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  • 06/13/19 12:03 PM

    So You Want to be a Game Developer?

    Career Development

    Eck
    • Posted By Eck

    Note: This article is based on an entry originally posted in Chris Eck's developer journal (blog) here at GameDev.net, which was itself based on an email conversation with an aspiring game developer named Riley about becoming a tools developer for a video game studio.

    Summary

    This turned into a pretty long post so I'll start with a quick summary.

    When you're learning to be a game developer you have a choice to make every time you sit down at your computer:

    • You take the blue pill - you play some video games, cruise the internet, and wake up the next day no closer to your goal. 
    • You take the red pill - you put in some effort, learn some new skills, work hard, and achieve your dream.

    Another thing to say is there isn't a single "best" formula for how to get into the games industry. All I can say is that this worked for me.

    1. Learn Unity
    2. Make simple games to learn
    3. Write a dev journal (blog) about your experiences/plans
    4. Start working on your game / applying in the industry

    About Riley

    Riley has been programming for a while and dabbling in game development. After watching some GDC Vault videos, they became more interested in becoming a game developer - specifically a tools programmer. They were polite and appreciative of me taking the time to talk with them. Riley asked me for some good resources to better understand how tools development works and for advice on looking for jobs. They also asked about what kind of work I did on Battletech and other games.

     

    Eck's First Email

    Hello Riley,

    Let me tell you a little bit about myself first. Originally I was a regular developer working on business applications. I started out with C++ and then moved over to C# and SQL as the technology shifted that way. I dabbled with game development as a hobby since college keeping a few projects spinning but never really did anything major. I started working on my own engine and saving up money so I could quit my job and make a serious attempt at game development. After about a year, I participated in a game jam and saw what amazing things people were doing with Unity and I was just floored. I really should have used something like Unity or Unreal instead of working on my own engine. :)

    Then I quit my job and switched to Unity. I started writing a weekly Developer Journal about the things I was working on here: https://www.gamedev.net/blogs/blog/1922-ecks-journal-still-flying/ - This helped me stay motivated with my learning efforts, and also served as a portfolio to show potential employers I had serious passion, and it would also serve as a form of marketing for my game if I remained an indie developer. The indie dev plan was the way I was leaning towards but then I saw Harebrained was hiring for Battletech. My wife made me apply even though I knew I wouldn't get the job. Long story short, I did get the job even though I had 0 professional game dev experience and didn't live in Seattle. So I gave away most of my stuff, packed up my family, moved across the country, and have been working there ever since. :)

    A tool developer's job is to make everyone else's job possible, easier, and faster. It's about creating easy to use "tools" like a map editor, or a mech editor. It's about making those tools intuitive, fast, and automating repetitive tasks. It's about identifying the pain points that people are dealing with and eliminating them. The best advice I can give you on how to learn to be a tools developer is to make games on your own and try to drive them with data. You'll quickly become aware of the annoying parts of game development. Figure out how to automate those annoying tasks where possible or reduce it to as few clicks as you can.

    I also recommend starting a developer journal. It's motivational - especially if you end your posts with what you plan to accomplish next week. It makes you feel like you've committed to something and other people will be disappointed in you if you don't. And then a few years later, it's nice to have a historical record of your time. You said you were interested in seeing what work I did. I started doing the developer journal thing before I got my job so you can see exactly what I was working on leading up to that. Lately, I've been writing up journal entries about the kinds of stuff I've been working on for Battletech. So click the link above and read all about it. :) Feel free to ask any questions on the game dev site and I'll be happy to answer them.

    Finding a game development job is super hard. And even when you do find one, there's a decent chance that job could suck. There are plenty of sweatshops out there that just squeeze every hour they can out of employees and then boot them after the game ships. :P One thing I found out working at HBS is that I'm happy just being a programmer. If this wasn't Battletech, I probably would have gone back to Business Application development to make way more money so I could retire sooner. But HBS is an amazing company to work at and I'm working on an IP that was a HUGE part of my teen/college years so I'm super happy. #LivingTheDream Do your research on the companies, apply lots of places, and prepare yourself mentally for quite a bit of rejection.

    I hope this helps Riley. Good Luck!

    - Eck

    P.S. - Watch Collateral (Jamie Fox, Tom Cruise). It's the movie that really lit a fire under my ass to go follow my dream.

     

    Riley's Response

    Hello Eck,

    Firstly, thank you so much for responding, it really means a huge amount!

    Unity is an amazing piece of technology indeed and some of the incredible work I see on twitter is honestly amazing. However I've been rather weary of it for a while, due to mostly varying issues I've heard about it. Though I should just get on with some tutorials and learn things! C# / C++ / SQL is a good set of techs to learn as you allude to later on, business applications are big money! My main language is C# / PHP!

