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Development as a Career: Resumes and Breaking Into the Business

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I tend to ramble in forum posts but I will attempt to keep it brief :) I've been in love with writing and artistic creation for as long as I can remember. The creation of other worlds and interesting characters will be my passion until the day I die. While I do plan to write professionally, at least part time, I've decided, after a long period of thought, that Game Design, specifically writing, character/world/societal creation, and plot/story creation, is my dream job. With that in mind, I've got several questions that I haven't found very concrete or applicable answers on in my hunt through industry websites, so I figure I'll ask here. How to prepare while in College I'm about to enter my third year at a 4-year university, where I'm completing my BA in Literature. The program I'm in allows me complete freedom to choose classes to take; I can enter any upper-division or graduate class, even if restricted to a specific major, without having completed the pre-requisites. Obviously classes in literature and creative writing are good tools for increasing and polishing my writing ability. With that said, what other classes would offer a direct benefit for the positions I'm looking for? Does game writing conform more closely (in general) to film writing as opposed to novels or short stories, for example? How much programming experience/knowledge is needed on the creative end of the process? If I had to choose one of the two, would additional background in art or CS be more worthwhile, and why? Or do the classes you take in college not matter enough on your resume (outside of your degree) to make a difference? Getting my foot in the door A lot of the articles I've read about starting in the business (and the requirements I've seen listed on a lot of job opportunity websites) show that game design is something of a catch-22: you can't get hired without experience, but you can't gain experience without being hired. I confess I have little to no experience with programming, and because of this I'm severely limited in terms of creating original programs to use as a resume builder. My idea (as of now) is to use an existing engine that's light on programming requirements but allows me to still create something people can sit down and play. Things like Bioware's Aurora toolset (modding/creation tool for Neverwinter Nights) or programs like RPG Maker 2003/RPG Toolkit (tools for creating 2d RPG's) are all things I have access to, as well, as Hammer (Valve's editing program for the Source engine), though modding of the actual game mechanics is beyond me at this point, I'm sure. Is the creation of a mod using one of these programs valuable in terms of worthwhile resume material? Assuming I can make something of good quality within the constraints offered by these programs, is a working demo or even completed short game going to help my application to stand out? Or is the lack of original programming such a detractor that I'd be better served spending my time creating more writing samples? Alternatively, is there a freeware engine like OGRE or something in that vein that would be easy enough to understand and manipulate to produce a basic game? (In this case I'd probably be shooting for a console style 2d RPG, bitmapped, using a hybrid RPG/Adventure combat system of my own design). I'm not unintelligent (at least in my own opinion :D ) and given well-written documentation and explanations, I could probably figure something like that out (I tought myself enough of the NWN coding language to do some interesting things with Aurora) given enough time, but trying to learn how to create an engine from scratch using C or another language isn't time efficient, in my opinion. Would it be more prudent to forego making an actual game and creating a design document, giving story information, detailing conversation charts, etc., rather than trying to create the actual game? Resume Building: Ways to gain experience with a professional company Like I said, I'm about to enter my 3rd year at college, and I feel like it's time I started putting serious effort into gaining experience to help with my resume. As far as I can tell, the best ways to start in the business are either jobs as a beta/QA tester, or as an intern with a game company. Is this accurate? If so, what's the best way to go about getting an internship? What do companies look for in an intern that I can work towards on my own? I've heard that January/February is the best time to start looking for summer internships, is this true? Most job sites that I've come across have little to no internship listings, and game internships seem impossible to find through that method. Are there any well known resources or lists of internships in the industry, and where can I find them? What about for QA/beta testing jobs? Does participating in a public beta give any advantages in terms of job experience, in an employer's eyes? Also, what online/print resources have been helpful to you, personally, regarding any of these questions above, or anything else about starting out in the design field? Are there any experiences/unanswered questions you can share or help with? I know there are an awful lot of questions in this post and I don't expect anyone to answer all of them, but any help/advice/tips that I can get would be wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to read this, I know it's something of a beast :)

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While interviewing for a software engineer position at EA, I did ask them about the future possibility of getting into game design. Their response was that its usually 3 to 4 years down the line for programmers and software engineers. It seems its possible to graduate from software engineer to game design, if you do a pretty good job and have good ideas. They also mentioned that they have found that CS people usually make good game designers.

From my talks with them and some of their comments, it seems that a game designer must have a certain degree of knowledge of every part of game development. I think its essentially the concept of being grounded in reality, sort of. Where its nice to have a highly creative and imaginative game designer, but its better to have one that creative and imaginative and understands the bounds of current technology. Which is another reason why sometimes software engineers become game designers because though each engineer has a specific field of expertise, they want you to be able to learn about every other field involved to a certain extent. So, 2 or 3 years in, you'll have a pretty good grasp of every piece of the process.

