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Best Education Path To Learn Video Game Programming?

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the try-the-duke-nukem-technical-institute dept.

Education 240

Proudrooster writes "Fellow Slashdotters, I have transitioned to teaching and my students have asked me what is the best path to take to work in the video game programming industry. Which would be of more benefit: pursing a Computer Science degree or taking an accelerated program like those at FullSail? I have a CS degree, and suspect that the CS degree would be of more benefit in the long run, but I would like anyone in the industry to share their wisdom and experience with my students trying to follow in your footsteps. If you could recommend some programs in your replies it would be appreciated." A couple other questions that might help those students: what non-academic methods would you recommend to students looking for a career in the games industry? What projects and tools are good starting points for learning the ropes?

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The first thing you need... (5, Insightful)

sgbett (739519) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805178)

...is a degree in living on bread and water from what I hear!

Re:The first thing you need... (5, Informative)

rainmouse (1784278) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805350)

Depends what area they want to work as. If its the code monkeys then its a strict diet of c++, trigonometry, matrices and physics.
For a modeller they need to be making an awful lot of organic models, both low and high poly counts if they want to impress any companies. Blender is a great free tool to get them started on this and the alternatives such as Autodesk 3d max are generally only reachable by pirates, the rich and the corporates. Remind them that for a port folio to put their very most impressive work on the first frame or page because that's often all that is looked at.
For audio engineers get them coding in synths in c++ and editing / recording wavefiles and encourage them to learn a good lump of sound engineering as well, there are many books on the subject. Remind audio engineers that vacancies in this field are few and far between and sadly the jobs often go to some managements totally unqualified mate because he was once in a band and they smoked hash together in college.

Most importantly get them learning these skills by making mods or their own games which is essential if they want to have any decent work to wave under the nose of an employer or have a basic idea how to start up a company for themselves.

Re:The first thing you need... (2, Interesting)

rainmouse (1784278) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805366)

Please note, from what I've seen port folios count for a lot more than degrees in games development, which are usually either soft courses or badly written and usually using technology 5+ years out of date. There are some good ones out there but they are few and far between.

Re:The first thing you need... (3, Informative)

cappp (1822388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805486)

Have a look at the big guys' recruitment pages and click through to all the game specific roles. There's EA [ea.com] and Activision [activisionblizzard.com] to start with, and a bunch of smaller places around - check the listings on the most recent metacritic game reviews to find company names if you're drawing a blank. The job-ads are going to give you a far better idea than most of what we can come up with.

I clicked through to a random Bioware position [ea.com] and they were asking for

Master’s degree in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, or related field. In the alternative, we will accept a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, or related field, plus five years of progressive post-baccalaureate experience in the job offered, or as Software Develope

as well as a variety of random experience and specific programming knowledge.

So it's a little of column A and a little of column B really - portfolio and degree combined.

Re:The first thing you need... (2, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806302)

Have a look at the big guys' recruitment pages

Good advice, as long as looking is all that you do. From what I've heard from the people in the industry that I know (not many, admittedly), working for one of the big game development companies is the opposite of fun. Low salaries, boring projects, long hours, and abusive management are considered normal. The smaller companies generally provide a much better working environment.

In any case, the degree is largely irrelevant. They really care about experience. Write a mod for a popular game, or write an open source game. Even write some technology demos or simple web games. Concrete evidence that you are motivated to write games and have the skills to do so are a lot more important than the degree. A degree in computer science will give you the theoretical background that you need, but it won't do anything to set you apart from the other hundred applicants who also have a degree in computer science. A degree in game programming shows them that you want to take shortcuts.

Re:The first thing you need... (3, Interesting)

lowrydr310 (830514) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806906)

From what I've heard from the people in the industry that I know (not many, admittedly), working for one of the big game development companies is the opposite of fun. Low salaries, boring projects, long hours, and abusive management are considered normal. The smaller companies generally provide a much better working environment.

I have a handful of friends who work at one of the big name developers. This is exactly the case. This is only a guess, but it's probably because of supply and demand. There are so many people who want to work in the industry that many are willing to accept long hours, low salaries, and abusive management. If you don't accept these terms, someone else gladly will.

Now I also have a bunch of friends who work for a flash game developer (think facebook games); it's a much different there than it is that console/PC game studios. They work long hours, but they all have fun doing it and they get paid very well.

Re:The first thing you need... (5, Informative)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805474)

Blender is a great free tool to get them started on this and the alternatives such as Autodesk 3d max are generally only reachable by pirates, the rich and the corporates.

Uh, no, guide them into using the software they'll be expected to use at the studio they wish to work at. Virtually all of them offer student pricing. Some places will let you in if you model in a different app (I've had it happen myself), but it's a much steeper uphill battle. You pretty much have to have made a name for yourself before anybody'll extend you the credit you'd need make up for the lack of experience with the package. The money you'll lose by having to accept lower pay or by going through un-paid training will easily exceed the ~$400 you'd spend.

I don't disagree with your whole post, just this one comment. :)

Remind them that for a port folio to put their very most impressive work on the first frame or page because that's often all that is looked at.

This is so spot on I wanted to make sure it was mentioned a second time. I also wanted to add one little bit: Don't show crap work to make your reel seem longer. Nobody's looking at the length of your reel to get a feel for how long you've been working. They are, however, looking for potential ... areas of improvement... you might have, and that will affect your value. You're being graded not just on what you show, but what you choose to show. The reason for that is you have the same interaction with your clients. I've worked with guys who have set directors into orbit because they showed something far too early to be seen. (Actually I'm guilty of it myself, it's sooooo tempting to prove you've started on something but they often don't understand the concept of 'filling in the canvas'...)

Re:The first thing you need... (4, Informative)

dcollins (135727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805848)

Disagree. Worked several game jobs and have many friends in the industry. Pay for programmers is fairly high. But you'll be working ~100 hour weeks for it. So on an hourly basis (and more generally, life-commitment), it's fairly low compensation.

Re:The first thing you need... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806290)

from what I have been told at careers fairs etc. most places want a degree (or a masters) in computer science, maths or physics for the programmers

Oh boy (5, Informative)

DurendalMac (736637) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805194)

Teach them that unless you're working for a good indie studio, game development is a great way to have your soul crushed into little pebbles of shit.

Re:Oh boy (0)

flnca (1022891) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805272)

That is true for almost any kind of software development, especially when you're young and inexperienced. Deadlines will get young coders to begin a frantic struggle for keeping the deadline, which they will overshoot with most certainty, b/c of all the bugs they create in the code and have to iron out later. Software projects in any industry are a costly matter, and if the result is any usable depends largely on the pool of developers. It is always a good idea to have a couple of seasoned pros on the team. Young and cheap programmers often cost much more money in the end. In the industry, millions are being wasted and jobs are lost constantly b/c of that. Greed and bad management are ill advisors for a software project.

Re:Oh boy (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805420)

Yeah, it's really not the same.

I have (surprisingly) a lot of software dev friends. The ones that got into the games industry worked obscene hours under huge amounts of stress and for less money compared to the others. Only one person I know stuck with it and now, a decade later, she's got the experience and skills to call the shots a little more. I guess it's like going into 'the city'. They'll work you like a dog for a decade. 90% burn out and go off to do something else. the 10% left get an easier ride afterwards.

Re:Oh boy (1)

IAmGarethAdams (990037) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805516)

Interesting to note that Goldeneye 007 for the N64 was developed almost entirely by developers working on their first game [zoonami.com] :

I should mention that the entire team was very green. 8 of us had never worked on a game. Andy Smith had worked on a few at Rare. I had worked on one at Rare and written countless games back in prehistory as a hobbyist, but those one-person games don't count really do they? But overall the team was very talented and very dedicated. When I selected people I was looking for three things: talent in their field (obviously), an affection for the Bond universe, and a deep understanding of games. Six of the people on the project could easily be given the job title game designer. This is a ridiculously high ratio, and explains a lot. One person can't design an original game, it just isn't humanly possible. Six have a chance, with proper coordination. Regarding dedication, several of us commonly did 80 hour weeks and occasional 120 hour weeks. I averaged an 80 hour week over the 2 and a half years of the project. The talent and dedication of the team was pivotal to the quality of the game. One more reason for success.

