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sp33s

In the industry for a few years, struggling all along with my "dual functionality"

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Hey everyone,

I hope this is the right forum, if not I hope a mod can move it; I'm a new member on these forums ;)

I have been struggling with a problem which I need industry advice on. My problem is that I have a passion for designing as well as programming. I come from a technical background, but always did art in my spare time ever since I was a child. As of now I'm able to properly 3D model, concept sketch, design interfaces as well as program on an very decent level. However, it's not top notch quality (something Blizzard and all the big guys would want as either a designer or a programmer on their team).

For years I thought this was my ace, my unique ability to merge an eye for design with programming. However, the longer I am in the industry, the more I see this as a handicap instead. The people around me who grow on seem to be either just very good programmers or very good designers. The company I work at for the last few years seems to be glad with me, because they can use me easily for both areas. However, I think there's not much to grow in what I'm currently doing, nor is it satisfying.

So my question is, what are reasonable career choices for someone like me? Should I go for either one, or are there functions in this industry which actually benefit from the things I can do? Should I stop and choose one way, or can I swiftly move on in a function which benefits from both?

Lately it's actually leading to some sleepless nights over this issue. So insight from those who know more on this subject is greatly appreciated.

Thanks :)

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What do you want out of your life?

There is certainly a high bar to move from "advanced" to "expert" or "senior". Do you want to be an expert/senior designer, or an expert/senior programmer? Are you okay with that?

Unless you are willing to do the work to become one of those expert or senior people, you will need to defer to them. You won't be the top dog, they will. Are you okay with that?

If you want to be in a dual role that necessarily limits you to smaller studios or places where specialization is unnecessary. Are you okay with that?


Seems like some soul-searching is in order. Find out what you want, what you are passionate about, and follow that path. If you need help with the soul-searching, I recommend you get a copy of the book "What Color Is Your Parachute?", Go to the appendix that has a flower diagram, and do the exercises.

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Hey frob, thanks for your reply. It took a while for me to figure out, but I think my future lies in programming. I made this decision, however, based on the programming [b][size="5"]OR[/size][/b] art ultimatum. So if I [b]have [/b]to make that choice, I'd rather be a good programmer. One, because I like it better to do as my job every single day and also because I think it's a more "secure" choice to take for my future (there seem to be more artists than programmers).

However, also based upon what you said, I have these questions:
[list=1][*]Is there a [b]single[/b] job in this industry which combines both? So I don't want to be the guy who works in a studio, creates textures, models props and codes the stuff the main coders don't want to do. I'm looking for a unique position that benefits from both and merges eye for design with technicality.[*]If there is not such a job, I will most probably choose to focus on coding. But to narrow it down, what is the[i] type of programmer[/i] that overlaps best with my interests?[/list]
I do however want to be a top dog, game creation has been my passion for many years ever since I was 12 (I'm near 30 now), and I always study at home after work. Which right now takes its toll on me. I've learned so much on programming, 3D, 2D. And I do a lot of this stuff at work as well. But it's becoming unbearable, and my greed to learn everything in this industry and become a 'top dog' is really taking its toll, to a point where also my friends are wondering why they don't see me that often anymore. It suddenly became a burden instead of a passion which it always was. I do however have a deep love for gamedevelopment and everything that surrounds it. But I feel that it's better to make choices right now, instead of feeling like a dumbass in 5-10 years.

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I have dealt with a similar issue in the past, so I'll share my story in the hopes that it helps you decide what you want to do. I have always been interested in game design: the rules, mechanics, and so on of game development. I'm also good with people. This was my ace.


I went to school to learn to program, got good at it, got a job as an engineer, and hated the crap out of it. Why? Because I wanted to design games, not implement UI and audio systems. I switched to design, but since I'm terrible at drawing my boss kind of looked at it as "isn't it cute, that programmer thinks he can design games!". When I was laid off from that job, I took that as an opportunity to get a job in game design without anybody having known me as a coder. I downplayed my engineering background, talked up my (limited) experience in design, was open and honest about my lacking art skills (Google Image Search is all I really need...) and landed a job at EA. For the first 6 months or so, I [i]focused[/i] on game design: documentation, rules systems, scoring, etc and didn't let anyone in on my little secret (that I can code). Within three months, I went from a mid-level designer to Design Lead managing my own design team... still no talk about coding, I didn't want anyone to know that I was any good at it for fear that I might get pigeonholed once again as a programmer trying to design.