So, I guess I'd say to go take some CS courses and have at least a good understanding about programming.

As for internships, I know EA has a fairly large university outreach program, so its a pretty good place to start. Though, I have heard that work conditions may be abyssmal, but that's just what I heard.

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After a couple of *real* C++ classes I felt I could conquer anything in the programming world. I also recall something along the lines of "Once you learn one language, you pretty much know them all." But the "feeling" of being able to conquer anything is far different from being able to actually do it.. game development is an extremely deep CS field to jump into, and the designer really needs to have an intermediate understanding of all aspects to be fully capable. I would suggest starting off by taking a C++ course in the Fall and another in the Spring (if your Uni happens to do it that way, that is.)

After that, if you're lucky enough to be able to enroll into a Game Development course you should obviously go for it, but I think your senior year might be best spent in books. Picking up 'Beginning OpenGL Programming' is a good start and will give you a good understanding of the third dimension of programming. Afterwards, try out '3D Game Programming All-In-One', this will give you a lot of information, everything from working with a free engine (like OGRE, it's called Torque), designing models, etc.

Designing your own game to show off as a demo doesn't hurt.

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Hi Mailrun, and welcome to the forums!

I'm no expert in giving advice into how to get into the industry, but it seems you've got a tougher road than I had. From what I read, getting into the industry as a writer is a lot harder than as a programmer or an artist. If you have any artistic ability you could try to get in as an artist, as that would be easier. Design is practically impossible to start in; you will have to either work your way up or start your own company to start as a designer.

I think game writing should be considered a different artform from that of film, novels or short stories, because you also have to factor in the interactivity that those media do not. Your plan to build a portfolio using Neverwinter Nights or RPG Maker seems solid to me; your best result would be if you create and release a story module that is respected by the community, getting you attention as a quality writer. That will be a big boon to getting in to a game development position directly as a writer (or assistant writer, if you're lucky enough to find a development house that hires more than one).

QA is a possible career starter, but it often is a dead end (QA is wrongly looked down upon by some developers, and it is mind-numbing soul-destroying work). Beta testing is seasonal work at most places, it's useful if you want to make some low level contacts but I'm not sure how well that translates to a full time job as a writer.

I'm not sure about whether you want to be a programmer or not. I was quickly offered a game programming job, as did my friends (in another company), but we had degrees in software engineering and were strong programmers. Your goal is to be a writer/designer, and so programming might not be for you. Give it a go, of course, every good designer needs some grasp of what is possible to implement. However, it will take a while to be a competent programmer, and that's not your forte; writing is.

Here's an idea; maybe you could think about looking for jobs as a writer of technical documents. Someone has to write the manuals and the other text. Or if you are bilingual, you could think about getting a job as a translator. To other people reading this thread, how many professional writing jobs are available in the game industry, even if it is in writing manuals and other technical documents as a starting career? I'm just not sure myself, sorry.

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Great responses so far, thanks everyone! Taking some CS coursework is certainly a possibility and something I will end up doing, I'm sure, but my uni doesn't offer a CS minor, and to declare as a compsci major I'd have to take 14 prereqs before declaring as an undergrad major candidate (and that's with only two years left now :( ) I've seen a lot of stuff about writers being "contracted" of late while looking at resources; do the majority of game companies keep writers on staff full time, or do they generally contract different freelance people on a project by project basis as the general rule? I'm trying to get an idea of how steady my paycheck would be as a game writer, hehe.

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I will echo what the others have said...

Design isn't an entry level position. You need to get in through testing or as a programmer/artist. The exception is level design (the person who sits and assembles the levels and does the game scripting for them). You can get in as a ground floor level designer but only if you are an accomplished level designer with a portfolio of levels - in other words you have to have done level design as a hobby and gained the necessary experience that way.

The reason that design isn't an entry level position is because it is a vital central role in development (much like the Producer role). Mistakes that the designer makes will impact on every other team member and make the team as a whole less efficient. Developers don't want to risk have a project ruined by an unproven newbie.

As for writing, so companies probably do have writers on staff but many don't. Different projects require different writing styles so using freelancers is often better. If you want to pursue the design role and or writing as a future job I suggest doing the following:
1. Do the CS degree to get an understanding of that stuff.
2. Do level designs using one of the more popular game engine/level design toolsets - see if you actually like designing levels as much as you like playing them.
3. Keep working on you creative writing skills in as many outlets as possble (local paper, blog, indie game projects).
4. Study stuff like ancient civilizations/myths/legends and famous literature - knowledge of all this stuff is very useful for design.