Re:Oh boy (4, Informative)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805990)

> One person can't design an original game, it just isn't humanly possible.

Uh, did you miss the WHOLE gaming scene in the '70s and '80s? i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_Mechner [wikipedia.org] of Karateka fame.

Having shipped multiple professional game titles on various consoles/PC, worked with some very talented designers, and met Jenova Chen, I *strongly* disagree.

Rare, yes, impossible, no. (Granted it is becoming harder, but indies keep showing the "the biz" just what is "possible", aka "World of Goo.")

--
  Educate comes from Latin 'educere' -- meaning to draw out, not "fill up with useless facts"
    - Michaelangel007, 2005

Re:Oh boy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806472)

I believe by "original" he means "game with awesome graphics and all the bells and whistles the kids expect these days because they've got a graphics card powerful enough to outdo a supercomputer from the 1980s and they want to see them pixels getting PUSHED."

Designing the mechanics of a workable game takes less time than rendering all those fancy 3D polygons and all that good stuff. It's nice eye candy, but it isn't essential for a compelling experience and quite often detracts from it if the developers get too fixated on the graphics engine (cough, cough, ESIV Oblivion)

Not really (3, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806044)

Not really. Having tried both, I actually found making corporate Java programs to be a _lot_ less stress.

It's not just the deadlines, it's also, well, let's just say that unless you work for some incredibly shitty boss (and you should probably quit then), in corporate jobs you're a lot less likely to have a constant stream of change requests right until the deadline and in fact even past the deadline. We tend to make a fuss when the client wants another field on a mask or such, but few people have a clue what it's like to have Mr Designer come up with great ideas that turn the whole engine on its head.

Also in a corporate database and Java job you may (or may not) have to deal with code that is properly structured and has automated testcases. If you're lucky, comments too. In fact, in some places it may even be enforced. And the need for ugly hacks is also a bit less present. In the games industry you have code written by people straight off college, who never had to write anything over 1000 lines and half of them still think that structure, refactoring or the rest of the theory is something that lazy old has-beens invented to make themselves look busy. If you're unlucky, it'll be code from someone who even thinks he has something to prove. If you're _really_ unlucky it will be script code from some hapless designer who got shanghaied into writing scripts because "everyone knows" scripts are teh easy stuff and game design stuff and no need to waste a real programmer on. Also, not only you'll have to deal with some obscure hack that might be there just to deal with the idiosyncrasies of some obscure driver version from 2005, but it's undocumented and everyone who even knew about it or the condition has long ago burned out and left, so you're left guessing if it's horrible code or necessary. Also, it's been written under terrible time pressure, so not only it's funky code the kind that gets produced on a Sunday evening after a 100 hour week and lots of skipped sleep, but nobody had the time to "waste" with comments, refactoring, test cases, etc.

And so on, and so forth.

Plus, I guess there's the sheer frustration about the creative part. In business a usecase may be dumb but ultimately you have to fit what the client wants done. You can argue about usability or fonts (and lose badly,) but that's about it. In games you may well have played a hundred games in that genre and actually understand better than Mr Designer why that idea is dumb and has failed before. He's not omniscient, and especially for games which get developed more out of "well, let's try genre Y because it sells better" he may actually be designing something he doesn't understand, or even hates. Just look at all the featured copied badly between games, because someone didn't even understand why they're there. Now imagine that you actually do know, and have read the interviews from the designer of the game you're trying to copy, and know full well that what you're asked to implement is a horrible caricature of it. But nobody's listening to you.

Re:Oh boy (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806064)

"That is true for almost any kind of software development, especially when you're young and inexperienced"

No it's not, it's completely different. In the games industry you're not staying late to fix a few bugs you've made now and then, you're staying late because you have to, because it's the only way the project can possibly get done in the allocated timeframe with the resources given.

There are plenty of businesses out there that have reasonable development deadlines whereby you can go on time every day regardless, simply because there are enough resources and reasonable deadlines- I know because I've only ever worked in companies like this, and am now a lead developer myself. I make sure that my team are able to produce quality software in a reasonable timeframe, without having to stress themselves out with long hours and it works fantastically- my staff churn out really good quality code because they're allowed to have a life alongside work and they actually appreciate being here. I can fight my teams corner in this respect without any difficulty simply because we produce software that consistently wows the directors and gives staff at our firm the software they need to do their jobs better.

The games industry, at least, under the large publishers, which is pretty much all of it bar the indies nowadays has a different view on things, it believes the best way to profit is to get as many hours out of people for as little pay as possible, replacing them by eager young developers who are willing to take that shit because they're misguided in believing that working in the games industry is actually somehow worth it.

Of course there are companies outside the games industry that do this too, but unlike the games industry this is not pretty much exclusively how it's done- there are few exceptions in games, whilst there are plenty in business.

Interestingly I was at a game development conference in the UK a couple of years back which I attended out of interest of the subject, and because I do some indie development myself in my spare time. One thing that stood out was the comment from developers at Rare Software, they said that they too had to work horrendously long hours and didn't receive particularly great benefits until - get this - they were taken over by Microsoft. I think the fact it took a take over by a business software firm (and Microsoft of all firms too...) to actually improve working standards, decrease working hours and so forth is quite telling about the whole situation.

Pushing people to despair, taking away their personal life, and keeping them stressed is absolutely the worst way to get good software written in a reasonable timeframe- I've yet to see the benefits of the game industry's way of doing things, it's not as if they're well known for delivering on time is it? They certainly have a much worse track record of overshooting deadlines than most business software groups do and hardly have a great record on software quality either.

Re:Oh boy (1)

Rophuine (946411) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806812)

The number one lesson I drum into fresh coders, when I work with them, is "email early and often". When things are running a day behind, email your manager. When you're not clear on the specs, email your manager. When you've completely and totally screwed up and affected production client data, email your manager. NOW. Your manager is there for two things (that are relevant for this):

1. Work out issues, keep the team on target, and make sure the (internal or external) clients are happy and don't even realise when the team royally screws up.
2. Weed out (/fire/let go/ditch/whatever) people who get in the way of goal 1.

If you're emailing your manager early, giving him the chance to do damage control, and letting him get you help when you need it, no matter how badly you screw up, you're not too actively getting in the way of goal number 1. If you screw up and don't keep him totally in the loop, you're making sure he can't achieve goal 1.

Email early and often.

Re:Oh boy (5, Insightful)

zwei2stein (782480) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805378)

In fact, if you really like developing games, you ought to take 8/5 corporate soul-crushing job (that will crush your soul much, much less) and just make games in your spare time (or at work during downtime) for fun.

Being full-time game devs is not any more glorious than producing yet another client address screen. It is easy to get excited by stuff like playing throught HL2 episodes with commentary on or by reading blog of some lead dev/indie dev/wanabee-dev-smartass, but kids should realize that they are not going to be the ones making interesting decidions and artfully crafting game but peons building someone elses vision under incredible time constraint. Each company only needs few people who say "At this point, we will add x to enforce dramatic tension.". Becoming one of them is unlikely.

Re:Oh boy (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806722)

just make games in your spare time (or at work during downtime) for fun.

Some genres are best suited for platforms with gatekeepers that happen to make no allowance for spare-time development. Fighting games are a big one, as offline multiplayer on a PC would need an HTPC, and HTPCs apparently haven't taken off yet.

Re:Oh boy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807148)

What the hell is a 'Hot Top PC'?

Just do it (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805208)

Just do it.
Just start designing and developing a game.
It's as simple as that.

You'll fall down many times but eventually you WILL learn how to develop games.

This pretty much goes for any other kind of programming or in fact any profession in general; if you want to go somewhere, you'll have to start moving first.

Re:Just do it (3, Funny)

jarrettwold2002 (601633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805512)

parent's post is sponsored by Nike, my post sponsored by Old Spice

SWAN DIVE INTO THE BEST GAME OF YOUR LIFE!

Re:Just do it (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806732)

Just start designing and developing a game.

So once I've developed a game for the PC, how do I write a business plan and get an office so that I can get the game ported to a console so that I can actually sell copies?

