By Daedra Christopher, Senior Level Designer at Ascendant Studios
Since I was ten years old, all I wanted was to be a doctor. I wanted to help people, support them and make them whole again. My life dream was to be a cardiologist and vascular surgeon who sought to educate and help people suffering from heart disease. Being a mature student, I knew I would face more challenges than those fresh out of high school, but I would put in the work. It is who I am. Little did I know that circumstances beyond my control would change that dream forever, and I would have to choose an alternative path. Walking through my alma mater, the University of Texas at Dallas, rethinking my life, I noticed a radio tower. Having always been a lover of architecture, I walked towards this monolith in my wake. I discovered that this radio tower was sitting on top of a building that held classes. It was a division of the Arts and Humanities College called ATEC. I wondered what ATEC stood for, so being the curious person I am, I went inside. I asked the receptionist, what is it you teach here? She smiled and said, “We are the school of Arts and Technology and we teach students how to make video games.” Being an avid gamer and game enthusiast, I was no longer at a crossroads- I was hooked. I changed my major that day and never looked back.
Now your journey may or may not have been as profound as mine, but one thing is certain: you have a passion for games. So where do you start? You might be lucky and your high school or local college may have a program offering courses in game development, but if not, do not fret. I have interviewed countless developers on how they broke into the games industry. Some of them began like me, with college courses, later teaching and then moving into the industry. Others are completely self-taught, having never set foot in a classroom. The incredible thing about the games industry is that it doesn’t matter how you get in. There is no preordained path into the industry. There are many ways to get into the industry but, two things remain consistent: have a strong portfolio displaying your work that is comparable to current games; and be a valuable member of a team, someone who people can depend on and work well with. Sounds simple enough, right? So where do you start?
Games Industry Career Options
Now, I have filled an entire book slated to release later this year on the ins and outs of portfolios, resumes, cover letters, and interview techniques, but there is no reason that you cannot start your path into the industry today. I have sourced some excellent places to get you started. Some of these resources are more general and others are more specific to particular fields. The first thing you need to consider is what discipline or career path within the industry you want to explore. Just like any business, there are a plethora of career options, ranging from administrative support, lawyers, economists, content creators, programmers, social media, and even scientists. Do not think in order to be part of the games industry that you must be able to create assets or write code. A great resource that lists some of the more common career options in games was posted by Hitmarker in 2022. While they do a great job in listing a majority of the jobs available do not consider this a comprehensive list, as the industry is always growing and new roles open up all the time. Also, do not think if you choose UI design today you cannot eventually move into another role like programming, it happens all the time.
Game Engine Resources
The first thing I always suggest to students and those who are self-taught is to experiment with game engines. It helps you discover what you are interested in and get an idea of the software you might be using. Using Unreal Engine, for example, is a fantastic way to explore different areas of game development. Soon, you will find out whether you are more interested in designing levels, scripting Blueprints, or capturing cinematics in Sequencer. Spending time in any engine is one of the best ways to learn. There are several engines available online that are free and provide documentation to help you on your way. Many also have support forums and Discord servers associated with them. For example, Unreal Engine has documentation to help you get started. Epic Games, the maker of Unreal Engine, also has an extensive community forum that can provide some great resources as well. You can also find real-time help on Discord servers like Unreal Slackers, a dedicated server helping people from all disciplines with Unreal Engine.
Game Development & Industry Resources
Aside from diving in and working in an engine, there are some other impressive sites that can help with general knowledge about the industry. GDC, or the Game Developer Conference, hosts a section of their site called the GDC Vault that has videos, articles, and information about the industry. Even if you cannot attend the conference itself, the GDC Vault has excellent material. Other resources worth checking out are online learning sites like Udemy.com, Pluralsight.com, and Gamedev.tv. Most of these sites have a variety of ways to learn, either purchasing individual courses or joining their subscription plan. The caveat with sites like these is they usually specialize in very specific aspects of game development. They may focus on how to create blueprints or how to design a level, so I always recommend these sites if you have a very particular goal in mind. If you are still exploring and unsure of the exact trajectory you want to travel in, then you might explore sites like Polygon.com or the Gnomon Workshop. Both of which have extensive articles, forums, and information on game development and the industry.
