At the beginning of the year, I found out about a catalogue of free online courses that my library grants me access to. I inevitably landed on the “How to Get Started in Game Development” page and immediately signed up. Now, six weeks after my start date, I’m almost ready to write the final exam so I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on everything I’ve learned so far.
Some things were really encouraging, like learning about how easy it is to find development environments for smaller games, like iOS and Android games. Some things were really discouraging, such as learning about what it takes to make a triple A game like Mirror’s Edge and Call of Duty. The amount of time, energy and manpower involved with that kind of game development just seems so far beyond my scope at the moment. Add that to the fact that the only way to land jobs in those big game studios, according to a bunch of career advice columnists online, is to KNOW someone who already works there. Damn.
Not all of it was discouraging, though. I learned that a bunch of game engines have “educational” versions that the companies supply for free, providing you don’t actually sell your game without first registering the software (which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, although I heard that Unreal recently went on a month-by-month plan at a much lower rate). I also learned that a lot of programming languages work in a lot of different IDEs (integrated development environments) so you can start almost anywhere and still find it easy to make a game with what you learned. Even more exciting is the idea that so many IDEs have cross-platform output, meaning you can program one game then basically just “port” it to all the consoles you want. Even though I’ve only seen these kinds of environments for mobile games, that’s still pretty exciting.
There was also a bunch of administrative stuff that I learned about that was mildly discouraging, though. Bug reporting and working with testers bummed me out a bit just because it seems like so much paperwork. Even more depressing is that I totally understand why you HAVE to do this. Without a lot of these little administrative tasks (like keeping track of your project and all the people involved, or keeping people updated on everything you do so they’re in the loop), the game you’re making would be pretty likely to never come out, but damn does it ever seem tedious. Maybe there are types of people that like that kind of thing; I don’t know. I prefer to just do my thing, contribute to the best of my ability and direct others when needed.
I suppose that’s why the section on the different roles that people take in game development intrigued me. Roles like programmer, developer, even UI designer appealed to me. People who do the nitty gritty work but who the project would die without. There are also roles like art director, producer (which is a bit blurry with developer, I think) and level designer to consider. As you might expect, though, when you first start out all those jobs fall on just you and whatever saps you can convince to help you make your first game.
Making your first game. The course talks about it like it’s just something you do, but it seems like such a huge accomplishment. I feel like I have to learn a programming language from front to back to even start making a game that I would actually want to distribute, even among my friends. What’s worse, to get jobs in the gaming industry, it seems like you have to have already made some of your own games, whether with another studio or on your own. This seems really backwards to me, but, if my guess is right, it means that the industry is incredibly competitive right now which means that, when I DO get a job, it’ll feel like that much more of an accomplishment.
But first, about that game…