And then it happened: the epiphany. We needed a prototype, our engineers were busy, so I just got impatient and wrote it myself. The response from the GM of our studio was "can we just ship this?" I focused on selling the [i]rapid prototyping[/i] techniques I was using, because that's a design-focused method of programming. More opportunities for prototypes came up, and at this point I felt I could now come out as "The Designer who can code" instead of "The Coder who wants to design", so I took on more prototypes. I started honing the process, and in a little less than a year managed to 1) fundamentally change the way our studio pitches games, and 2) catch the eye of the rest of the company who regularly contact us for advice on rapid prototyping.

How does this relate? Well: the problem might be that you are playing "Jack of all trades, master of none". You don't want to be a jack, you want to be considered a master. To do so, you need to use all of your skills to develop a mastery of one skill. In my case, it was using my coding skill to [i]improve my design methods[/i]. I don't know what the equivalent for you would be, but there probably is one. How can you use your coding skills to improve your art? Or use your art skills to improve your coding? Or maybe you're looking to use your art and coding skills to improve your game designs? Whatever it is, don't be a jack of all trades, use your skills to become a master of one :)

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[quote name='HerpDerp' timestamp='1305753207' post='4812734']
[list=1][*]Is there a [b]single[/b] job in this industry which combines both?
[/quote]
Yes it's the job you're doing now, which you say isn't satisfying you. The closest thing to that would be working at a small indie studio where you do a bit of everything, or working in a small prototyping team at a big studio (as mentioned by JBourrie). However, In the former it will be harder to become a top notch designer or programmer due to the lack of focus and in the latter you may only get to prototype but not see a product through to completion as the project may get handed off to the top notch production team (always the bridesmaid...)

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[quote name='HerpDerp' timestamp='1305744538' post='4812671']
1. For years I thought this was my ace, my unique ability to merge an eye for design with programming. However, the longer I am in the industry, the more I see this as a handicap instead. The people around me who grow on seem to be either just very good programmers or very good designers. The company I work at for the last few years seems to be glad with me, because they can use me easily for both areas. However, I think there's not much to grow in what I'm currently doing, nor is it satisfying.
2. So my question is, what are reasonable career choices for someone like me?
Should I go for either one, or are there functions in this industry which actually benefit from the things I can do? Should I stop and choose one way, or can I swiftly move on in a function which benefits from both? [/quote]
1. Why is it unsatisfying? How old are you anyway? I think it sounds ideal for you that you get to use your two skills at different times (even if not both at the same time), so what am I missing here? Why don't you enjoy your job?
2. A couple of things to say here.
a. Yes, there will surely be times when your combination of skills will prove useful and also enjoyable. I assume you must be very young and idealistic and impatient.
b. Have you done level design? I found this thread late, and have not yet read the whole thing, so maybe somebody else already asked and you answered. Level design combines your two skills.
c. You are asking for help in making some kind of decision. A decision grid is a good way to start. I had to make a decision yesterday (who to vote for in a local election); I made a decision grid and from there it was a no-brainer. Yes, there will be unknowns in the listing of factors, but one cannot always know the unknowable (there are often unknowables, is what I'm trying to say). Make the best decision you can based on what you do know. Just gotta break it down and look at it in an organized way. There's a link to the decision grid article in this forum's FAQs (link above).

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[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"][quote name='HerpDerp' timestamp='1305753207' post='4812734']
[list=1][*]Is there a [b]single[/b] job in this industry which combines both? So I don't want to be the guy who works in a studio, creates textures, models props and codes the stuff the main coders don't want to do. I'm looking for a unique position that benefits from both and merges eye for design with technicality.[*]If there is not such a job, I will most probably choose to focus on coding. But to narrow it down, what is the[i] type of programmer[/i] that overlaps best with my interests?[/quote][/list]Special effects programmer. Need graphics + simulation programming skills, plus the ability to do your own texturing (admittedly of FX, not objects most of the time) and your own modelling in Max/Maya/etc.[/size][/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][/font][size="2"]
[/size][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][/font] [font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]Or Tech-artist, but for that you just need to know *how* the artists work and be able to do bad-quality art-work yourself. You'll use your programming skills to help develop the pipelines/workflows that the artists use.[/size][/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]Or graphics programmer. You don't do any art (unless shading algorithms count), but you're responsible for making all of the artist's work look good.[/size][/font]

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[quote name='JBourrie' timestamp='1305757844' post='4812766']
How does this relate? Well: the problem might be that you are playing "Jack of all trades, master of none". You don't want to be a jack, you want to be considered a master. To do so, you need to use all of your skills to develop a mastery of one skill. In my case, it was using my coding skill to [i]improve my design methods[/i]. I don't know what the equivalent for you would be, but there probably is one. How can you use your coding skills to improve your art? Or use your art skills to improve your coding? Or maybe you're looking to use your art and coding skills to improve your game designs? Whatever it is, don't be a jack of all trades, use your skills to become a master of one :)
[/quote]
I think that is a valueble lesson for me. I think I should then become a master in one area. I do not know however, how my talent for design is ever going to help me become a better C#/Javascript/Actionscript coder other than just sticking to front end programming. I like how you kept your technical background a secret. Thanks for your story, it gives hope :)