Lie to them (5, Insightful)

IICV (652597) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805210)

Seriously, lie to the little suckers. If they're asking about what the best way to become a video game programmer is, they probably haven't actually done anything besides play video games. Lie to them and tell them that a full CS degree is the only way to go, because if nothing else it gets their ass in college at which point hopefully the cluebat will strike and they'll figure out what they really want to do.

The ones who are actually going to become good game devs are already making maps, mods, skins or even full-on games with their pirated version of Creative Suite 5.7.whatever, so you don't need to worry about them.

Re:Lie to them (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805520)

The ones who are actually going to become good game devs are already making maps, mods, skins or even full-on games with their pirated version of Creative Suite 5.7.whatever, so you don't need to worry about them.

Well, I do have mod points but you're already at +5 so I'll just add in to the cheer.

There's no reason not to be making videogames other than now wanting to enough. What would you tell someone who asks you what to study to be a writer and who's never written a story?

Re:Lie to them (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806752)

There's no reason not to be making videogames other than now wanting to enough.

Other than the lockout chip on the platform most suited to the genre of game that you want to develop?

Re:Lie to them (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806916)

If you really want to you, will put a pc on the tv or you will use XNA on your XBOX

Re:Lie to them (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807160)

If you really want to you, will put a pc on the tv

According to CronoCloud, there's a tradition against that [slashdot.org] .

Re:Lie to them (1)

woodhouse (625329) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805556)

A CS degree is much more valuable in the long run. There is no particular advantage to a course like FS or digipen , even if you only ever want to work in games (in fact, understanding algorithms, data structures in depth is probably more useful)

Just make sure you can show some solid demo projects at interview. This is how I started out, and how most of my colleagues started too.

Re:Lie to them (1)

srothroc (733160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805668)

I have to disagree; a specific course like Full Sail or Digipen will give you access to non-academic resources, like game companies recruiting, alum connections, and developer connections that you may not normally have in a regular CS or CSE course.

Advantages and Placement Rates (1)

DingerX (847589) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806022)

Yes, CS degrees appear more flexible, but there are huge advantages to a serious, top-tier game-program like DigiPen:

In addition to the courses you'd encounter in a standard CS program, the curriculum includes specific classes geared towards video game development. So, in terms of formation, a DigiPen RTIS B.S. does have a CS-level understanding of "alogrithms" and "data structures in depth"; but can also do the fun stuff.

The yearly project system ensures that each grad will come out with a portfolio (aka "solid demo projects), which demonstrate not only the grad's abilities, but also her or his competencies to work as part of a team.

Finally, I don't know about FS, but the last figure I saw for DigiPen was a 99% placement rate in the first year after degree. In other words: if you want to work in the videogames industry, and you are able to stick through four years of school, you will get a job.

Some hiring managers may not care where you went to school, but when on paper one person has what amounts to a CS degree and a mod project, and the other has a CS degree plus specialized training in the field, and a fat portfolio of games, the choice is easy.

Of course, the unasked question is: Do you really want to write games? Before anyone enrolls in a games program, she or he should try something: modding, building 3D models, little games, whatever. Because making games is a hell of a lot different than playing them.

Re:Lie to them (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805658)

Agreed. I have major hesitations about people who claim to be interested in a career path, but haven't really made any effort toward it until they enter an educational program. If you really have a passion for something, you've probably been self-motivated enough to have advanced to some point within the interest on your own, long before then.

Lie to the suckers and tell them that CS is the way to go, even if it isn't. When they start looking around at the real world and look at the $30-50k that they can make as a virtual slave in developing videogames versus he six figures they could make as a unix systems admin or something along those lines, they'll make the obvious decision and thank you for it.

Unless, of course, if what they mean by "I want to make videogames" is "I don't want to actually know any icky computer stuff; I just want to make models in Maya".

Re:Lie to them (4, Insightful)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806222)

I've had TWO teen boys at different times ask me the very question "What do I need to do to get into game programming?" and my answer was simple:

You don't. If that is what you *really* wanted to do, you would already be skinning and modding, but instead you are playing games 24/7.

The problem is that they think it would "be fun", kinda of like playing games, but with more control. I did point the older (17) boy to the Steam SDK, which was free since he had a source game, and told him to dig in using the free tools. That lasted less than the time to download the tools. Two years prior, he had decided he wanted to get a job as a "video game tester".... Yea, I know.

1st of all: Join the modding community. (4, Insightful)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805226)

First of all: Join the modding community. Find a mod that is in active develpoment and that you like and join the team. See what you like most on the project and if you tend more to the programming or the designing side.

Depending on that you have various options: Joining a special course in Game Developement, Animation, etc. like Full Sail or the likes if you're a Designer type. Or regular CS with a focus on Application Development if you are the programmer type.

Anyway you do it, joining the modding community is a must before anything else.

Lockout chip (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806764)

First of all: Join the modding community.

I thought video game consoles had lockout chips specifically to defeat mods. If you meant find a PC game to mod, a lot of genres are grossly underrepresented on PCs.

IANAGD (2, Interesting)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805230)

But really, let them focus on the tools. Go for the CS degree. The art will follow. Or rather, develop the art in concert with the tools. But you need the tools!

Learn the programming, then hack in something using the tools and a good existing game engine, such as the Valve Source engine (relatively easy to script for with Garry's Mod) and maybe something more complex with the Unreal Engine. They don't have to be total nerds to grok the code, but you do need to empower them with the ability to make gameplay changes to an existing engine.

Re:IANAGD (1)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805532)

Why a CS degree? If they're after doing computer game programming, they should do a computer game programming degree. Seems to have worked for me.

Experience with the Unreal engine (or UDK) or other game engine would be a massive help too, but if someone wants to be a programmer they should focus on programming the engine, not using the editor. i.e. make mods, not levels.

Why? (4, Insightful)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805254)

I was under the impression that the consensus here is that video games programming was, at least in the mainstream industry, an extreme sweatshop, slave-like, gaming-enjoyment destroying kind of IT job...

Sure, do it for fun (who doesn't) but joining the industry is a bad idea.

Maybe u should first do your due diligence and warn them about it!?

Re:Why? (1)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806128)

You have to be really careful where you work, but there ARE some good companies to work for.

Re:Why? (3, Interesting)

xtracto (837672) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806268)

THIS.

Back in the day (around 1992, the time of MK, Wolf3d, UltimaVII, etc.) when I was 10 years old I wanted to be a game developer with all my heart.

I knew also wanted to be into computer programming, and knew how to program in GWBASIC. I made my own very simple games while learning C/C++.

Fast forward to Univesrity, I gladly chose Comp. Sci. course but, after reading a lot (I used to buy the GameDev magazine which was overpriced in Mexico) about the state of the videogame development industry (it is like the American dream... you can be reaaaally successful [like John Carmack, etc] but the 99% of people will get miserable jobs) I chose to do something else.

Nowadays I do computer models and simulations (similar in some ways to the part of games I liked) for research (I've got my PhD in Comp. Sci) AND I develop homebrew games in my spare time (I'm right now into DS Homebrew).

This path has ensured me that I still have fun developing games and I earn money doing something that pays pretty well, allows me to travel (right now living in Germany!, last week visited Czech Republic!) and I am quite free with my working time :)

Re:Why? (2, Interesting)

xtracto (837672) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806340)

I just want to add to my reply focusing on the actual questions by the submitter:

A couple other questions that might help those students: what non-academic methods would you recommend to students looking for a career in the games industry? What projects and tools are good starting points for learning the ropes?

In no particular order
- Learn to program C and C++ (no not C/C++, learn their differences)
- Learn some scripting language (Lua is used in game programming a lot, Python is also OK)
- As other have said, learn to use tools like Blender, mainly so that they *understand* what does it mean to make a game.
- Work in an Open Source game. Just browse around SourceForge and look for a game... (start with simple games like http://www.wormux.org/ [wormux.org] before going all the way to 3D).
- Redo old games... everytime I want to learn a new programming language (or platform like Wii or DS) I do a Tetris clone. Doing a game which is "predesigned" will allow you to focus on the actual *programming* so that you ensure you learn the needed skills. Additionally, you can keep improving the game by adding new stuff as you learn about the platform.. 3D tetris, etc).
- Read books. There are lots of books about programming (e.g. game programming all in one [amazon.com] ) for very low prices. In the beginning it does not matter if the book is a bit old.

