax errors I spend 99% of my time debugging two new lines of code. Besides, I understand that I need to know what''s feasible for the programmers, but having the lead programmer as the designer? Hmm, maybe you meant the designer as the lead programmer. At any rate, if I could program, I would already have about a dozen small games for my portfolio.

Throwing money at the problem most certainly will not work. My inability to meet new people/talent on my own far outways any amount of cash I could spend.

So, maybe becoming a designer isn''t quite in the cards for me. Are there any other jobs {game related or not} that anyone can come up with based on the list of skills in my original post? Thanks, again.

#12 Anonymous Poster_Anonymous Poster_*   Guests   -  Reputation:


Posted 12 July 2000 - 10:18 AM

Almost all of the producers and associate producers I have ever met came up through the ranks of the test department.

For the most part, programmers stay on the programmer track and eventually become lead programmers. Companies are almost always hard up for lead programmers so letting one stray into the design end of things is almost always a concession to keeping said programmer in house at any cost. Artists are more expendible, so finding one in a design role is somewhat odd.

Designers seem to come in three flavors, level designers, designers and lead designers. Only lead designers get to design games from whole cloth. Designers often get to design sub-systems or sections and level designers do just that. Most companies pay level designers peanuts and pay designers poorly. Only lead designers with proven track records and shipped titles seem to command the real money. (and the power/authority to do what they want)

It doesn''t sound like you can draw or program, so my suggestion is to get hired by some company in the test department. Work your way up to AP from there and then figure out how to get some of your imput on game design into development.


#13   Members   -  Reputation: 122


Posted 12 July 2000 - 10:54 AM

With my great and profound experience, (literally less than nothing), I would think that in order to actually understand every detail of the game well enough to design it - er, sounds weird, but I think that''s what I''m trying to say - you would have to have your hand dipped in the other departments as well.
I don''t think I would be able to take instructions from someone who doesn''t know what they''re talking about. I mean, it just doesn''t seem right.
You, being the designer, give me my orders. But how do you know what to tell me, if you can''t code, draw etc?
''I want the graphics engine done by the end of the week.''
''Sure, we can try.''
''That''s great.''
''Er, I was being sarcastic.''

Designing is great, but you have to be coming from somewhere, otherwise you''re better off writing novels or screenplays.

1C3-D3M0N Interactive

#14   Members   -  Reputation: 122


Posted 12 July 2000 - 03:05 PM

I suggest giving level design a chance. You said you have some static 3D modeling experience so keep on trying. I think that Jester''s views are a little extreme, because there is a lot of design that is required in a (finished, polished, and published) game and having a lead programmer trying to do it in his spare time (ha!) is generally not a good idea.

User interface design is a very valuable skill for games and can make the difference between a game''s features being extremely useful or not used at all (example, the message system in Tribes (good) vs. the message system in Unreal Tournament (bad)).

Careful explanation is also important as it makes the difference between a design doc being the bible and the design doc being something that exists but isn''t referenced.

These are all skills that designers need to have. Of course learning other skills is useful, but unless you get fairly proficient in the skills (more than just "Hello World!" in C) it really won''t make a difference. A good designer is worth their weight in gold, but overall designers are frowned upon on GameDev, usually because A) they''ve never worked on a commercial product (90% of GameDev people) or B) they''ve never worked with a good designer.

#15   Members   -  Reputation: 145


Posted 12 July 2000 - 08:08 PM

I''ll sign everything from what Minister said.

Well, again level design and beta testing might be a way to design a game. But how many of those who beta test in a company really become a designer?

I think those who ask how to become a designer will be more or less close to their school-leaving qualification or have just finished it.
If I may suggest you only one thing: DON''T GO DIRECTLY AFTER SCHOOL TO THE GAME INDUSTRY! (Especially not as a level designer or betatester). If you do you might spend the most valuable years to something were you might never have success (never get your hands on a game design). And then you are 28,30 years old, don''t have any university degree and a job very LOW paid.
The way I would suggest you is first to go to university and make a Master in s.th. (computer science is the best for sure). Then, if you really need to do it, go to the game industry.

#16 Anonymous Poster_Anonymous Poster_*   Guests   -  Reputation:


Posted 13 July 2000 - 08:30 AM

I''m going to disagree with the previous poster somewhat.

If you intend to spend your career working on games, then a degree is not as valuable as you might think. A list of shipped titles is more impressive on a resume than a degree of any flavor or type or institution.

Level Designer -> Designer -> Lead Designer is a perfectly valid career path. If you have some design savvy, some 3d skills and good communication skills, this is definitely one option.

Tester -> Lead Tester -> Test Dept. Head -> Associate Producer -> Producer -> Designer -> Lead Designer is also a reasonably tried and true career path. It takes a little more time and a lot more luck, though.

high school -> college -> Designer -> Lead Designer is almost unheard of. I can think of no example off the top of my head.

Note that all of this advice is predicated on the notion that one intends to spend their life working on computer games. If you believe that there is a real probability that you will be selling insurance or working in an office when you''re 40, then maybe the degree would be more useful than not.

The real key to it is that getting a degree costs you money and getting entry level experience gives you money. I can''t think of anyone that would be making more money in the game industry if they had a degree or post graduate degree, but then again, I don''t talk to programmers much. Mostly, I hang out with artists and designers and their pay is based on talent and track record, not education.


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