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Computer Science vs. Computer Game Science

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Hi Guys,

 

I'm Mark, and I have posted some questions here before (http://www.gamedev.net/topic/654267-questions-about-game-development/#entry5139381), which, thank you for answering those, but the topic is old and I needed to start a new one for this set. See, I've been working on college applications over the past couple months, and several schools that I'm applying to have both Computer Science Programs and Computer Game Science/Computer Science (Games) Programs.

 

I was wondering which of the programs would be preferable.

 

Even though the schools that I picked that offer Game-related Computer Science programs are still heavily focused on Computer Science (In this case the two prominent ones are USC and UCI), I'm worried that this degree might pigeonhole me into the game development industry in case something doesn't work out in my future and I want to expand into another Computer Science related field. In addition, focusing on the Computer Game Science might keep me from reputable Computer Science programs at other schools I'm applying to, such as UCLA or UCB.

 

On the other hand, If I focus primarily on regular Computer Science, while that gives me more freedom in what field I want to pursue after college, it deprives me of game-related knowledge I could have learned in a CGS Program if I end up in the game development industry (which, by the way, is what I hope will happen, but one can never predict the circumstances). In addition, there are plenty game dev veterans in the faculty of schools offering CGS programs, which I would look forward to learning form firsthand if I chose a CGS Program.

 

TL;DR:

In all honesty, I'm torn between which of the two I should pick because I simply don't know which one will benefit me in the long run because even though I strongly hope I'll end up in the game industry, there's always that chance that that may not happen, and I want to be sure I have a backup. But, with a backup, I end up depriving myself of some game-related knowledge that could benefit me.

 

-Mark

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I was wondering which of the programs would be preferable.


That's up to you. What is YOUR preference? Are you planning to get into the game industry (living in a city where there are multiple game companies, which might not be the city where you currently live), and stay in the industry for a long time (and not take transferable programming skills and leverage them into a non-game job)? Are the game-related degrees the same price as the non-game-related degrees?

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I have a 4.0 in a Computer Science (Games) Programs type degree. now I seem to be stuck in limbo at getting a job. IT companies think im a risky candidate because I have a 'games' degree and that is clearly where I want to go so I will leave their company at a drop of a game job hat. Also Game companies want a CS degree too, which makes it harder to get a job there. 

 

 

... so yeah I wish I did a CS degree.

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I'd recommend a computer science degree. Ideally your school would have games related courses you could choose as electives such as AI, graphics, or even a game programming course. I'm sure this will change in the next 20 years or so, but I've met 2 people in the ten years I've worked in the industry that have had game focused degrees. I've met far more that have no post-secondary schooling.

With that said, I wouldn't personally reject someone based on which school or program they went to.

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A university degree is not job training.  In that light, don't worry that the name of a major at one or two institutions will condemn you to a life of slavery on the assembly line.  Chances are in 10 years you'll be working on something that hasn't even been invented yet.  Study what appeals to you, learn what you love. 

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I have a 4.0 in a Computer Science (Games) Programs type degree. now I seem to be stuck in limbo at getting a job. IT companies think im a risky candidate because I have a 'games' degree and that is clearly where I want to go so I will leave their company at a drop of a game job hat

This is my biggest reason I recommend against it.

 

Getting a trade degree can hurt your prospects. It can often harm the ability to work outside the industry. It can often harm the ability to get a masters degree or other higher education. It can often harm your salary negotiations, even inside the industry. While some schools may have a quick path through topics they feel are games specific, my personal view is that it isn't worth it. 

 

One of my local schools offers a games focus as part of their undergrad CS curriculum, but still rejects graduates of other game schools from their graduate programs because they don't trust them to know enough CS topics. The school still has the same base CS requirements but augments it with additional optional courses for those wanting the additional certificate. IIRC it adds a half year of study beyond the raw CS degree if you don't take any other optional courses.

 

About 2 years ago I had a co-worker who graduated from FullSail. He applied to that university's graduate CS program. They tested him, they also contacted the faculty at FullSail and asked for specifics. Even though he had been working at a game studio for several years, ultimately the university did not accept him from the program since they believed the game school degree lacked the necessary CS background and because the student struggled at certain CS topics. They gave him an option of enrolling in some courses as an adult 'continuing education' program until he mastered the required undergrad level topics, then he could re-apply to the CS masters program if he wanted. He turned that option down. 

 

After writing about that, one of the FullSail professors contacted me and wanted to know if he could contact the school on the student's behalf. The guy turned him down, explained that he had already been in touch with both schools and how specific remedial courses would be required because of his test results, and there wasn't much point in trying to get FullSail to try to explain 'we teach Computer Science' when his actual test results showed he had no clue about a number of theory topics or mathematics topics. We ended up talking for a while. He had a class on optimization but clearly didn't understand parts of computer architecture or compiler theory. We talked about math and while he did understand a bit of liner algebra as it applied to 3D games, the details were still magic. We talked about algorithm theory and he struggled with basic problems, understanding vaguely what big-O notation meant but not deeply understanding concepts like reducability and algorithmic classes, nor could he explain why it would matter if an algorithm is similar to the well-referenced bin packing problem or the traveling salesman problem. He agreed that he probably didn't get the CS side when he attended the game school.

