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confused on path to game development

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Hello, i wanted to eventually be like one of the programmers who programmed Everquest, or NEverwinter nights, on a team like that. i was wondering, im going to go back to school, but i got these books, some of them teach you from scratch for text games, but for the 2d ones, some use premade engines, or even for the 3d games there's the torque engine. i was wondering , if i were to get my skills up to join a team like Everquest , NWN, etc, should i do everything from scratch? and not use those premade engines, whose workings i dont understand anyway, so im confused if i should do the from scratch SDL, then opengl route, or if i should use the premade engines instead. ideally, my goal is to be a contributing programmer on a team like that. any help appreciated.

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I would personally recommend starting slow and simple. Get ahold of a good, mod-friendly game that has a custom scripting system, and write gameplay scripts for it. Once you have a solid feeling for working at that level, try jumping to a prebuilt engine like Torque and experimenting with building a simple game on top of that technology. Work your way slowly down into the guts; focus on understanding what you can do at each "high level" before moving into more technical, low levels.

This will give you several advantages. First, it'll get you used to working with someone else's software design, which is a vital skill for working on a game programming team. Second, it'll generate a rich portfolio of projects; completing a couple of missions or even a full mod for a game is far more practical that writing one from scratch. You will absolutely need a good portfolio to get a game development studio interested in hiring you, so the more high-quality work you can accomplish, the better. Finished mods are definitely more impressive than incomplete half-baked engines.

Third, this approach will give you the chance of getting into the industry sooner rather than later. Developing a good mod can put you on the charts for studios who are looking for gameplay programmers and other similar positions. The sooner you can land even an internship in the industry, the sooner you'll be able to start working close to the game technology that you're really interested in.

For any really decent studio, the only way you will get to work on something low-level like a 3D engine is to have a very, very solid track record. You can either approach that from the high-level route I've just described, or from the low-level, by learning how to build everything yourself from scratch. However, the second approach is typically not that impressive. Very few studios can afford to build things from scratch; at the very least, they almost certainly have existing engine code libraries that they will use for future projects. So in a very real sense, it is a more valuable skill to know how to work with existing code than to write that code yourself from the ground up.

However, just because you're coming at things from the "outside in" so to speak doesn't mean you can (or should) ignore the details of how things work. Read some Internet articles or even books on how 3D engines work, how programmable shader technology works, the merits of scripting languages for writing game logic, and so on. Basically, spend a lot of time hanging around here and sites like Gamastura, and absorb as much as you can. Understanding the technology is certainly possible even if you don't necessarily know how to build it all yourself.

Finally, the number one skill you need is knowing how to learn. Know how to research, know what you don't know, and know the best places to find things you've forgotten (or never learned in the first place). An entry level programmer who is willing to learn (and capable of learning well) on his own is much more attractive to employers than someone who "knows it all already" and has a huge stack of useless facts memorized. Because technology and the games business change so fast, it's always better to know how to learn than to just simply know.

Best of luck with your endeavours!

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