[quote name='Obscure' timestamp='1305758939' post='4812775']
[quote name='HerpDerp' timestamp='1305753207' post='4812734']
[list=1][*]Is there a [b]single[/b] job in this industry which combines both?
[/quote]
Yes it's the job you're doing now, which you say isn't satisfying you. The closest thing to that would be working at a small indie studio where you do a bit of everything, or working in a small prototyping team at a big studio (as mentioned by JBourrie). However, In the former it will be harder to become a top notch designer or programmer due to the lack of focus and in the latter you may only get to prototype but not see a product through to completion as the project may get handed off to the top notch production team (always the bridesmaid...)
[/quote][/list]
OK so in that case I will have to stick to smaller companies, that's always been my fear. Is there a serious future in such a position? Say a prototyping team? That's maybe something that sounds good to me. Or does it sound good in the way beta-tester sounded good when you were 18, and is it in fact very unsatisfying, unchallenging work?

[quote name='Tom Sloper' timestamp='1305761063' post='4812782']
1. Why is it unsatisfying? How old are you anyway? I think it sounds ideal for you that you get to use your two skills at different times (even if not both at the same time), so what am I missing here? Why don't you enjoy your job?
2. A couple of things to say here.
a. Yes, there will surely be times when your combination of skills will prove useful and also enjoyable. I assume you must be very young and idealistic and impatient.
b. Have you done level design? I found this thread late, and have not yet read the whole thing, so maybe somebody else already asked and you answered. Level design combines your two skills.
c. You are asking for help in making some kind of decision. A decision grid is a good way to start. I had to make a decision yesterday (who to vote for in a local election); I made a decision grid and from there it was a no-brainer. Yes, there will be unknowns in the listing of factors, but one cannot always know the unknowable (there are often unknowables, is what I'm trying to say). Make the best decision you can based on what you do know. Just gotta break it down and look at it in an organized way. There's a link to the decision grid article in this forum's FAQs (link above).
[/quote]
I am in my end 20's. I am idealistic, or was rather, which has led me to where I am now, this problem I'm facing now. I am a firm believer of being able to achieve everything, as long as you set your mind to it. Being a topnotch designer as well as top notch programmer is an illusion. I see that now. Apart from that the industry doesn't need people like me, which has been my biggest disappointment seeing I put so much effort and passion into it, especially the last 5 years ("who doesn't want a guy who can do TWO things?" was my idea). So idealistic yes, impatient, no.

Level design is actually one of the few things of gamedevelopment which never attracted me. I do not know why, I think because my interest for design mainly lies within characterdesign and interface design, not so much surroundings. How does leveldesign combine the two skills? Would that be design (duh) and scripting interaction of the user with the area? Because if leveldesign has a fair share of programming, that would definitely sound interesting.
Also I will try the decisiongrid, that might help me look at it from a distance (something I find hard at times)


[quote name='Hodgman' timestamp='1305764711' post='4812814']
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]Special effects programmer. Need graphics + simulation programming skills, plus the ability to do your own texturing (admittedly of FX, not objects most of the time) and your own modelling in Max/Maya/etc.[/size][/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][/font] [font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][/font] [font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font][font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]Or Tech-artist, but for that you just need to know *how* the artists work and be able to do bad-quality art-work yourself. You'll use your programming skills to help develop the pipelines/workflows that the artists use.[/size][/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"] [/font]
[font="arial, verdana, tahoma, sans-serif"][size="2"]Or graphics programmer. You don't do any art (unless shading algorithms count), but you're responsible for making all of the artist's work look good.[/size][/font]
[/quote]
Special effects programmer sounds great actually. Good to know that it combines both things. But it sounds like a job which you roll into. Not something that one easily finds between the (already small) stack of available jobs in the games industry. Tech artist sounds great too. These both actually sound like things I'd really enjoy. I will keep an eye out for those in job openings.

________________________________________________________________

With all the great advice here I've heard some great options; prototyping, level design, special effects programmer, tech artist and graphics programmer. Is it common in this industry that a person easily switches between these jobs? Apart from prototyping they have overlapping areas. Is it common that a person does level design, and later on would easily apply for a job as a tech artist due to his experience in the art/programming area? Or is it adviced that a person stays level designer for the rest of his career?

Also if anyone comes up with more interesting careerchoices in this area or has had similar experiences, I'm all ears :)

Thanks everyone so much for the replies, you don't know half how much this thread actually means to me.

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