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Getting Started - Building a Portfolio

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Hi! Just stumbled across this forum as I was doing some research trying to figure out how best to move forward in my career. I'm currently working as a game tester in a contract position and I'm trying to build a portfolio that will make me a more attractive applicant for in-house positions. My short-term goal is to get any entry-level position at an established studio; my medium-term goal is to be a systems designer for an RPG or MMO.


Skills I already have:


- Math degree: concentration in modeling and optimization, with a solid general background.

- Intermediate-level Lua and Java.

- Basic graphic/UI design skills: color theory, layout, making wireframes, typography

- UI scripting: one complete but no-longer-relevant WoW addon, several aborted ones, one in-progress.

- Basic web front-end design/development (HTML, CSS, JS): one professional freelance HTML/CSS project completed.

- Technical writing, bug-writing, general writing and editing.


Skills I will probably never have:

- Art: I can use software effects and filters to make fairly nice UI textures, but I'm hopeless at anything requiring actual drawing.


The advice I keep seeing for aspiring game designers/developers is to make games. The idea of making a whole game seems daunting; I haven't really even tried that, outside of programming classes where the gameplay was already specified, since I made a text-based RPG in BASIC in fifth grade. I keep downloading Unity, UDK, or GameMaker, futzing around for a few hours learning the software and working through some tutorials, and then giving up because I can't actually make anything without art.


So I'm looking for ideas on where to get started (which software/language/library, what kind of game) on a small project (say, 40-60 hours) that can result in a playable demo, preferably one which shows off something I am actually good at (UI, numbers/balance, scripting/modeling) and puts as little emphasis as possible on the art. Any suggestions?

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I bet you could draw. My method for learning drawing was actually in a methodical way. The only thing that would prevent you from being able to draw is physical handicap or the inability to visually gauge space and distance (which I am sure you can also do). 


If you can draw a straight line (takes practice) and a circle (takes practice also) confidently and accurately without a ruler or tool, then you can draw pretty much anything. Drawing is more mechanical than artistic. Now art on the other hand depends on who you are talking to (eye of the beholder). 


As you know from math (calculus particularly) you know that a curve is just a bunch of connected straight lines, whose slopes are gradually changing. When I learned this, it helped me be able to draw. To me, an equilateral triangle is just a square with 4 sides and a circle is a square with infinite sides. 


Hieroglyphics really interest me because they were able to suggest form with very few lines. They understood how shapes suggest form. Notice I say "suggest" form. 


Hmm, I might make an Ibook on this. hehe. 

Edited by Tutorial Doctor

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I don't know if it's doable in 40-60 hours, but you could prototype a small RPG of some sort--that seems like it would fit your strengths particularly well. 


There are a lot of ways for a programmer to get around not being an artist. Two that come immediately to mind are: 1) use free resources from the internet, and 2) collaborate with an artist. I'm pretty sure there are resources here on for both of these options.

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