- Finally, after you have tested all that, choose in what part of the game development process you want to specialize. Do you *really* like coding?... or you prefer doing the 3D models? do you like designing the scenarios? or do you prefer the sound? Do you like to create the NPCs AI?. You must have in mind that in commercial games each of these aspects is foreseen by a different person (or group of persons) so it is very likely you will have to specialize.

Drop out from school and start coding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33805268)

Seriously. Studies just get in the way.

Re:Drop out from school and start coding (1)

baker_tony (621742) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805584)

I think if you come out of Uni with a degree or whatever, it proves that you know the fundamentals, how to learn, time management, networking and how to hold a great party.
I don't think the studies get in the way.

DigiPen (2, Informative)

pythonax (769925) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805278)

This is actually something I am currently pursuing, and I believe that the best way is to get a full CS degree first. I got a normal CS degree at Carnegie Mellon. After graduation I felt that while I knew lots about coding and had a strong base in C and systems, I was still lacking in many areas I would need in the industry, like more advanced graphics, AI, and general game engine programming. I thus applied to the masters program at DigiPen, and am now about a month in. So far this is exactly what I was looking for, and I am rapidly building a strong foundation in making games. However, I am very glad that I got a normal CS education before coming here. I do not know how it works in RTIS (real time interactive simulation, the main undergrad degree for programming games at DigiPen), but I know that if I ever need to code anything, I have the ability to. I also know that if for some reason I decide I want to leave the games industry, I have the skills I need to pursue many other jobs. DigiPen is wonderful for undergrad if you know you will want to work in the industry, but as I said, I do not know how broad the CS material you are introduced to is, so if you decide to go somewhere else it might not be too helpful. As for the other game programs, you really need to do your research. In researching for myself I found that most of the programs are worthless, even inside of the game industry. I seem to recall finding a few others that seemed to be worth something in undergrad, but DigiPen was the only masters program I found that seems to actually have value once you graduate. Seeing as I go there, I should probably just say that I am biased towards DigiPen, but I felt this way before I got in as well.

Tell them to research what it entails (4, Interesting)

Cidolfas (1358603) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805280)

From what I understand of the games/gaming industry, programmers have a short lifespan and are easily replaced without pay at a major studio. If they really want to make games, tell them to start making games ASAP, and ask them if they think they can do that 80 hours a week! If they do, then it's a tossup: the DigiPen and FullSail programs give them focused experience (note: hiring managers are reported to not care that they went to gaming schools), while a CS degree gives them career flexibilty.

Personally, I'd sit them down and ask why they want to make games, and if it doesn't sound like they want to because of a desire to be clever with object inheretence or design complex AIs, encourage them to take storywriting or point them to a program like my Alma Matter (UT Dallas)'s Arts and Technologies (ATEC) program, where they can help a kid develop art and storytelling skills and give him experience making projects of all kinds in fields. From there he can work his way into industry the old fashioned way: tons of unpaid hard work for the love of it, perhaps with eventual success by getting hired. Being a CS gaming guru is great if you're interested in writing a network stack for a multiplayer game or increasing the engine's efficiency with DirectX, but most kids who want to get into games aren't thinking about those jobs.

Being unemployed (B.S. in Chemistry, likely going back to Grad School in one of a few fields next year if anybody in Texas is hiring and reads this. Also capable in IT and PHP development.) I've got some time to think about this myself, and I think I might try to make an indie game working with an artist friend of mine. If that works out, then I might try and make it work as a career, but from what I've read working ANY job in the gaming industry requires loving the medium and loving making things more than any love of money or sleep (unless you're a publisher, accountant, or HR, then I hear it's a better work environment with similar pay to other positions). In fact, that goes for doing anything creative in today's society. Encourage your kids to take a serious look at what they want in life and if the reality of the gaming industry fits it.

And, when they don't do that, point them to CS. If they hate it, they'll have the math for almost anything else in college so they don't lose a year.

ObAbstruseGoose (4, Interesting)

tommituura (1346233) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805290)

Show them this: Rite of passage [abstrusegoose.com] , and you'll save them some pain, at least.

On the more serious side, tell them to simply get cracking with maps, mods, skins, simple game programming (like asteroids/minesweeper/etc), scripting, etc.

Bad idea (3, Informative)

Undead Waffle (1447615) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805314)

A huge amount of kids go into college for a CS degree planning to make games when they graduate. At some point in their education they realize it's a shitty industry to be in and hopefully they're good enough at CS in general to get some other sort of CS job. Sending them into some sort of specialized game programming program is a horrible idea because when reality sets in they won't have somewhere else to go.

Besides, the only way to stand out is to actually do modding and stuff in your free time. The ones who are dedicated enough will do this regardless of what major or college they end up in.

Re:Bad idea (1)

ProbablyJoe (1914672) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805736)

Gotta agree with that. Being just out of university with a decent CS degree myself, I had little problem finding a job, and the same goes for most of the people from my course who aren't aiming for anything too specific. In contrast, I know a few people who went for specific games development/design, or animation/media courses, and they're having a lot of trouble finding any jobs, for a few reason. For one, the jobs in the area are pretty limited (depending on your location), but then if you change your mind on what you want to do, you're kinda stuck. Maybe the people I know just took bad courses, but they don't seem to have learned anything that couldn't have been self-taught in a few months of free time. Getting a degree for playing around with the Source/Unreal engines for 3 years is nice in theory, but getting a CS degree and actually having fun with that stuff is probably better. Though, finding the time to actually do some games development stuff once you have a full time job is another problem entirely...

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One thing you learn... (2, Interesting)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805330)

...from working in ANY ICT related industry - especially development ones - is that there is no such thing as "Knowing enough" or "Too much knowledge"

Going on that, make them choose the full course - it'll show them the hard work, dedication and speed of learning which will be expected from them for the rest of their career.

Overqualification (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806792)

there is no such thing as [...] "Too much knowledge"

Wikipedia disagrees [wikipedia.org] .

Stop Wasting Time and Start Coding (1)

flnca (1022891) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805340)

The best way to learn any computer programming is to just do it. Get your students interested in developing their own games in their spare time, and help them along if they run into trouble. If you can't help them with programming problems, try to find someone who can. Teach them how to use books and how to get the most out of computer programming. A good starter would be a book on how to avoid creating bugs in the code in the first place. Learning this will keep them out of trouble much later in their career. Try to encourage them starting seemingly impossible projects, like creating a full-on 3D game. Experienced folk in the business have told me that any good game takes up to 1-2 time years (no matter how many people are on the project), so the earlier you start, the better. Make the result open-source for the benefit of all or sell it. BTW, studying existing code is good, but it's always more rewarding to write your own.

Maths, Physics & CS (1)

Gorgeous Si (594753) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805388)

To be a game programmer, they'll need strong maths and ideally physics skills. There are Games Programming courses out there, but most of them are too diverse (teaching design & art as well) to give the students the full depth of programming skills they'll actually need.

Yes, it's a hard life, with long hours and not the best pay ... but if it's their passion, then there's nothing better than working on something they really love. It makes coming to work a lot easier, even if you know you're going to be in for 12+ hours, if you're totally invested in what you're doing.

Welp (3, Insightful)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805406)

Which would be of more benefit: pursing a Computer Science degree or taking an accelerated program like those at FullSail?

I have worked with several artists (and one programmer) from Full Sail on several movies. They are all gifted, talented, and easily employable peeps. I think these people speak very highly for that school. However, I do feel that these are the crem-de-la-crem. I never, for example, met the wash-outs. Whatever students you send that way will need to step up and kick ass. They get hired because we call the school and say "send us your best!"

The reason I mention this is that I think it's more important that the right expectations are set than it is to pick which direction to go. You might get some info that suggests a fairly noticeable change in pay going in one direction vs. another, but it's all for naught if they don't treat it like an extended job interview. I have heard some terrible stories about students paying >$25,000 only to storm off on one of their projects because another student was acting like a tool. None of those stories ended with "he's in Hollywood now!"
    I imagine the path down a CS degree is similar, but I haven't heard of cases where impressing the instructor was more important than getting that piece of paper. This is, of course, something I wouldn't want to speak authoritatively about.