    How far did you get with the work on your own engine? I've attempted that a few times and it is a rather big challenge especially when you are brand new to it all. I have just noticed in your first blog post you were using XNA / MonoGame, it's my current go to as well (well FNA) but it's a good toolset.

    It is rather awesome your wife and family were so supportive of your move when you did get the job, thought I can imagine that it was a big move and stepping into an unknown. It's also awesome that you did end up getting the job even with 0 professional game dev experience. That is a massive thing that does end up worrying me when looking to apply "At least 2 games shipped", "At least 5 years in the industry" etc. Though Harebrained sounds like it must rather be an awesome company. 

    I shall have to give that a go, but literally everything you described is what I absolutely adore doing, creating systems and tools, to make peoples lives easier, automate things. In almost all my jobs, I end up building tools of some form to help others out, in one job I build a dashboard to monitor SSL certificates alongside website up time and in another, I built a whole framework to help developers write importers that were fail safe and powerful in the reporting side of things, so literally anyone could find out what went wrong.

    Any suggestions for sites to use for creating a journal? Would be interesting to see if it does help, cause I struggle massively with motivation and keeping going at projects though having any form of record of things I've done / am doing is a really nice thing to be able to look back on and see how / where you have grown. I shall be giving your blog a read over the next few nights and will definitely drop a few questions into the comment section, will be nice to talk more about how you have done things etc.

    The industry does seem like a few fast turn over area and yeah, I don't have the energy left in me for a sweatshop kinda company, we've all read the horror stories. I'm really glad to hear that you do love it so much at HBS and you feel so happy there, it's always nice when you do find places like that. Lots of research to be done and oh I've had my fair share of No's (including being ignored by a somewhat indie games company I looked up to, which sucked, but oh well).

    Thank you again, seriously this is honestly a massive help to me and I appreciate you taking time to read and respond to my emails, also Kiva, thank you also :)

    Hope you both have a lovely day!

    Kind regards

    Riley

    P.S. I shall have to go watch it indeed, thank you for the suggestion

     

    Eck's Response

    This email could sound a little cranky/confrontational. Tone is lost in text so please keep that in mind. At worst it should be received as "blunt" which is a quality I've been known to have. I'm just trying to help. :)

    Being wary of Unity:

    Originally I was in the camp of people that thought people using Unity were "cheating" and weren't real developers. You were only a REAL game developer if you wrote your own engine. That's the main reason I worked on my own engine. And quite frankly - that's a stupid camp to be in. Instead of working on low level stuff that's been done a million times by a million developers for nearly 2 years, I could have actually been working on a game and possibly released it. 

    I'm not sure what issues you've heard about Unity but they are definitely able to be dealt with. I mean look at Battletech and Shadowrun. Both of those were made with Unity. If the engine can handle a professional studio's ability to produce games for 7-8 years, then it can definitely handle a one-man indie's dive into game development. Stop using that as an excuse and start going through the tutorials. Then start making games - simple ones. Specifically, make clones of other simple games. For a road map of what games to make and why - give this article a read. I can't recommend it enough: https://www.gamedev.net/articles/programming/general-and-gameplay-programming/your-first-step-to-game-development-starts-here-r2976/

     

    How far did I get with my engine:

    I worked on it off and on as a side project for quite a while - starting, stopping, scraping, restarting. But then I got serious on it for about 1.5 years. I focused on 2D stuff and had an object hierarchy complete with translation, rotation, and scale. I got some post-processing glow effects, sounds effects, music, input management, particle systems, etc. Basically, I got to the point where I could make a simple game. I entered a week-long game jam where the theme was "The toys are alive". Here's a tech demo of my entry:

    I was super pleased with what I was able to produce, but that game jam was a wakeup call. I saw all the crazy awesome things other people were doing with Unity and I kicked myself for not learning it sooner. Since C# is your main language, then I strongly recommend jumping into Unity yourself. Worse comes to worst, you further your C# skills a bit more. So if game development doesn't work out, the skills still translate into a well-paid career.

     

    Your experience so far:

    Making tools in business software and making tools in games is pretty much the same thing (and that's how I sold it in my interview). :) Writing an importer for customer data instead of weapon data has all the same problems. It just sounds less cool to talk about. If you have the skills and can show the passion for game development - at least some companies will take a look at you. Being able to prove that you can walk the walk is what those experience requirements are all about.

    If you're looking for a good site to start a blog on, I highly recommend GameDev.net. It's an awesome community of game developers of all experiences. From the 0 xp newbie who wants to make an MMO to the elite pros who have written low-level graphic card drivers. There are forums to ask questions, and articles that explain tons of topics. They also have occasional game jams or challenges which is a great way to learn in a group of supportive people. Just recently they did a side-scrolling shooter challenge which was fun.

