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GFRozen2k

Advancing to designer

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I'll try to keep the backstory short, but here goes: I am currently a second year Game/Simulation Programming student at DeVry University. I'm doing great with the subject and I have a knack for programming by my ultimate goal is to become a designer. My question is, once I graduate and get a few years of programming eXtreme sports games and Olsen Twins adventures under my belt what will it take to get there? I have a half finished Anthropology degree and I'm also racking up some credits that will be transferrable into a Project Management Masters, will either of those really help? If so does the creative/Ivory Tower subject help more or should I pursue the more pragmatic management path? Finally, is there anything I'm overlooking?

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Original post by GFRozen2k
my ultimate goal is to become a designer. ... once I graduate and get a few years of programming eXtreme sports games and Olsen Twins adventures under my belt what will it take to get there?

I thought you said you wanted to be a designer?

The skill sets required for a designer are different than those of a programmer.

Designers are writers who are able to document every imaginable part of a game. That is a position you get promoted to. Lesser designers include character designers, level designers, writers, content designer, and many other titles.

Programmers move more along the lines from programmer/engineer to engineering lead (which is mostly management) to technical director.

Designers move along from low level design of simple things (xx designer) to leadership over other designers, eventually to artistic (not art) or creative director or simply "game designer".

While it is true that some programming and art experience are beneficial for designers, programming should not be their focus in life. A designer would be more interested in making Half-Life mods or Civilization scenarios rather than coding a new engine. A designer knows how to use scripting tools and programming logic, but they don't do what most people call programming.

There is much less need for designers than there is for artists and programmers. Any group of three or four people -- maybe only one of them having designer in their job title -- can do enough design in a week to keep a team of artists and programmers busy for a month or more. Based on the social circles and conference numbers, I'd estimate the ratio is around 20:1 for programmers and artists to designers.

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Original post by frob

Designers are writers who are able to document every imaginable part of a game. That is a position you get promoted to. Lesser designers include character designers, level designers, writers, content designer, and many other titles.


A large part of my curriculum does deal with design docs and I already pulled through several modding assignments.

But what now? If starting out as a programmer is a false start should I instead apply for some of the lesser designer titles you mentioned?

I was under the impression that a designer position was considerably harder to break into if you're a recent graduate with no real industry experience, hence I figured starting out in larger market would be beneficial.

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It's just a totally different job track. Intro designers generally come from the modding scene (they mod a few dozen games, design some cool levels, etc); alternately they come from the test department.

Starting job is level designer (you generally assist a more senior designer to build a map: place terrain, create encounters, control level pacing/flow). After about 2-3 years you get promoted to be a lead level designer where you are in charge of one map or a couple maps and are in charge of a few game mechanics, after 3-5 years if you're good you can be a lead designer. You cannot become a lead designer without spending around 5-10 years doing level design; so if you hate level design you won't be a lead designer.

But remember lead designer does not equal will wright. It means that you control some or even many of the ideas for the game but at the end of the day the executive producer gets the last word because he controls the money flow.

above description in true for all of the major studios for whom i've worked or know about internally.

Perhaps if you write a few words about the actual job description that you want to do we could help you figure out the best career path. If you're looking for the "idea guy" position, it doesn't exist outside of small studios (groups of friends that've been in the industry a while); in most big studios that job is done by a blend of an executive producer, some marketing people and a lead designer.

Also important to note is that you won't get the same salary as an intro level programmer until about your 5th year of being a designer.

-me

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I was under the impression that good designers can come from nearly any school; the programmer turned designer is not an uncommon path. I'm pretty sure there isn't one recommended path to becoming a lead designer. Or have things changed in the last few years and the industry has become more formalised?

Admittedly it depends what sort of position you are looking for; I'm only familiar with the smaller development houses you get in Australia where the lines between roles often get blurred. But I certainly don't think you need to take the level designer path to becoming a lead designer, particularly in a small studio.

If you like being a programmer and are good at it, I would recommend starting as a programmer. The key is to get your foot in the door. Once you are working inside a company you can ask to help with the designing and let it be known you want to work towards that role.

Check out Tom Sloper's advice website (Sloperama): some of those articles are on the game development job.

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Many thanks for the sloperama link, I found the site a year ago and then forgot the name and had trouble finding it again.

Anyway, my problem is I don't think I'm detail oriented enough to be much of a level designer. I can play any game and figure out exactly where and why the game mechanics suck and how to fix them, but setting and story wise not so much.

In fact, in all the group assignments up until now I ended up in the role of the guy who helps the group settle on the concept and hammer out the general mechanics and then follows the implementation while shooting down any ideas that are either too late to work in or I don't expect to work or add anything to the finished product. The specific look and feel elements I let the others handle.

That's not to say I don't actually want to work with my own material, when I have decent historical sources and/or various roleplaying publication campaign settings I can at least conceptualize a game around it relatively easily.

Is there any kind of official position that this reminds anyone o?

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G-something wrote:

>I am currently a second year Game/Simulation Programming student at DeVry University. I'm doing great with the subject and I have a knack for programming by my ultimate goal is to become a designer.
>My question is, once I graduate and get a few years of programming eXtreme sports games and Olsen Twins adventures under my belt what will it take to get there?

Hold on. You have 2 more years to get your degree, then "a few years of programming... games" after that. Why are you asking NOW what you'll have to do THEN to become a game designer? Why not wait until you've done those things? We have no magic crystal ball to look in, that'll tell us what to tell you is going to happen then. "Your wife, Crystal, will bump into another game guy's wife, Mariah, at the hairdresser's. Mariah will suggest that the two couples meet for dinner. Whatever you do, do NOT make that comment about Mariah's hubby's baldness! He'll offer you a job as a game designer at his company, but not if you wisecrack about how his skull reminds you of a crystal ball!"