 

When I attended graduate school my first semester teachers had an interesting way of weeding out people taking the classes. In a digital signal processing class, the teacher derived the Fast Fourier Transform the first day. He asked if there were any students who didn't understand every step of the math. A few raised their hands. He asked for how many students the FFT was just a review, and several raised their hands. He then said that all students who couldn't follow a simple FFT on the first day would probably fail a digital signal processing class and should transfer to a math class instead. The math in the class just got even more difficult over time.  Another teacher for AI and machine learning opened the class by asking by show of hands how many students could explain what a sigmoid function was. Then he asked by show of hands how many could explain the difference between a Gaussian distribution and a Poisson distribution. Then he asked a few questions about L'Hopital's Therom and the possible situations that happens with the math operation of 0/0. Then he asked who did not raise their hand at any of those questions, and urged those students to go back and get the necessary math to be able to understand graduate-level machine learning algorithms.

 

Computer science as a topic is mostly an applied mathematics field. It is about algorithms and transformations and problem spaces. It is about manipulating numbers and symbols and turning them into useful information. It is not so much about programming languages and container classes.

 

In the real world, the job of "computer programmer" and the study of "computer science" have varying levels of overlap.  Many computer programmers spend their days encoding rules written by others and never do any of the computer science work. Other computer programmers spend a lot of time doing analysis or writing tools and blocks of code that rely heavily on more technical computer science work. Industry needs both types.

 

If you get a more traditional CS degree the schools will generally cover enough content that you can do both types. If you get a trade degree or specialized 'game programmer' bachelors trade degree, in my experience most of game-specific graduates only can fit one role and struggle in anything outside that limited scope.

Edited by frob
I like words. They communicate stuff.

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I think some people may be confused with what the author is asking or I am. I have seen a few universities which offer CS degrees also offer a game CS degree where its still pretty much all the same classes other than they focus more on how game architecture is designed as opposed to software. You still get an accredited CS degree, these are different then those game design schools giving out "game programming diplomas".

So some of these universities have changed to try and counteract all the people they are losing to these "game design" schools. Some of the universities in Vancouver Canada have started to offer these types of courses over the last few years and from what I am seeing their are just as worthwhile as the regular CS degrees.

So OP please correct me if I am wrong.

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I can't help you with what education you should take, plus I don't know that much of US educations and job situation. But I will recommend you to go to a school where they do offer a game related program. You don't need to follow it, but what helped me the most on getting into game development, was to meet up with other people interested in game development. I met my current employer at a game jam at my University a few years ago. My bachelor is in CS, but my University also offers a master degree in game development, meaning that there's plenty of game related events.

 

Taking CS will not harm your chances in the games industry as long as you do plenty of games projects on the side.

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I think some people may be confused with what the author is asking or I am. I have seen a few universities which offer CS degrees also offer a game CS degree where its still pretty much all the same classes other than they focus more on how game architecture is designed as opposed to software. You still get an accredited CS degree, these are different then those game design schools giving out "game programming diplomas".

So some of these universities have changed to try and counteract all the people they are losing to these "game design" schools. Some of the universities in Vancouver Canada have started to offer these types of courses over the last few years and from what I am seeing their are just as worthwhile as the regular CS degrees.

So OP please correct me if I am wrong.

 

Actually, that's what I intended. The schools I'm focusing on don't offer game-related degrees as trade programs, but rather a computer science degree with augmented game-related classes.

 

 

The thing I'm worried about is not so much the education I'm going to get, I trust that the schools I'm applying to have successful programs because they properly teach the required material. It's just currently, some employers outside of the game industry that perhaps aren't as knowledgeable on the curriculum don't understand that game-related programs at reputable private and public universities (examples being USC, UCI, or NYU) from what I hear, deliver the appropriate education, and may just chalk it up to another trade degree, when, in fact, it isn't one. 

 

Luckily, I live in an area with a lot of game companies. I'm from Orange County where there are plenty, and am willing, even hoping, to relocate into LA. That's why I'm focusing heavily on schools in the West Coast around LA and SF, since it isn't a particularly a far stretch for me.  

 

One option that I have that may balance the two is focusing on Comp. Sci. as a major and minoring in a game-related field. For instance, USC, one of the schools I'm applying to, has this as an option. I feel that this way, I have the Computer Science focused education as a safety net and have game design knowledge on top of it. The one issue with this is that it limits my school choice. On the other hand, I could try for internships and work on my own projects as well.

 

Would taking on an internship deliver about the same game-specific knowledge as a game design minor would?

If so, that seems like the best option, because that also helps build job experience - two birds with one stone.

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A CS degree should open many doors. I don't know if non-game companies will look down their noses at a respected CS degree with the word "game" in the title, but they might. If your focus is games, the game-related CS degree should open doors to game jobs. If you later decide you want out of games, you can cross that bridge then, and having a CS degree and some programming experience should make the crossing relatively painless (nobody cares about degrees anymore when they're interviewing someone with a bunch of years of professional programming experience).

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