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Getting a Job (Kinda long)

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There are multiple ways to break into the game industry. I am going to go into a recount of my own personal experiences and how I landed the job that I did.

As I stated a couple of posts ago, I took every class I could that related to game development in my studies of Computer Graphics Technology at Purdue. Unfortunately, there weren't many. I took a good portion of the classes in the Animation specialty of my degree, which on top of the core classes that everyone in my major takes, involved courses entitled Intro to Computer Animation, Digital Lighting and Rendering, Motion for Computer Animation, Digital Video and Audio, and a History of Visual Effects in Films class. I also took a Construction Graphics Communication course that had me delving into CAD work. There were a couple of other advanced animation courses that I just wasn't able to fit into my schedule.

None of those classes really relate directly to game development, do they? I also found myself taking a class called Interactive Simulation and Game Development, which had me doing some j2me cellphone game development with a foray into producing .X format models and animations for a C#/DirectX based Mech game that never really saw the light of day. My best chance came when it came time for me to take my senior design/capstone course called Contemporary Problems in Applied Computer Graphics, which was a group based course. I used this opportunity to pitch a project to the class that utilized the Unreal Engine and would give some students the opportunity to jump into some real game development.

Luckily enough, I garnered enough interest and found myself as the project manager/programmer/technical director for the project. We managed to get a hell of a lot done over the semester, and I also busted my ass to make various industry contacts during this time. Because this was a student lead project, we needed professional consultation to ensure the quality and best practices of our project. I sent out e-mails to various game designers explaining what we were doing. One great game designer, Patrick O'Luanaigh (CEO of nDreams, former creative director of SCi/Eidos, and author of Game Design Complete), got back with me. He was gracious enough to review through my design documents and give me pointers on what he thought worked and how to improve what wasn't.

My group and I also took the time to nab up Todd Keller (Cinematics Lead at Midway Chicago) and Keith Self-Ballard (Senior Environmental Artist at Volition), who were on campus for an Industrial Advisory Board conference, to come over to the Technology building and let us demo our work to them. Keith Self-Ballard stayed for about an hour and Todd Keller stayed for about two. We spent this time picking their brains about what they felt about the project and what their personal opinions on how to enter the industry were. I'll take this moment to comment that getting professional reviews and input on your works is of huge importance. Having them reviews our work and sitting down with them for so long really helped us all to put things into perspective.

A couple of weeks later the semester ended. I had only a summer semester term left and I would be graduated. I knew that I really needed to get something lined up. What did I do? I hopped onto and and applied for every single designer and associate producer position listed. Project design and management is where I felt my strengths laid, so I shot high. I spent several days customized my cover letter and resume for these various positions. I applied for a few beta tester positions, not really wanting them to get back with me.

I eventually got a positive response from Black Lantern Studios about a game designer position. Score! Game design is what I want to do more than anything, so I was pretty damn happy to hear back about a designer job. Matt Raithel, the Art and Design Director at Black Lantern Studios, and I exchanged a few e-mails and setup a phone interview time.

I eagerly awaited the phone call, trying to think of what he could possibly ask me. Once the interview got started, it went way smoother than I could have hoped for. He opened up by asking me how I had heard about them and then we got going on about my various experiences and what I've done to get involved/informed in the game development business. This was probably the the most interesting thing we talked about. I talked about my experience with Patrick O'Luaniagh, Keith Self-Ballard, Todd Keller, and a professor of mine, Carlos Morales, that he actually knew. Going by my experience with this interview, I would have to say that making industry contacts is even more important that I thought. This helps to show just how interested you are in working in the field.

The second half of the hour long interview (which was supposed to only be 15-20 minutes long) was basically him summing up what working at Black Lantern Studios is like and began pitching the company to me over the phone. We concluded the interview with him saying that he was going to send me a design test.

The design test consisted of me writing a 4-6 page game design proposal document for releasing the very popular game Zuma by PopCap games on the Nintendo DS. He gave me a few weeks to work on it, because I was at that time a month and a half away from graduation. I spent about a week on it and then submitted it. This is actually when the hiring process began to slow to a bit of a crawl. BLS was entering crunch time for the delivery of two different products and so that kept my hirer rather busy. Our e-mails crawled to about one a week before I finally got a phone call last week giving me the official job offer. After doing some discussing, we decided that Aug 15th would be a good start date for me, seeing as how I don't finish up classes until the 2nd of Aug and they're shipping off the two products they're working on on the 13th.

I plan on using this journal to write about the various experiences I have as I enter into the game development business as a junior game designer.
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Sucks to hear that you won't be able to work on your serious game proposal anymore. At the same time, I think you'll find the environment of professional game development a refreshing and challenging change.

Raithel is a great guy, and I'm sure you'll learn a lot from him as well as the rest of the design team. It was interesting to hear about your application process. I had no idea how things were done on the design end of hiring.

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Well, up until now, I had no idea how the hiring process for a designer worked either. I mean, I knew that at companies like Midway and Volition you have to start in their quality assurance departments and work your way up. Pay the dues so to speak. What did I just spend so much money on getting a degree for if I am just going to work as a bug tester for ~9/hr? I knew about the process for getting a job as a modeler or animator, but getting a design job right out of school was really beyond me how it was done.

It is a good thing I took the chance and decided to try for it. I look forward to seeing you at BLS! Yeah, it does kind of suck about the Serious Games project, but I'd be busting my balls to make a game for a university and not get paid enough to support my family with. I do expect, as you put it, to find working in a professional game development environment to be a "refreshing and challenging change".

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Congrats on landing the job. Sounds like it should be pretty fun - the big advantage of game dev companies that I've seen is that they are pretty much universally relaxed, which makes a big difference to how much you enjoy yourself at work :).

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