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Again, thanks everyone for some very well thought out and intelligent responses! I understand completely that "intro" GD positions don't really exist, and I don't have a problem with earning my spurs; what I'm looking for I guess is the best options for eventually working my way up to such a position, and what I can be doing now to get a jumpstart on getting an entry-level job. Keep that advice coming! :)

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How do you feel about management? I ask because if I had my game development path to do over again I would have pursued project management moreso than QA/programming, whichis how I got into the industry.

The steepest challenge I think you may have before you is that everyone has dreams and agendas, but only certain highly specialized skillsets can realize any particular dream. If you can't build something yourself, then you have to enroll others. You have to communicate the possibility of your project such that they are moved and inspired to take action. It helps to like other people, too (something this geeky business could use a lot more of [grin])

In the companies I worked at (and it seems this is the same for my friends who worked at other big gaming companies) there seemed to be two types of people who got the greenlight for their projects: those that were indespensible(wunderkind, especially) and recognized authority (management and veterans with a track record). For indespensibles, management appears to have to weigh the cost of losing them with the risk of keeping them happy by letting them use resources to pursue a project. Management, on the other hand, had connections, and this increased the possibility of being able to tap the right people (also, people tend to agree with those who are like them, unfortunately).

I think there's still too much voodoo in game design and game writing for it to be seen as a mission critical part of game development. This means that if you're risking 5 or 30 million, it's better to put it on someone who has had a lot of successes than someone with an all too common dream. A programmer or artist can show their competence in minutes. But a designer must wait months.

If you're serious about this I'd urge you to think about how you might connect with others, learn to lead them, and inspire them. And be open to the fact that because you want to do something creative and the human race seems to be bursting with the same, you may need to blaze your own trail. This can include a lot of crap jobs that take you quite far afield from creativity, and you may spend many years sublimating your own goals for someone else's gain. It isn't cause to lose heart-- just cause to wise up and figure out how to build your dream yourself.

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Quote:

QA is a possible career starter, but it often is a dead end (QA is wrongly looked down upon by some developers, and it is mind-numbing soul-destroying work).


Just quoting to agree. I've also found that QA provides precious little resume experience when used to apply for a development position. I've had potential employers ask more about my years old IT background, since that OS familiarity seems to be deemed more important than process, debugging, automation, and OS familiarity gained in QA.

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Original post by Wavinator
How do you feel about management? I ask because if I had my game development path to do over again I would have pursued project management moreso than QA/programming, whichis how I got into the industry.

The steepest challenge I think you may have before you is that everyone has dreams and agendas, but only certain highly specialized skillsets can realize any particular dream. If you can't build something yourself, then you have to enroll others. You have to communicate the possibility of your project such that they are moved and inspired to take action. It helps to like other people, too (something this geeky business could use a lot more of [grin])

In the companies I worked at (and it seems this is the same for my friends who worked at other big gaming companies) there seemed to be two types of people who got the greenlight for their projects: those that were indespensible(wunderkind, especially) and recognized authority (management and veterans with a track record). For indespensibles, management appears to have to weigh the cost of losing them with the risk of keeping them happy by letting them use resources to pursue a project. Management, on the other hand, had connections, and this increased the possibility of being able to tap the right people (also, people tend to agree with those who are like them, unfortunately).

I think there's still too much voodoo in game design and game writing for it to be seen as a mission critical part of game development. This means that if you're risking 5 or 30 million, it's better to put it on someone who has had a lot of successes than someone with an all too common dream. A programmer or artist can show their competence in minutes. But a designer must wait months.

If you're serious about this I'd urge you to think about how you might connect with others, learn to lead them, and inspire them. And be open to the fact that because you want to do something creative and the human race seems to be bursting with the same, you may need to blaze your own trail. This can include a lot of crap jobs that take you quite far afield from creativity, and you may spend many years sublimating your own goals for someone else's gain. It isn't cause to lose heart-- just cause to wise up and figure out how to build your dream yourself.


By management do you mean the business/producer side of things? I'm willing to work my way up however it's possible, but I'm guessing that a business-oriented position would more likely go to someone with a business degree :/ I work in PR and customer relations on campus, however, and can probably work as a manager this year or next year if I can't get an internship next summer, so I'd at least have some managerial experience to put on my resume. Assuming I were going in through that route, what sort of entry-level positions would I be looking for? Also, does managerial work involve working somewhere in the game process, or is it a strictly business side of the house sort of position?

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