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badapple's avatar

Tips for becoming a Game Designer?

Asked by badapple (198points) July 1st, 2009

I already have a Bachelor’s degree in another field and I would hate to spend $20k on a game design degree that is essentially worthless in terms of “getting” a job at a game design studio. I know most companies want someone with experience but as we all know, gaining that experience is always the tricky thing. Besides designing an independent project on my own, would anyone recommend volunteering to work for free in my spare time? Otherwise, any other tips that might help would be appreciated.

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18 Answers

Staalesen's avatar

Hmm… What field of game design do you want to work on ?

badapple's avatar

Most likely level design

Grisaille's avatar

Definitely would need a running demo/completed project. If you know Maya/C++/whatever already, it’s time to put those things together. As it stands, the field is so incredibly overcrowded that interns are being ousted by those with more experience.

As it stands, networking is the single most important aspect you’ll need right now. A fellow staff writer is also a game designer and uses any assets and contacts he makes for his personal life; he’s now interning at Infinity Ward (Call of Duty developers). Of course, he already has a substantial resume, full of level design, character animation, texture mapping, shading and the work he was doing on our site (reviews, previews, impressions, etc). So it’s obviously networking plus experience.

Hope that helps.

WhatEvil's avatar

Get doing it, teach yourself. I started a game programming degree, and I knew a lot of designers. The degrees are pretty worthless because a HELL of a lot of people want to get into making games, more people than there are jobs out there. I know a guy online (Goes by the name of FishBus) who wrote the popular map “Steel” for Team Fortress 2, along with another map called “Freight”.

Steel got chosen by Valve (the makers of TF2) to become an official map, and now he’s got a job with some other game studio doing mapping. I can’t stress enough that you really need to get into it and have experience, whether through modding or making maps for games that are already out there, to be in with a good chance of getting a real games industry job.

Ivan's avatar

Grisaille pretty much hit everything already. The game industry is quite overcrowded, although if you check out the websites of some developers, you will see a “careers” section. You can’t expect them to train you; you have to have a lot of experience already, even if that means you have to do some freelance project on your own. Perhaps you should try creating an extensive mod for some PC game that adds entire levels. That would give you something to put in your portfolio and it would probably be quite a bit of fun.

badapple's avatar

Sounds great guys thanks! The modding and level design are two things that I planned on doing in my off time. In regards to level design, are there any specific programs that you would recommend? I know a lot of games come with the “user friendly” map editor… but I’m sure it would be more constructive for me to use the programs the pros use.

Grisaille's avatar

Go pro, as soon as you can. 3DS Max, Maya and a few others are popular, but tend to be a bit expensive.

What is highly suggested is you choose a free program that is powerful enough to handle a project on a massive scale. The best out there – in the opinion of many developers – is Blender. It’s ridiculously powerful, has it’s own physics and game engine, useful for animating, modeling, creating mock-ups, texturing, lighting/shading, etc. Because it’s open-source and works on any OS, it has many, many user-created tutorials available both on the home site and on various user sites. Check it out.

Blender is all encompassing and contains all the tools you’ll need to get started. It’s quite daunting at first, but all of the skills you will learn in that program are directly translatable to various other high-end (Read: expensive) creative design programs. I also hear it shares qualities with a bunch of middle-ware engines as well, like the Unreal and Cry Engine. Hope that helps.

badapple's avatar

That was extremely helpful, thank you Grisaille! I already have some ideas so now I just have to roll up my sleeves, play around with the software and build up my experience.

StellarAirman's avatar

The level editors they release with games are usually what the actual developers used to make the game, but it’s also important to learn the apps like 3DS Max of course.

As others have said mods are a good way to get your foot in the door. Find a serious mod project and team that you can volunteer some time with and you are comfortable will actually ship a final product that you can put your name on.

There are other avenues these days with things like Flash web-games and iPhone games that require a lot less money and time and technology to get started in. That may not be the kind of game you are looking to design, but it should look pretty good on a resume to see you shipped x games on your own even if they are just flash or iPhone games. It still shows your gameplay ideas, skill in multiple disciplines, and ability to ship a product.

Ivan's avatar

Yeah, there are a bunch of different paths you can take now. You could create a small little flash/iPhone game on your own, or you could join some big modding project for a full game, or you could start your own modest project and acquire help along the way.

What are your ideas?

Grisaille's avatar

@StellarAirman has made fantastic point that I wasn’t considering. As you probably know, the casual market is absolutely booming, and developing a quality iPhone title is a sure-fire way to get developer interest from a bigger publisher, like Ubisoft. Sure, you might be put on to develop the next Imagine: Babiez or Raving Rabbids, but don’t forget – Ubisoft creates AAA titles like Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed and Beyond Good and Evil.