>I have a half finished Anthropology degree and I'm also racking up some credits that will be transferrable into a Project Management Masters, will either of those really help?

Oh, geez, young Jedi. I repeat: we don't got no magic crystal balls. How about you read my FAQs 49, 50, and 51 - they're at http://www.sloperama.com/advice.html

>If so does the creative/Ivory Tower subject help more or should I pursue the more pragmatic management path?

Pursue the one you WANT to pursue! Read my FAQ 40.

>Finally, is there anything I'm overlooking?

Almost assuredly. What things are you NOT overlooking?

>But what now? If starting out as a programmer is a false start should I instead apply for some of the lesser designer titles you mentioned?

"If." Who told you starting as a programmer is a "false start"? Do you enjoy programming, are you good at it, does it not allow you to pursue your passions?

>I was under the impression that a designer position was considerably harder to break into if you're a recent graduate with no real industry experience,

You were under the correct impression.

>hence I figured starting out in larger market would be beneficial.

I got lost somewhere between the beginning of your sentence and the end of your sentence. Sorry. Just read those FAQs, then come on back. Young Jedi.

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G-something wrote, while I was writing:

>in all the group assignments up until now I ended up in the role of the guy who helps the group settle on the concept and hammer out the general mechanics and then follows the implementation while shooting down any ideas that are either too late to work in or I don't expect to work or add anything to the finished product. The specific look and feel elements I let the others handle.

Nothing wrong with that, young Jedi.

>That's not to say I don't actually want to work with my own material, when I have decent historical sources and/or various roleplaying publication campaign settings I can at least conceptualize a game around it relatively easily.
>Is there any kind of official position that this reminds anyone o?

"Collaborative teammate."

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Quote:
Starting job is level designer (you generally assist a more senior designer to build a map: place terrain, create encounters, control level pacing/flow). After about 2-3 years you get promoted to be a lead level designer where you are in charge of one map or a couple maps and are in charge of a few game mechanics, after 3-5 years if you're good you can be a lead designer. You cannot become a lead designer without spending around 5-10 years doing level design; so if you hate level design you won't be a lead designer.


That is a very broad and not entirely accurate statement. There are MANY types of designers in the industry and not one type is specifically ear-marked as the one given to entry level people. In fact, level designer is rarely given to entry level in my experience. Typically as entry level designers you are doing more implementation of someone else's level, fixing bugs, working with QA, or doing general data entry.

Of course, it really depends on the type of game and the project's needs for a design team. My experience is primarily with MMOs so rarely do entry level designers get assigned to level/world design except as glorified data-entry specialists.

As for the original poster, its great to have ambitions and goals. But I'd recommend your first ambition be to finish school. Then worry about just breaking into the industry. It isn't a guarantee for anyone. Lead Designer requires years of experience in the right places. Worry about it later after you are actually making games.

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Allright, I guess I got a bit carried away with the future.

One last question, and I guess this is the one I was originally hoping to get answered (It's amazing how these things take on a life of their own):

In the here and now, is it a good idea to load up on as many electives as a semester will allow in preparation of needing to complete one or both of the other disciplines in the future? Or could competence make up for a lack of further education?

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G-something wrote:
>In the here and now, is it a good idea to load up on as many electives as a semester will allow in preparation of needing to complete one or both of the other disciplines in the future?

[shrug] I don't know. What do YOU want to do? You haven't read FAQ 40 yet, Young Jedi.

>Or could competence make up for a lack of further education?

You lost me again. So how about this. Do both. Get further education. AND be competent. If this was a "two choices" question, read my FAQ 52. You know where my FAQs are.

You're in SF? Going to be at GDC next week?

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No, I have not read faq 40 yet, the first 39 take a while to get through;)

And I am planning to be at the GDC. Whether I get my money's worth or not will all depend of if I can force myself to take part in the game pitching excercise. All depends on the attendance I guess.

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No, I have not read faq 40 yet, the first 39 take a while to get through;)

And I am planning to be at the GDC. Whether I get my money's worth or not will all depend of if I can force myself to take part in the game pitching excercise. It all depends on the attendance.

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G-something wrote:
>No, I have not read faq 40 yet, the first 39 take a while to get through;)

Very funny.

>I am planning to be at the GDC.

OK, well, you don't have to look me up and say hello if you don't want to.

>Whether I get my money's worth or not will all depend of if I can force myself to take part in the game pitching excercise.

Bull. I take back what I said. You need to read #1. And read #54 too. Also read http://www.igda.org/columns/gamesgame/. But hurry up before they post the March entry (if you see the March entry, read the February entry).

[Edited by - tsloper on March 2, 2007 12:48:54 AM]

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I wouldn't worry about loading up with electives, unless they are for a topic that interests you. As someone who does hiring of graduates for an IT company, I call tell you that the truth is what you did in university is almost completely irrelevant. If you took course in flower arrangin and where captain of the math team are all interesting enough, but when it comes to getting a job it comes down to whether or not you have the skills to do the job and will you fit into the team. So take whatever electives you find interesting would be my advice.

As for becoming a game designer, it like obtaining any role really. If you can demonstrate the nessary skills to move up the corporate ladder in that direction then you could eventually become a game designer. Just remember that it is a high level competitive position.

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