5 Common career paths in video game development
Are you interested in a career in the gaming industry? Here are five typical careers that you can specialize in!
The first thing most people think of when it comes to game developers is the programmer. Obviously code is at the heart of all games. Most development teams these days are staffed with dozens of programmers working on everything from code to music and everything between. In fact, no single programmer could write just the code for today's typical commercial game. Specialization is the way of this maturing industry, and you'll want to prepare in advance for your chosen specialty.
What areas of study should a prospective programmer pursue?
All things math! Undergraduate courses can cover general computer science as well as game oriented classes like graphics. Start with a diverse set of course work to discover your interests and strengths and then focus on what you really excel at. Don't forget to sample pure & applied mathematics while you are at it!
What does the future hold for careers in programming?
As game development becomes more complex we are seeing a shift towards specialization. As jobs become more specialized, engineers write less core general purpose technology and spend more time tackling specific problems. What this means for students, is that you should find a specific area of interest and become an expert on the topic. For example a popular choice is graphics but must be more focused on say, procedural geometry. Also to handle the increased complexity there will be a greater focus on tools, and tool development, which people out of college might not be focused on but can get you a foot in the door.
Like a sound designer in the film world, the game sound designer creates all the audible material in the game, except music. You'll generate the game's sound effects, both for environmental ambiance like wind, water, or traffic sounds, and for events that happen in the world, like footsteps or car crashes. To create all of these sounds, you will work with the design and programming teams to achieve the best style and execution. For every file you create, you will spend a lot of time editing, correcting, sweetening, and compressing it to play well in the game. You may also end up doing field work recording real sounds to create a library of samples for a game.
What kind of major should you have to become a sound designer?
Many sound designers didn't start out aiming for the gaming industry. This field includes a wide array of music and sound professionals. Just make sure you have a passion for the technical aspects of music or sound recording!
What is one piece of advice for all students while they are in school?
Spend more time in labs to use the tools they have. This is the most important part of going through a technical program, having access to the kinds of tools that professionals have to use every day.
Advice from a professional Sound Designer:
“As soon as you decide you want to do something, Start working hard towards it right then and there. I'm pretty sure the only reason I was considered before many of my peers for the opportunity here a few years ago was because of that. And once I was here, the hard work led me to getting hired on (that and some timing luck). Bottom line, people notice when you bust your butt. You can quote me on that.”
Producers are the glue that holds together a development team! They lead budgeting and scheduling and are the day-to-day manager and servant of the people on the team. Their responsibility for the scope and schedule means that they play a big part in the design process, to make sure the game can be achieved on time and on budget. Then, you'll have the incredibly important job of "managing" the publisher and/or upper management, protecting the team so that they can get their work done. You're the torchbearer and vision-keeper for the game as a whole. You'll need to know how to communicate with all the members of the team, and smooth out the inevitable struggles and miscommunications between sub-teams. If a top-level decision needs to be made, you'll have to gather all the relevant information, because you're responsible for weighing the risks and contingencies of the decision, and making the call for better or for worse. You will make coffee and buy a lot of team dinners. You'll stay around the office to watch over the team during crunch, and pitch in wherever you're needed. If you haven't gathered as much already, it's a difficult job requiring a wide variety of skills, and entailing a huge amount of responsibility.
What is one piece of advice for students interested in becoming a producer?
Spend more time learning programming languages to help with knowing where the programmers are coming from. Even though you don’t use it on a day to day basis it helps with basic knowledge for the job.
What qualities, skills, and experiences do we look for in junior producers?
Polish up on the communication, show that you can work with all personalities, manage your time well, game testing can be a great place to start.
Art and Animation
Artists and Animators in video games create the look of everything you see on the screen. That includes everything from the texture of a character's hair to the graphical user interface to the way a car leans out of a curve. Programmers may decide where and why characters move but animators are responsible for HOW they move. Designers may decide where to place that ever present exploding barrel in a level but artists give the item it's texture and make it a real part of the environment.
What kind of tools do artists and animators use?
Artists build their worlds using art software applications. Some common ones in the game industry are Photoshop, 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage XSI, Blender, Houdini, Modo, and Zbrush. Animators whose focus is on movement use many of these application but may also use motion capture equipment.
Advice from a professional:
“My major was Computer Art. I think that the connections I made at the school ended up becoming one of the most valuable assets afterwards. It was also good to be exposed to working on projects with others and not singularly accomplishing CG productions on my own. Collaboration is such an important part of being successful.”
“I would have liked to have had more exposure to practical lighting and camera work which was not taught in the degree I had chosen. I think it's easy to overlook the value of physical world artistic knowledge and how it actually applies to the digital world.”
A game must be fun and playable. That is the job of the game designers, level designers, and writers. As a game designer you will help decide the genre and scope of the game. You will write outlines, flowcharts, scripts, interface diagrams, and state tables. You will work to keep all documents current so that the team and the developer know the games status at all times. You will break down the gameplay aspects of your project, compare them to competitors, evaluate innovations, and make the key decisions that will determine if your game succeeds or not. Level Designers build the interactive world for the game and the layout of that world often determines how fun and effective the gameplay is. Level design may include scripting enemy goals, skills, and behavior. Today's AAA titles feature complex stories and deep characterizations and that is where the writer comes in. Writers create the mythology and background of a game story to tell us why things are happening as well as the dialogue and actual game story we experience as we play through the game.
What backgrounds do Designers have?
Game and level designers almost always come from other parts of the development team. Programming and production are the most common areas that produce designers. Writers tend to come from a wide variety of backgrounds from screenplays to general fiction to comic books.