I realize that you're looking at the long-term return on the education, but I think that depends too much on the student. If they're insatiably curious, I'd nudge them down the Full Sail route. If they're not, well I'm not saying they should go the CS route, but I would say that they'll have to get the requisite knowledge spoon-fed to them and they'd need to go down a path that'd make that happen.

Get a CS Degree (2, Interesting)

KulSeran (1432707) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805416)

Companies will hire depending on who they are looking for. There is some stigma about the trade schools sometimes, and a CS degree will get you to other jobs aswell. While it is a flame-war-able debate, I'd argue on the side of a CS degree over the tradeschools. Trade schools are good, as I work with several people who came from those degrees. But there is a divide on knowelege. Trade school degrees like FullSail give a good overview of the game aspects of programming and design, but they lack some of the more fundemental courses of Computer Science and Mathmatics (like compilers, languages and automata, operating systems, parallel programming, etc.) The CS degrees on the other hand lack a lot of the hands on programming courses focused on game specific technology like Graphics, AI, and Design. Really, the best bet would be trying to get the best of both worlds.

Also, let them know that the pay is lower for the hours worked when compared to other computer programming positions out there in the world. They have to be motivated to make games or they are going to burn out fast. And, yes, the ones who actually want to make games should already be making them. If you start making games/programming when you get into the industry you are 10-15 years behind the people of the same age who were actually motivated to work in their free time.

Point them at good side resources. What are they interested in? Send them to Wii/PSP/PS2/PS3 homebrew sites to learn to hack away on real hardware. Send them to modding communities to make HalfLife 2 mods, or Quake maps, or Starcraft 2 maps. Send them to places like http://www.gamedev.net/ [gamedev.net] http://aigamedev.com/ [aigamedev.com] http://www.gamasutra.com/ [gamasutra.com] or other high profile programming forums.

Encourage them to do ACM programming contests or topcoder.com programming contests. Get them to learn to solve problems, debug programs, and use source control. Get them to explore stuff other than programming; having a good understanding of art, music, or some other set of game related tallents helps out the team flow.

Even after doing a tonne of programming on the side since forever ago, I still don't feel like I learned enough before becoming a dev. And after two shipped titles, I can say you still have to learn on the way. Technology changes too quickly to ever stop learning. Getting to the goal of being a game developer isn't the end of the road.

CS, Any day (1)

benjymous (69893) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805434)

Study C.S. and do indie games development in your spare time. XNA is pretty easy to get going. You might even be able to make a game for your final year project.

One day the games industry will spit you out, and you'll be looking for another job. At that point you might think "Hey, maybe there's more money outside of games" and start looking for other programming jobs.

If you've got a "Video Games" degree, employers will take one look at your CV and think "plays games all day. No use to us, we need serious engineers".

Games programming is very hard, but most employers (or agencies / HR people) don't seem to grasp that.

Also there's a fair number of Video Games courses that are pretty useless too - as someone who's been involved in interviewing people for games industry programming jobs, I can say the ones with CS experience often have a far better grounding. Having some solid demos that show your coding ability is far more valuable.

Tell them three things (5, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805488)

1) University is a theoretical institution. It will NOT teach you have to be a game developer. That is a practical skill that you learn as you do it. What Computer Science gets you is theoretical foundations of how computers, and programming, works. It teaches you some deep background that can help you be a much better programmer. You can draw an analogy to electrical engineering in that they don't teach you have to make flying robots or the like, what they teach you is the electronics theory so that you can understand how the parts in a flying robot might work.

2) Don't decide you want to be a game programmer. Be a programmer, see where that leads. All work is work, it isn't going to be play, that includes game development. Just because you are making a game doesn't mean you'll have any more fun doing it than making a website backend or something. Learn to program, try out different kinds of programming, see what works for you. Don't limit your job options because you want to be a "Game programmer." If you find a game company that you'd like to work for and their project looks like the kind of thing you'd like to write, great take the job. However don't say "No I'm only going to do game development." As a practical matter there's more crossover than you think. Game development isn't all engine, or often even much engine. Look at Civ 5. They bought their engine (Gamebryo) and only had to modify it. However someone sat down and implemented a first rate XML and Lua parser, that interfaces with a SQL backend. Gee, sound a little like web or database development? Guess what? Same kind of thing except here it parses information on game resources.

3) Understand that game PROGRAMMING is not game DESIGN. Pick up the manual for a game some time. You'll notice that in addition to programmers there are directors, designers, artists, animators, writers, producers and so on. They are all pieces of the process that is game design, they all do their own part. The lead developer? Didn't design the game, unless he is also the lead designer. Even the lead designer didn't do it all, probably didn't have complete creative control. So be real clear on what part of the game process you want to work on. If design is your thing then programming is probably not. I'm not saying don't take some programming classes, you should understand how computers think at a basic level, but I'd say writing courses would be far more important. As a designer you have to put together something that will be fun to play, manage the structure and balance, not implement the code.

I think too many kids get obsessed with game development as the one and only career they'd want as a programmer. That is not a good thing. It is never good to limit yourself to only one particular kind of career in a wide specialty. No matter what you do, there are parts of work that don't change: Meetings, deadlines, assholes, problems, etc. More important to like what you do and who you work for/with than to be concerned with the final product. You might find that programming a high performance audio application (like say a sampler like Native Instruments Kontakt) just as challenging and interesting as programming a high performance game engine.

Don't think that because games are fun work with them will be fun. It can be, but not because of the games.

Also be aware that working in something can ruin it for you. Doesn't happen for everyone, but it can for some. Know yourself, and know if this is the case. I am one of those people. There was a time when I really toyed with my system. I overclocked it, I tinkered with it, it was a "geek computer." No longer. I build it myself, but out of parts designed for stability. I use Intel motherboards, that won't overclock even if asked. I throw money at problems, rather than time. Why? Because my profession is computer support. I spend all day troubleshooting computer problems of various sorts, I've no patience for it at home. It isn't fun anymore. I'm not saying I hate my job, far from it, I do what I want to do and I rather enjoy it. However it removed the fun. It is work now.

Re:Tell them three things (2, Insightful)

forsey (1136633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806442)

I'm a former game programmer (only got out a few months ago) as well and I agree with you 100%. The short of it for me is if you like playing and creating video games, don't join the industry. Things you enjoy doing are better kept as hobbies. The industry likes to take your excitement and crush it with late nights and by making you feel like crap about every product you make, though I'm sure there are exceptions to that. You might think that the long hours aren't a big deal, but when you're SO/Wife starts telling you that you need to find a new job because she's tired of not seeing and you start considering sleeping at the office you'll start changing your mind.

One last thing, the pay often sucks. There is a high demand for these jobs because people think they want them, so they end up offering you crap money compared to working in other areas of programming. I was offered more money to work in VB6 than I was offered to work on games in C++.

I haven't complete given up on game programming that said, I still work on little projects on my own time, but I won't ever do it for anyone else again.

my advice (1)

djdolber (1026972) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805504)

make games constantly

It depends... (1)

KillzoneNET (958068) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805560)

Really it depends. Most of it is just pure luck. Sure. You can tell them the same old story I've heard from just about everyone on the internet.

"Go into the Modding Community. Get into open source games. Do a map. Do a mod. Create a small game. Create a team or join a team and try to contribute."

Look at those and you'll see a common misconception. Creating games has little to nothing to do with most of the above save for the last two. Getting into the modding community is nice and all, but that kind of experience can lead to nothing more than an ego boost. Getting into open source game projects or small game development kits will teach them the basics, but nothing more. Doing maps is only viable if the person is into wanting to create maps and do level design only. Doing a mod in retrospect depends on the scale of the mod, but if it is just a normal mod and not something that truly creates a new game from the ground up, then it is just a dive into the internal workings of a particular game and not the elements that made the game come to be.

Creating a game though is where it really begins. Even more so, to do so in a team. Doing either of these takes commitment. Telling kids, even college students, that they have to start a game project from initial idea to an actual finished product is something like Mt Everest for most people. In most programming classes (even game design and graphics programming classes) I've done, students who create a game do so with that deadline in mind and then finish the game. After the deadline for the project is up, they toss the game aside and move on, not completing their work.

