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Design vs Programming

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Hullo. I''m a newbie, in search of advice... I want to make games. I really want to make games. "Oh no, not another one!" I hear you cry. Well anyway, I''ve done my homework and I know what''s expected of programmers and developers. I''ve been learning to program anyway, and come up with lots of really detailed ideas. At the moment, I''m in high school and thinking of doing computer science at university, with the ultimate aim of writing games. The thing is... I quite enjoy programming but I really really want to see my own ideas created. I realise that people seldom walk in off the street and become designers; they usually start as testers or artists or even programmers. I realise that no matter what job in the games world I choose to pursue, I''m going to be working on other people''s ideas for a long, long time. I accept that. So... is there ever ultimately a stage where people are designing games and playing an active role in their coding? Are designers always soley designers and coders always soley coders? I used to think that the best way of doing things would be to get a degree in computer science, do some non-game commercial programming for some company to get experience and then try to find a way in to the game world. I was under the impression that design leads got there by climbing up the pile, starting as programmers, and still writing a lot of their own code. I''m not so sure now. So what''s the story? If I want to be a designer, is it a bad move to focus on programming? How many designers still write (at least some of) their own code? Leonard Frankel, AKA SoulSkorpion

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Hey, welcome to the Forum.

I can''t advise you personally, but I can relate what I''ve seen.

I think you can get to both design and code if you''re very good. At the two companies I worked for, and given the advice I''ve heard from fellow industry folk, you often need a very impressive prototype and someone in management to back you. If you can form a small grass roots movement (ours often formed around late night LAN sessions and lunch brainstorms) you might either unofficially pull something together to show to a producer in a few weeks, or get a producer in on the whole idea and have him advocate that time be set aside for you.

An old friend of mine got a chance to build his own RTS from start to finish a few years ago. He was responsible for story, weapons, creatures, missions, and internal OOP architecture. He probably was responsible for at least half the non-library code, and spent many late nights bug fixing, tweaking AI, and reworking design elements that were good in theory but unworkable in practice.

I have constantly heard (GDA, friends) that those who design don''t always have steady work unless they also do something else like produce or code. In the last shop I worked at, the key designer was also an artist. I''ve interviewed at places where something like this was similar as well, but usually more with the smaller companies.

Don''t know if this helps or not, but it''s what I''ve experienced.

btw, I have heard that if you get to both design and code your own game, you end up hating it at the end.

--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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Firstly, remember that a "game designer" is often a misnomer, and the term carries far less weight than a "game programmer" does. This is because programming is a highly focused and easily-defined activity, whereas design ranges from coming up with ideas and game concepts, to designing statistics systems, making 3D maps, to scripting NPC behaviour. It''s a catch-all term which means that one ''designer'' may be doing nothing at all similar to another ''designer'' at a different group or company. The reason I''m stressing all this, is because it makes it very hard to compare the mythical ''designer'' to any other position.

Having said all that, there are many successful designer-programmers in the business. Most of my favourite developers do both roles to some degree, including Richard Garriot (Ultima series), Sid Meier (Civilisation etc), Peter Molyneux (Black and White, Dungeon Keeper, etc), and Doug Church (Ultima Underworlds, Thief: The Dark Project). Other notable names include Brian Reynolds (Colonisation, Alpha Centauri), Jordan Mechner (Prince of Persia), Chris Sawyer (Rollercoaster Tycoon, Transport Tycoon), etc etc...

Of course, there are some great designers who don''t program and never have, but in the words of Warren Spector (Thief, Deus Ex), "The fact that I am not a programmer is a real problem for me. It''s not a debilitating problem I hope, but it is an issue. If I were a programmer I could do my various jobs better." A frank admission from one of the industry greats.

Also, be sure to read this article at GamaSutra for more articles and another opinion.

In short, I''d say that any designer should at least understand programming, even if they have no intention of coding an entire game themselves.

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost | Asking Questions | Organising code files ]

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There are many avenues into game design, but there aren''t many people that can get hired directly into a design position. Most people are lucky if their first job allows them any design input at all. Programming isn''t the most direct route into design, unless you are developing independent games. Even so, it is definitely the most lucrative. QA, Customer Service and Artists are typically easier for a company to move into design (typically level building) and production positions.

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Your ideas are a little... unfocused.

Check out my game: http://www.feudalconquest.com

Notice I said, MY game. I designed it, I created it (or atleast, my friends and I did). Its MY game.

Do I work for anyone but myself? No.
Did I get to see MY ideas in place? Yes.

So maybe you can''t go work at a big house company and make it on your own or whatever, but you can always rely on yourself. Lots of indie developers are making games for themselves, and its not because they can''t get a job at a big company, its because they''re like you, they want to make their own games.



Feudal Conquest, An Online Strategy Game, has just become an Open Beta!

We''re looking for Beta Testers!

If you''re interested or just want more information, head on over to: http://www.feudalconquest.com

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If you can afford to, getting an internship at a game company can open doors for you. They may not pay, or pay very little, but it gets you in a building a little experience that could be worth a lot, and an extra bullet on your resume.

My personal advice (I am NOT a programmer) is program game related things as much as possible. Don''t take that buisiness programming job unless it will either teach you something that you can put toward gaming--or you just really NEED the money.

CDV

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I''ve always wanted to be a game programmer but have really moved more into design over the past couple years. I''m not sure which direction I''m going in yet but I know I want to be in game development. I started off in web development and moved into application development and consulting, none of which have anything at all to do with games. This was a very poor strategy for a focused game development career but a good strategy financially.

A friend of mine once told me that if you want to be in a career, say underwater basket weaving, you should start as early as high school doing things that show you on record as having an interest in underwater basket weaving. So, if you want to be a game designer, focus on it now. Try to develop a simple idea and go from there. Take computer classes and get a job at a company that deals with some form of interactive entertainment. Try pitching ideas to people at that company but make sure that those ideas are heard by your superiors. Nothing sucks more than telling someone a great idea and then seeing them telling the CEO your idea as if it were their own.

If you want to be a designer, always push towards that. Programming applications for some company is not going to bring you closer to a game design position.

- Jay

"I have head-explody!!!" - NNY

Get Tranced!

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Guest Anonymous Poster
check out the gamasutra article "whatever happened to the designer-programmer?", it weighs up the pros and cons and reminds you the industry seems to view it as a jeckell-and-hyde relic of the bedroom programmer days.

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