     

    Motivation:

    Motivation is something many people struggle with. It's so easy to stay in your comfort zone, play video games all day, and keep those dopamine sensors fed. You have to CHOOSE to learn a new skill. And it's extra difficult for programmers because the same device we use to be game developers is the same tool we use for recreation. Every time you sit down to work... WORK. Every time you sit down to play - ask yourself if you've worked enough today (or this week). If the answer is no, then you have a choice to make. You can choose to be responsible and work. Or you can choose to goof off and play a game. Choosing to goof off every once in a while is okay. But if you ONLY choose to goof off, you're never going to reach your goal. That's just how that works.

    As I have gotten older, I realized that time is THE MOST VALUABLE ASSET you have. You have a finite amount of time in this life. You are going to leave this world one day. Make your peace with that and accomplish what you want before you do.

     

    Thanks:

    You're welcome. :)

     

    Summary: 

    1. Learn Unity (or a similar engine)
    2. Make simple games to learn
    3. Write a dev journal (blog) about your experiences/plans
    4. Start working on your game

     

    About Chris Eck: I was a professional C++/C#/SQL developer for about 15 years, but game development has always been a hobby of mine. After spending a year of working on my own stuff, I landed my dream job at Harebrained Schemes working on BattleTech.



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    User Feedback


    It really starts to get on my nerves if people go around and praise Unity as the "gods send thing" and calling all people idiots who can't stand that mess of an engine. And in the next sentence they say how "annoying" and "troublesome" Unity is but "you can work around it". Sure you can spend lots of time to fight against an engine but that's what I call wasting life-time. Or to use an analogy: Sure you push around a cart with square wheels and find ways to somehow make it a tad bit less obnoxious but instead you could go and put together a car with round wheels and actually start making progress.

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    I really like point #3: write a dev blog. Good advice there.

    It forces you to basically document your development. Documentation is such an underrated skill for programmers, but so critical to standing out from the crowd.

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    I've only just started working with Unity, so I've no idea of it's problems, but the author's advice is very good for a beginner trying to start out.  

    I learned the hard way when I was 18(many years ago) that re-inventing the wheel is for idiots.  Writing business software, I spent so long writing custom code for a client on a fixed-price job rather than seek out a reusable library, that I'd have earned more flipping burgers at McDonalds.

    If Unity - or any other engine - works for you, or you can compromise on your requirements then assuming that you are writing a game to be sold or played, then you'd be mad to spend ages writing game engines etc.

    If an off the shelf engine is no good for your project or if you want to learn about game engine design, then perhaps it's worth the time to write your own.

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      Be professional Dress well Be prepared for many different situations when it comes to pitching your game Prepare physical materials in the event there are some tech issues Think about potential questions and how to answer them Have a fact/breakdown sheets that can be passed around for latecomers Come with your own devices, in case of incompatibility, or prepare for all types Choose the right team and people Not everyone can hype up the room and push your game in the right direction, so figure out who on your team is the best for this Be enthusiastic, honest, sell your hook, know your audience, and know your direction Don’t waste time by starting only once all your technical setup is ready Have team members prepare the tech, while others are socializing and getting a read of the room Break out any literature you may have prepared, in the event setup is taking longer than expected Leave time for questions and clarification Don’t get annoyed or worried when asked questions Questions are a means of getting clarity based on your pitch, and different people are going to have different questions Be sure to exchange business cards if you haven’t previously done so
       
      Email
      Keep your pitch short, clear, and interesting Toss in a cool visual GIF that is low in size High-quality image that represents your game works well, too Include an easily accessible link to a compelling YouTube trailer Preferably using bullet points, cleanly lay out the details of your game Brief and graspable description of your game’s plot and gameplay Target platforms and audience The needs of your project Include a link to where someone can access a playable build of your game Make sure your format is actually email friendly It’s easy for your formatting to get a little awry when you copy/paste from somewhere else or after dropping in any images/GIFs Extra points for you if you can even make it mobile friendly for those who may be reading your email pitch on their phones  

      Paper Cut Mansion of indie developer Space Lizard Studio put together their pitch in a great looking email (even on mobile!) with good readability and succinct bullets. Everything is quick and to the point. Hyperlinks helped to highlight and draw the eye to the important things they want their reader to see; plus, it makes attaching assets like videos and builds really clean. With just a glance, a publisher already knows key points about the game – core concept, platforms, and needs. Check out ongoing development of the game on Facebook!
       
      The Right Fit
      The first step and a crucial key to a successful pitch, and hopefully a signing, is ensuring that you are pitching to the right audience. This means really understanding your brand and what it is exactly you’re trying to sell. This also entails you doing research and shopping around for publishers who are likely to be interested in you and your game. If you’re lucky, you can be like Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor and be approached without even pitching. The secret to this is having main publisher targets and stay in the shadows – appear at events that they will be at, appeal to their target signings, and be ready to showcase your game to them when they are ready and looking. In most cases, however, you might not be as lucky. This just means perfecting your materials to the best of your capabilities and trusting in your team and game.
       