Now I've got an interesting take on game development so far. I started off as a kid wanting to create games, figured that the one thing I really needed is a degree in CS. The thing is I started off already knowing what I wanted to do. I wanted to program. Kids and adults who want to create games start off by saying they want to create games, but never realize that there are many elements that go into what creates a game. Concept artists, 3D modelers, animators, level designers, game designers, game programmers, UI artists, quest design, AI programming, graphic programming, physics programming, sound design, and countless other roles are what make up a game in the industry. Indie development means you will find that people will have multiple roles, but ultimately a person has to choose their path and stick with it.

At my university I got immensely lucky and found that my school actually had a dedicated game development degree. I didn't go for it and decided to stuck with my CS degree, but I soon caught wind of a game project funded by the NSF that was in first steps of development at my uni. Several chance encounters later and now I'm in the forefront of what it really means to create a game from beginning to end. I've dabbled heavily in game concept to programming. I've got hands on experience talking to people who are truly motivated into creating the game we have envisioned. What really amazes me is how many times I have interviewed people who are interested in joining our project as a programmer only to find that they immediately come to the realization that it just isn't for them. Over the course of the summer we started with a strong team of almost 20 people. Most came by every now and then, worked a little and then dropped off the face of our known universe. By the end we only had 8 people. The ones who kept through are the ones who are now veterans in our field. We got people who worked with us go on to Activision and Dreamworks. In the previous years we produced a game and several of the guys moved on to create their own game development company (though now it seems they have moved on to teaching game development instead around the world). The guys who still work on it are dedicated to it and will likely land jobs with the work we have done.

So in essence what you really need to do is ask them a series of very serious questions:
1) Do you REALLY want to work on games? Not because you like to have fun with them, but as a job to create the stuff over countless hours of effort?
2) What do you want to do? Programming? Sound? Design (mechanics/story)? Level creation? Art? This is important. Programming is not all there is to it.
3) Are you motivated to start doing anything you can right now?
4) Have you even begun trying to go on that path? If not will you start right now?

With those questions in mind you then have to inform them whether or not they should do it or not. If they are willing then all you can really tell them is to go where they are able to. Universities are not bad but getting a more general degree will give them time to realize what they REALLY want to do with their life. Game colleges like FullSail are great, but they are more focused and from my understanding is only really useful for those who are 100% committed to doing games.

To end this long post, so far for me in the end it really is luck. I always wanted to program for games, but I never truly knew the pains of creating a complete game from scratch with 8+ other guys would be and how long of a commitment you need in order to get anything accomplished. It may end up much harder for others than it was for me that's for damn sure.

A good education never becomes obsolete (1)

pedantic bore (740196) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805576)

I'm leery of educational programs that focus on a specific set of tools and methodologies and don't include a solid grounding in the theory behind computer science and the philosophy (for lack of a better word) of software engineering. Languages, frameworks, and programming paradigms come and go, and many have the shelf-life of cheese. The theory and basic problem-solving skills are eternal.

For example: the local equivalent of CS1 used Pascal, but only as a notation for expressing ideas. I never used Pascal again (and I don't think you could pay me enough to...), but I use the concepts of functional decomposition and top-down design every day.

Learn the basics and learn them well, and your skills will translate to new areas easily and you'll find it easy to keep up-to-date. Focus too deeply on the current technology, and new technology will be your constant foe.

The best pathway is... (0, Troll)

frank_carmody (1551463) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805588)

Mysticism --> Meditation --> Priesthood. Once you have Priesthood, build Oracle.

Don't go into game programming... but... (1)

Clivan (905045) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805596)

I never suggest anyone actually go to school to learn how to program video games. From people who I've interviewed in the passed, those who have gone through the courses never learned a single practical thing. It is a funny question. I would never recommend going into the video game business. It is like the music industry, long hours under appreciated, under paid. But, if you do make a game, release it, you probably can handle any other programming job out there. Everything else seems like a walk in the park after working 100 hour weeks with a publisher breathing down your neck. I've worked with programmers from all areas. Comedians, Physicist, Child actors. I was the one of the only ones with a CS degree and that I got after completing several games. The one thing in common seems to be a creative edge and ability to just make stuff happen. (of course this was 10 - 15 years ago, the game has changed at least 5 times since then!) Also note, this is not a life long vocation. You will leave the game industry at some point, if you can get into it in the first place.

get an engineering degree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33805610)

It is a decent paying job and i got into my first job after i graduated in software engineering at a decent university. ONe of the classes that we had was called Computer Graphics which teaches you 3d programming concepts. The most important part about video game industry is that you n eed to be smart, stuff is not easy... And if you are good enouhg and willing to make your sample programs, you can get a job easily...

it's not that hard (1)

uzkonosy_placental (1916276) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805612)

Our chief weapon is programming... programming and math... math and programming... Our two weapons are programming and math... and knowledge of hardware.
Our *three* weapons are math and programming and knowledge of hardware and almost fanatical devotion to efficiency...
Our *four*... no... *Amongst* our weapons... Amongst our weaponry are such elements as math, programming... I'll come again.

Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as:
- programming (low level enough, asm including)
- math (algebra)
- knowledge of hardware
- knowledge of data structures
- almost fanatical devotion to efficiency (horsepower, storage)
- and no real life... Oh damn!

Roman warships (3, Funny)

PietjeJantje (917584) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805654)

The best way to prepare for the video game industry is to work as a slave rower on a Roman warship.

Go for the CS degree (2, Interesting)

tempest69 (572798) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805660)

If a person loves making games, it's in them, and they can keep at it in a CompSci Framework. And have a degree that makes them marginally employable should the job market be full. A theory based CompSci program can really change the way you understand solving problems. Writing an in depth compiler makes a huge difference in your ability to understand how programming works or fails to work. Now I dont have a game degree, and there are some solid concepts that could make for a very rigorous course of study. But I suspect that the field is too new to have any respect outside of a small group of people who know the system.

Join the Omega Theta Pi frat (2, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805666)

Being thrashed by sadists while you pucker up and gasp "Thank you sir, may I have another" is the best training for an entry level position in commercial games development.

Insiders POV (1)

n3n9 (1723482) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805752)

First post :). Not sure if other game veterans have replied to this. Therefore i'll just chip in my pov. I apologize in advance if I'm repeating some points.

Over the past few years, I have read hundreds of resumes and interviewed a lot of candidate game programmers. These are my humble opinion on how to score an interview and a job.

- Be VERY, VERY good at C++. C++ is still King in the AAA console world. So you need to impress us with it.

- Be a very good software engineer. Talk patterns, design, architecture, trade offs. Being able to design software (not just code it) is something we all love.

- Do something on the side. Showcase your mad skills and what you have done with just your free time. If you tell us that you wanted this job since the day you were born but you don't know what Ogre is, you must be lying to us.

- Diversify. If all you know is how to render using the latest and greatest tricks, you are just like every other wannabes. Games are so large nowadays, we REALLY need people with other skills. Some areas you may want to explore: Distributed computing for mass online servers, content distribution system, massively scalable database architecture, multi-user collaborative dev tools, multi-terrabyte data crunching, distributed server profiling, tracing, debugging. Multi-core programming, optimization, crash reporting, profiling, data collection.

I've also dealt with Digipen before. What they output is usually more 'focused' than the rest of the candidates comes with more relevant skills. Their resumes also look nicer.
Having said that, none of the stuff that attracts my eyes are exclusive to a Digipen degree.

My $0.02

Teaching a Computer Games Module (2, Interesting)

Rough3dg3 (1372837) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805784)

I graduated from a university of Abertay two years ago with an honours in Computer Games Development. I have since stayed in academia to complete my PhD and have the fulfilling job of teaching a few modules on the first, second and third year courses. From my experience in taking the modules and teaching the modules, a degree in CS would have done me just as well, probably better, than my current degree. I have found myself in situations having to explain basic programming concepts to 3rd year students, the same students who were fast tracked into Playstation 3 and XBOX 360 development. I don't mind that they don't understand a particular algorithm, I get frustrated that they don't understand the concept of an algorithm. I don't mind that they don't have a natural talent for mathematics, I get exasperated when I am continually asked "Why do we need to know so much triangle stuff". The best module I had was a module named "Languages and Compilers". Sadly, the module never came up until four year but increased my understanding of programming languages more than 3 years of programming modules. My wish, with hindsight, would be doing my degree in CS and learning the graphical aspect of programming in my own time, creating a library of small, simple yet well programmed games for any future employer to see.