Developing for actual consoles is a bit tricky. PS3/360 dev kits are stupid expensive (upwards 3k, though speaking with Microsoft/Sony PR, I’ve heard that they are reducing the price), so developing a title for the PSN or LIVE is very, very hard on a limited budget. Besides, you’re JUST starting out.

Because people straight out of game design school have an obvious advantage and are aiming for the higher-end publishers and developers, I’d suggest you focus on something smaller, just to – as it has been said – get your foot in the door. I’d still work on a mod or something bigger, but I’d definitely take a look at developing for smaller platforms – things that aren’t so hard to pick up. iPhone/iPod Touch dev kits are cheap these days (might even be free, I don’t know), and you can definitely take a look into the architecture and create something simple, just to get your feet wet with creating an actual, standalone product.

Final thing to note: take a look at the Open Pandora. This thing is already huge in the homebrew and opensource community and widely anticipated. It will definitely be the next big thing for nerds (just don’t the mainstream to pick up on it).

If you develop something high-quality and tailor-fit for this handheld, you can bet your ass that you’ll be getting phone calls. I hate to just shamelessly plug myself, but I did interview one of the guys behind the scenes, and stay in contact with the team here and there. If you’re interested in the platform itself and want to find out more about it, you can read interview here.

Grisaille's avatar

And I know we’re throwin’ a whole bunch of info at you at once, but stay with us!

It’s daunting, but as @Ivan has pointed out, there are many, many channels to tap into. It’s about choosing the one that makes you happy; one that you enjoy.

badapple's avatar

No, no. More information is definitely a good thing! I just would rather put my own time and effort into getting to know the programs rather than spending 20–30k on a profit-based school.

The iphone/ipod game development is something I’ve considered but I need to look into it some more to understand if it would be something that would be over my head.

Programming-wise, I could always take classes in computer science. But I feel it would almost be better to network with some local talent (despite only having a few companies here, there are small groups of professionals that get together) and utilize the skills they already have as I am sure they are much more advanced.

For my original ideas, some of them require extensive network/online components that I would never dream of doing at this point. So I’ve scaled back and started thinking of traditional 2D arcade style games and the modding of popular current gen models.

While it may not be something I could sell, I’m looking to take some existing arcade brawler roms and alter the sprites, sound effects and possibly more depending on what is possible and not to mention… it might be a lot of fun. As far as current gen, I’ll probably be playing around with the Gears of War level editor a little bit just to get a better idea of what I’m getting involved in.

I don’t think it will compare to my experience when I was 14 and edited Duke Nukem 3D content and levels… haha.

Grisaille's avatar

“I’m ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum.”

“And I’m all outta ass.”

Wait, that doesn’t sound right…

Anywho, good for you, man. Keep on Fluthering and let us know your progress. It’s definitely one of – if not the hardest industries to get into. With cinema or music, you can always start small with limited skills. Game design, you need to bring your A game, as there are a fuckton of other applicants with similar skills. It’s all about how creative you are and how well you can network and build rapport.

Good luck.

StellarAirman's avatar

You can develop iPhone games for free with the SDK downloadable (just need a Mac to run it) and test apps on the simulator as part of the SDK, but to publish to the App store you need to pay a one-time $99 fee to join the developer program, which is pretty darn cheap considering.

iPhone apps are written in Objective-C, so you’d need to learn to program in that or find someone who does.

I would personally start with the Half-Life 2 or Left4Dead or one of the id game editors rather than Gears of War. They have a much larger following on the PC than Gears of War so there is a much larger chance of your stuff actually being played and being noticed. There are also probably a lot more resources available to learn the software.

badapple's avatar

Good point, I did see a lot more mods based on Half-Life 2 & Left4Dead.

$99 isn’t bad, I’ll definitely look into the iPhone game development a little more.

Ivan's avatar

I, too, would recommend modding a popular PC game. If I were you, I would find a game with a very large following like Oblivion or Civ IV. Both games have released their construction tools sets and have vibrant modding communities. If you’re more into shooters, the Valve games probably wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

If you’re interested in a bit of education, you can always check out MIT’s OpenCourseWare, where you can essentially take classes for free. Aside from computer science, a course in Linear Algebra would probably help (I have no idea where you are in terms of education level).

badapple's avatar

I’ll look into Oblivion as well. My Bachelor’s degree is no where near related to any of this… so essentially I am starting from square one but I will check out the site you mentioned. I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me.

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