      An “anti-adventure” game, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor had the experience of actually never being pitched to anyone, according to developer Sundae Month. Instead, indie publisher tinyBuild approached Sundae Month to partner up after seeing an article on Killscreen (linked above). “We had a call with them where we talked about what the game was, and if I recall correctly, we showed them a build. It was something close to a horizontal slice though, with most of the environment at a moderately finished state. With Diaries that’s kind of the key selling point.”
       
      What Akupara Looks For
      As Akupara Games is a game publisher, we are always on the lookout for games to partner with. We believe in and support the indie developer – being uninhibited by many external factors, they are free to create truly unique and meaningful works. As a team, we choose to work on projects that we are passionate about, due to a combination of the project itself and the development studio’s drive. We actively look out for and approach projects that we see or hear about across different events and avenues. Cold pitches are welcome, as we are always interested to hear about those hidden gems. Listed below are some things we consider while we are evaluating bids for projects to work on.
      Premium titles PC and console focused No AR and VR Game design that has not been explored before New playing mechanics New genre or unique hybrid Teams that are easy to work with Communication Work ethic Reliability Fun to be around and interact with Passionate teams Willing to match our team in effort in preparing for release  

       
      If interested in pitching to Akupara Games, you can email us at team [at] akuparagames [dot] com with a pitch deck, build, and trailer!
       
      Conclusion
      By now, you should have a good idea of what materials you will want to prepare before you start reaching out to those potential publishers. Perhaps you’ve already prepared these materials, and if so, hopefully, there were some insightful points that you can use to improve your materials to make them even better.
      Thank you for reading our short game publishing series. We really hope it proved to be useful in your growth in the indie gaming spacing. We love to share our experiences and knowledge!
      If you have any questions after reading this, feeling something is missing, or have another topic you want us to cover, let us know on social media @AkuparaGames on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Discord.
       
      ---
      Akupara Games is an indie game studio based in Los Angeles, California. Composed of veterans of the game industry, Akupara Games focuses their energy and resources as an "indie for indies" studio by providing premier support to other indie studios through development, publishing, porting, and advising. Their mission statement ensures that each project receives a unique experience and personalized support.
      Website | Discord
       
      Note: This article was originally posted on the Akupara Games website, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.
    • By cloaker
      Hello everyone, 
      Tldr: please skip to questions
      I would like to start creating my own game. I used the Squad Mod kit (ue4) , Maya and substance painter/ Designer and a little bit of b2m for some time now. I also took a look into blender and unity. 
      I did this for about a year on and off when ever I had the time. 
       I followed payed and free Tutorials to get a very basic understanding in game development. 
      I still feel like my workflow is messy and not very "professional"
      There are many answers out there, I feel like iam stuck in reading Blogs and forum posts, searching for a definite answer where maybe there isnt one. 
      "Questions" 
      I need a setup that can do "everything" 
      *please leave your thoughts/answer/tips if you have any. 
      *when possible please link a Tutorial or learning Material to a topic
      Thank you
      1) Hardware 
      Running a "gaming" PC. The one complaint I have is that loading for example the squad kit takes *ages*. 
      8700k, 32gb ram@3600, 2080ti, cheapo nvme Kingston A1000, some tb wd hdds. 
      I would like to put my 8700k in a new pc that I would use as home "Server". And get  a i9 9900k for my Main rig. 
      Server: cheapo z370, wd reds, maybe optane? Small nvme/ssd
      Monitors: two 32 inch 100% sRGB wqhd, one vertical 1080p, one 4k TV for reference and Media consumption. 
      I dont know if every Software is good to use with 4k monitors today that's why ive choosen wqhd. 
      2) Backup, file Organisation and Management
      My worst nightmare is to loose Progress because I f'ed up. 
      File Backups on offline and online Server (like one drive) with automatic sync Software? 
      Version control with git? 
      What's the best way to organize your files local?
      3) Software to learn 
      I am pretty sure I like ue4, Maya and the substance suite. I also use PS and illustrator. 
      There is Software like 3d Coat or zbrush I might consider. 
      Vfx is still confusing me. 
      4) workflow / Pipelines 
      What is the difference between a Pipeline and s workflow. Isnt a Pipeline a workflow in a bigger picture? 
      There are many different informations in the www about this topic. I am still kinda confused. 
      Should I leave my project/files iam working with on the kan Server or work on my Main machine. 
      Is it possible to use the second PC as a helper for, rendering, bakeing Light etc? 
      If youre still reading, thank you very much youre a hero. Maybe you can leave me a reply
      Best regards
       
       
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