Level Design Resources
Now if you have decided what you want to do, or at least where you would like to start, there are some sites for the main disciplines in game development. This is not an all-encompassing list, but will at least get you started on your journey. My favorite site for level design is The World of Level Design, which teaches you more than using an engine. It teaches you how to look at games from a design perspective. Alex Galuzin is a self-taught designer and 3D content creator who offers tutorials, books, and videos on level design.
Coding & Programming Resources
If you fancy yourself as a programmer, there are numerous coding apps out there that can help you hone your skills. Check out some mobile apps like Enki or Encode, you can find them on iTunes or the Google Play store. One of my favorite sites for learning code is Cat Like Coding, the site focuses on working with C# and the Unity engine. You can even find more help through their Patreon options. Another site that focuses on game development and has varying price points for their tutorials is CodeCademy. They have different courses that focus on game development, most of which are free. Another nice thing about CodeCademy is they teach many programming languages, not just C++, C# or Java.
3D & 2D Artist Resources
Maybe you are more artistic and less technical, that’s ok, there are resources for you, too! Just like in the aforementioned technical paths, you can teach yourself to create amazing 3D assets at home. For example, Blender, a completely free 3D software package, has been on a mission to make creating 3D art more accessible to all. In recent years, Blender has grown in popularity over higher priced modeling software packages like Autodesk Maya or 3DS Max or Rhino3D. Documentation, tutorials, and even chat rooms are available to help learn the software and grow as an artist. However, Autodesk also has free and low-cost options for their most popular modeling and animation software packages, Maya and Max. You can get a free license if you are a student through their website. If you are not a student, you can purchase a copy of Maya LT, which is not as robust as the original software package, but contains many of the same tools and processes. It is also worth noting that both Humble Bundle and Steam often will have Maya LT on sale during their annual sales events.
Maybe 3D art is not your focus, but you want to create incredible 2D compositions and concepts. One of the best places to learn is through the FZD School of Design, whose websites contain incredible artwork for inspiration that has appeared in many games. FZD also offers several free tutorials and their YouTube channel is a phenomenal resource for aspiring artists of all disciplines. What is neat about the FZD site is that there are also short video tips that are incredibly helpful which can make your entire process more efficient.
Audio & Sound Design Resources
For all of my audiophiles out there, I have not forgotten you. Creating incredible audio experiences for video games can come in many forms. You might want to focus on music, Foley, voice overs, or sound effects. Whatever area of audio you find intriguing, Luisa Bueno’s site, AudioProductCreators has a lot of information to get you started: AudioProductCreators Her informative site will hook you up with tutorials, articles on audio trends, and so much more. She focuses on producing audio for games and has a wealth of knowledge to offer future sound designers. Plus, if you cannot find the information you need from her site, she has great recommendations on programs, tutorials and other resources.
Get Connected, Ask Questions, Explore
While this post did not cover every potential career choice in the games industry, these sites should enable you to discover more about the industry and start you on your travels. Some advice I always give people wanting to pursue industry careers is to make connections with those already in the industry. Attend conferences, foster meaningful professional relationships online and in-person. Check out your local chapter of IGDA, The Independent Game Developers Association, or find out if your school or community has meetups or events that can teach you more about the games industry as a whole. Find out who your favorite game developer is and see if they are presenting at conferences like GDC, PAX, or E3. Do your research, explore articles, listen to podcasts, and check out TEDTalks to see what area of the games industry might interest you.
Do not be afraid to explore or ask questions. Find your passion and your path. Who knows, you might stare at a radio tower on your campus wondering, what do they do in there? That single whim could change your life and present you with a passion that defines you. Like me, you may not perform heart surgery, but your contributions to your team can help create games that inspire and move people, just like I have. The last piece of advice I will leave you with is this: be passionate, be bold, and Rise Above.
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