Re:Teaching a Computer Games Module (1)

LanMan04 (790429) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807060)

The best module I had was a module named "Languages and Compilers".

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

If you can build a compiler (and I'm talking lexical, syntactic, semantic analyzers, no cheating using LEX or YACC), understand how grammars work, how to remove recursion and other grammar issues, then by God you're a programmer through and through.

There were a significant number of people in my MS CS program that completed every class EXCEPT Compilers and it prevented them from getting the graduate degree in CS...even years later. Suck to be them...

Always Look at Job Lifestyle (3, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805876)

This goes for any one in an advising capacity: get the person to at least think about (ideally investigate) lifestyle of the job, like compensation, work hours, length of career, level of autonomy and self-direction, etc. Ideally go on premises for at least a single day.

One of the best things I ever did is work on a feature movie set handling animals for a few weeks. Wiped the idea of film school out of my head right quick.

Join Free Software Projects to learn to code (1)

AbbeyRoad (198852) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805900)

Probable the best thing about Free software projects are as a learning tool.

Join a project, learn the code base, submit patches, get experience.

Don't try learning to code from the code you write yourself.

-paul

Step 1: Forget about friends and family (4, Insightful)

Tridus (79566) | more than 3 years ago | (#33805928)

The game industry is the western world's remaining sweat shop. One of my best friends works in the industry. During the last few months of development he tends to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. This goes on for months, and applies to the entire company. Why?

Because schedules in the game industry don't even pretend to be realistic. Marketing decides when the game will be out, and everybody works insane hours to make it so. It's not an exceptional thing, it's routine in the industry and based on game release dates I pretty much know when I'll stop hearing from him for a while. People get forced to do it because most of them are easily replaced due to a lot of other people who think "wouldn't it be cool to make games?"

It's not. He can't even enjoy the games he makes because working on them is so soul-crushing that it's impossible to have fun playing them. Hell, he doesn't even get paid overtime!

So if you really want to be in the game industry, make sure you're a loaner without a family who doesn't like to sleep very much.

A better bet is to get a CS degree, get a job working for some boring company or the government, and mod games as a hobby. Modders get to do it because they love it, on their own schedule.

Death march (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806026)

After working for one of the leading game publishers for two years as a programmer, I was offered a production job as localization manager. I declined it for the simple reason that I would not, could not drive 25 year-olds on death march bullshit dev schedules. The person who ended up filling the job filed suit with the human rights commission 3 years later, after what amounted to a nervous breakdown.

Tell your students to avoid the whole gaming industry like the plague. It's sleazy and morally repugnant. Why the f**k would you advise any young person to work in these sweatshops?

Probably a misconception (5, Informative)

LBeee (605992) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806088)

During my CS studies, I was considering to start working in the gaming industry too, but finally decided against it. My naive concept of working for a game studio was that I would sit together with creative guys and think about what cool games we could do and what nice features we could put into and how we could maximize fun.

After talking to people who worked for different german game studios, my picture changed quickly. I found out that what most studios needed were programmers, programmers and programmers. And those kind of programmers who would sit around for 80+ hours per week and hack C code. Not really my understanding of "fun". Sure, there are other guys like the graphic and animation dudes, sound and music, asset management but in non of these would fit my CS background.

So I learned that what I initially was looking for, was becoming the lead game designer. Nothing you could expect to become with no hisotry in creating games plus at least 7 years of experience in the industry. And even if I magically would become a LGD, even he doesn't have all the creative freedoms I had image he would have. One guy told me, that a game they developed was starting out to be something like a sci-fi RPG, but one day they got a call from the publisher who told them, that "with all the LotR stuff going on, we should do something with hobbits and evles".

This might be different in the US, but in Germany you seem to be pretty much the slave of the publisher and and are bound to every shitty idea they come up with that would make the game better selling .. even if in reality it would make it "just another boring FPS".

So my bottom line is: if you love to code and already are a good programmer, go for it. If you want to "design" cool games you might be dissapointed how uncreative the whole process is.

Clearly this is just my personal subjective view, but I'm pretty sure many of the people who "want to become a game designer" have similar faulty expactations.

Re:Probably a misconception (1)

forsey (1136633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806454)

It's the same in North America. I guess the best way to get creative control over a game is to get an MBA! Maybe in marketing?

Re:Probably a misconception (1)

am 2k (217885) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806468)

One guy told me, that a game they developed was starting out to be something like a sci-fi RPG, but one day they got a call from the publisher who told them, that "with all the LotR stuff going on, we should do something with hobbits and evles".

A true game designer doesn't care whether you slap on the elve texture or the space marine texture. The game itself doesn't have to change just because you changed the setting. If you want to have some insight into this, read about the MDA model [northwestern.edu] . This paper is great in explaining the whole concept of game design without requiring reading a 400+ pages book.

find those who are interested... (1)

metalmaster (1005171) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806152)

I took a game development course for an elective while completing my 2 year degree. We worked with a *free* program called Game Maker that teaches the fundamentals of game design without being too specific. Sure, you'll make cookie-cutter games, but its all about the ideas behind them.

Point any of your interested students to http://www.yoyogames.com/gamemaker/ [yoyogames.com] Its a nice little package with plenty of tutorials and (what used to be) a good following. If they learn the basics and still wanna pursue games simulation as a career they will find answers.

Contribute to open source games first (1)

dfdashh (1060546) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806168)

While what people are saying here is likely valid (game development is not "fun and games", etc etc), I'd like to suggest an alternative to lying to them or pawning them off to a school that will only postpone their decision-making process wrt game development: suggest that they work on an open source game. Working with an open source game is

- a tremendous learning experience
- a resume booster
- free
- easily accessible

Personal example: I never wanted to be a game developer, but I was interested in how games work and how to make them better feature-wise. After looking around I found the Xonotic project [xonotic.org] , for which I now provide feedback and test for. It's a win/win for me and the project team; I've learned a lot in the process and the project team gets free map reviews and gameplay videos.

Computer Science + Game Development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806374)

I will answer the question. There are now several schools that over game development curriculum. Look into these first. I graduated from RIT taking the Game Development [rit.edu] concentration and overall, my degree has been good.

Here is what I can say about that program: It's probably one of the best cs i programs at RIT. You take all the standard math, science, and cs courses. When you get to the actual games courses, you'll find the professors and students very dedicated. You are guided with strategies along the way, but you need to do a lot of learning on your own. When I was a student, it was pretty open - we pretty much took a year, broke up into teams, and made games. There are lots of skills we learned doing these projects that we might not have learned doing smaller, more concentrated projects.

Did I end up making games? Sort of. I've done a few budget, educational titles in my free time. I don't really have any interest in working on big-budget games, but if an idea comes along for a cool game I would consider executing it. The skills in 3d graphics and audio processing have been pretty useful to have because not many programmers in my field are experienced in these areas.

Hahaha (1)

Windwraith (932426) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806394)

I had the same idea as you...when I was like 8 years old.
Now I do games, but as my hobby. Going for the industry means you are making games for the money (shows a lot of love for your creations), and...do you really expect to be able to do anything? Do you think you'll get a name? Hah.
This is what will happen: You will enter a team, your soul full of dreams, and start your wonderful project...and then some dude in a suit will tell you what's right and what's not, completely ruining your vision of the product. Just because marketing studies show you must make it *like this*.
The videogames industry is a piece of crap because it's run by dudes with suits and greedy developers that want to hit it big and become the new Kojima/insert name here.

As a serious game developer I tell you this. You suck.
I earn more than enough from my regular job, and I get to make the games I want, like I want. And I enjoy every moment of it. You won't.

I hire games programmers. (3, Informative)

Fingerbob (613137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806404)

I've been interviewing and hiring programmers for games companies for the last decade. I look for:

Programming skill, with C++ being the most relevant language (but obvious excellence in other languages is also hugely useful). Demos, contributions to open source, university projects, youtube videos of the results of your work are all good showcases. Having a website with linked examples (executable and source to look at) makes evaluating skill much easier while sifting CVs. We have hired folks recently with no C++ experience, but they had very strong demonstrable C# or Python experience.

Team fit - must be smart, get things done, friendly. People who are passionate about what they do, willing to work on whatever is most important to the team at the time (rather than "I only want to work on shaders", for example) and desperate to learn. I really, really want to hire people who want to do good work. I'm much less likely to hire people if they are not all three of the aforementioned criteria.

Education is a really simple bar for us to use these days, as many people do meet the above criteria. We normally expect at least a bachelor's first in a science. I've hired a few postdocs recently, they're all great guys. If you haven't got good math/physics results at A-level, I'm very unlikely to interview.

We obviously don't expect people to hit every point, but we are lucky enough to be pretty choosy.

Re:I hire games programmers. (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806456)

I've been interviewing and hiring programmers for games companies for the last decade.

Are you as bad as the hiring consultants from the other fields of software development?

Re:I hire games programmers. (1)

Fingerbob (613137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806464)

probably ;) If you'd like to enumerate their specific failures, I can give you yes/no answers.

teach them how to make DRM work (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806440)

by not using it!
/ sulking cos Batman Arkham city will use Games for windows live. Another one I want, yet can't/wont buy. :(
Get them some contact in the industry. Half the time is who you know.

Maths & software engineering skills are essent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806452)

If you want to become a games programmer, I'd recommend Maths or Physics, in addition to a course that covers software engineering.
Those without decent 3D math skills, and an understanding of good software engineering practices are of absolutely no use for game development.
A firm understanding of the underlying operation of computers is essential to writing code that performs well, so a good grasp of what high level language actually compiles down to, and an excellent grasp of formal software engineering practices are completely essential.

XNA (1)

JoelMartinez (916445) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806470)

XNA Creator's Club: http://creators.xna.com/ [xna.com] Supported Platforms for Game Development: * Windows * XBox * Windows Phone 7 * Zune * Silverlight (via SilverSprite) * iPhone and iPad (via XNA Touch)

I wish I had the money... (1)

CFBMoo1 (157453) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806618)

I'd want to build a simple muliplayer platform that lets people build and script their own game worlds. They could use stock resources or add their own, kinda like how NWN1 was done. The only thing people would have to download is the custom content packages to render the world properly. The game world itself would stream down to the client like in NWN1 so they didn't have to download that entirely as well.

Yeah there would be a lot of crap content out there, but it would start getting the creative juices flowing for people. Over time it could turn in to a nice easy starter package for game development and it would be open so people could just grab it and run it without paying mountains of money. I'd also have it running completely on all three platforms (Linux, Mac, Win).

It would have to be kept simple and easy to use so anyone could walk up to it and start using it. It'd also have to have the flexibility to do some pretty advanced things.

Oh well that's my wishful thinking post for the day and that is about as far in to game development as I'd want to get because I miss that kind of game platform with all the crap MMOs these days.

jumping jesus christ on a pogo (1)

kiddygrinder (605598) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806660)

tell them they're stupid for wanting to do it, tell them they're dumb for even thinking about it and hope and pray they listen to you because 1% of the ones who don't might even get close to a fulfilling career with something to do with computer games. i'm doing regular programming and i wish i'd been a plumber, at least there'd be less shit to deal with.

Getting started (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806664)

Just a quick blurb if they have never used an engine before you can get a free indie version of the unity engine at unity3d.com.
Not the best engine in the world but good for first timers to get their feet wet.

Passion or fad? (3, Interesting)

Rophuine (946411) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806700)

I've been the student who desperately thought I wanted to write computer games. I've been the interviewer (for a financial software house) interviewing ex-games-programmers. I've been a team-lead mentoring ex-games-programmers. I've worked with a 1st-level phone support guy who'd spent 6 years as a hardcore C++ game developer but couldn't find any software work and had to take a support job.

First of all: tell them not to do it. The glory isn't what they think. The fun isn't what they think. The hours will suck, and the rewards will be average. Their shop will go under, and they will be competing with their 30 colleagues who are also out of work for whatever local jobs are going. They will come out as hardcore coding junkies with mad skills, and then end up taking jobs as interns under 'developers' with half their talent.

But: they will work with a bunch of young people, on crazy deadlines and massive unpaid overtime. They will meet some crazy people. They will eat a lot of pizza, and they will get free time on their competitors' games. They will be part of a tightly-knit, fast-moving industry which teaches them amazing technical skills. They will get no credit for it.

If they're sans-girlfriend, have few commitments, and want a few years of madness which they'll walk out of at the end with few rewards apart from the experience, they should pursue it. They need to know that it will suck the life out of them, they will feel under-appreciated and over-stressed, and they will probably need to rely on friends and family to get through lean times. It's an option when they're young. It's like traveling. Do it now: you won't be able to when you're older.

I'm speaking purely from a coding perspective, when it comes to skills. Maths, physics, and good coding skills. They need to know all about pointers, recursion, memory-management, event loops, and algorithm efficiency. They should pick an open-source engine or game, and try to contribute (this will help massively in landing a job).

Most importantly... they shouldn't do a FullSail course. Or whatever. Game programming is a long-term prospect for ... maybe 1% of gaming coders. I made that statistic up, but it's not high. You will move on. When you do, you do NOT want to be showing up to your interview at the software branch of some financial firm or engineering shop with no credentials other than a games-programming course and game programming experience. CS and some physics and maths courses will go a long way towards landing you a decent 3rd or 4th job. A games-programming-centric accelerated course will dump you in your ass in 4 or 5 years time with no credible education and barely-credible experience (however unfair it is, most people interviewing you will NOT lend your years of low-level C++ development much credit at all).

There you go. Doing a focused course MIGHT land you a game-software job, at massive cost to your future. Doing a CS course also MIGHT land you a game-software job. There's probably a slightly lower chance (or perhaps even a slightly higher chance!) But, your fall-back and long-term career prospects will be massively better off with CS. When you fall in love, buy a house and a puppy, and have kids, you will have career prospects at companies which leave room for those things.

I've seen it. Go the focused-games-programming-course route, and you end up with 6 years of good software development experience and having to take a crappy support job at a company which doesn't give REAL developer jobs to people with games programming degrees, making 10k less than the graduate CS guys. It's shit-unfair, but I've seen it.

Not Full Sail (1)

ProppaT (557551) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806718)

As someone who lives less than a mile away from Full Sail and knows many present students and current professors, my gut instinct (except in very select cases) is to steer away from the Full Sail pyramid scheme...a viscous cycle of students graduating, not finding work, and becoming full sail professors as the school continues to grow and take over the corner of Semoran and University.

The only people I know who have graduated from Full Sail and actually use their degree are two of my friends who do freelance video production. Sure, it's an accelerated program (which can be nice), but most industries don't take the degree very seriously. You're often taking courses with students that just recently graduated and have no real world experience and fighting over lab time. The same could be said of a university; however, grad students generally only teach 1000 and 2000 level courses at a university and, at a university, you're not paying nearly as much.

I would definitely go online and read students opinion of the school before dedicating that much money and time to a program. I have a feeling that once you start reading students and employers opinion of the program, it'll seem a lot more shady than those ads make it out to be.

Go to a 4 year university, make friends in the computer science program, and program in your free time. You'll have a lot more free time going to a university, the information won't be crammed down your throat at an accelerated speed, and if the video game job doesn't pan out....at least you have a computer science degree and you can get good jobs elsewhere!

Just say 'no' to Full Sail.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807116)

That's what we do. Please get a real CS degree.

Thanks! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807182)

Just been talking about getting into this industry and considering taking up a programming degree for it of some sort (more the mobile phone app side of it)
Your comments have ben an eye opener. figured it would be a tough industry. Didn't realise it would be that bad though. Some food for thought though... Working in a sales background the marketing side of it might be a better fit for me.

Learn C (1)

assertation (1255714) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807240)

Learn C. That is only a start and one tiny part, but it is a start.

Can you believe we get paid to do this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807246)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwlE1aASc4g

free tools and elbow grease (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807276)

I recently downloaded Visual C# Express 2010 and found that MSDN has a wonderful beginners page for programmers, video tutorials and a great community that's responsive to questions. And did I mention that it's all completely free? love it

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