How can I learn video game design, but also game art and programming?

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This is the first episode of my new Game Industry Career Guide Podcast. I answer a question from Michael M., who asks “I’ve wanted to become a video game designer for awhile but I also wanted to be able to do everything else like art and programming. How hard would it be to do that, if it’s even possible at all?”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why working with a team to make a video game is better than going it alone
  • Why the best game designers also know about game programming and game art
  • Which classes you can take in high school to give yourself a head start on becoming a game designer

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello everybody and welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, episode number one. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com, the best place to learn about how to get a job making games and grow your career. Whether you wanna be a game artist or programmer, a video game tester or designer or you don’t even know what you wanna do yet. That’s okay. I will help you figure out what you wanna do and help you figure out how to do it. Each episode I’m answering your questions on how to get a job and grow a job making video games. Today’s question is from Michael M. Michael says, “I’ve wanted to become a video game designer for a while but I also wanted to be able to do everything else like art and programming. How hard would it be to do that if it’s even possible at all?”

This is a great question Michael and I understand where you’re coming from. It’s tempting to want to do everything yourself. I think anyone who loves playing video games has an idea, at least one idea in their head about a great game design that they would love to make and they want to be the creative visionary. They wanna be the ones that bring it to life. But I’ve got to tell you, making a video game is a lot of work. It’s way too much work for one person to do alone. So, it’s best to be part of a team. Each person on your team can have a different specialty. There are designers, artists, programmers and if it’s a big team, you might even have team leads and project managers that do things like help you schedule and help keep a team organized. So, it’s a big job making a game and a lot of people are required to do it well. And each one of those specialties is very deep. It can take years of practice to become very good at art or very good at programming or very good at designing. So, really just picking one of those specialties like game designer is enough to keep you busy for a good number of decades. But since you want to be a game designer and you’re also interested in other game jobs, I will say this. The best game designers are the ones that are good at game design but also know a lot about all the other game jobs. So, if you’re in school, Michael, and you wanna know what to do to learn about the other game jobs so that you can be a strong game designer, here are a few things that you can do now to start preparing.

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The first thing that you can do is to take some programming classes. It’s a good idea to know how to program computers for a couple of different reasons. The first one is that most commercial game engines use a small simplified version of a programming language often called scripting languages in order for a game designer to put the game together and tell the game how to act. So, for example, you might use a scripting language to build a puzzle for the player and that’s what you use to tell the game that if the player pushes a boulder over this pressure plate a secret door opens up in a wall. The other reason to learn how to program computers is because it will teach you how to talk to game programmers. Now, even if you’re not going to become a game programmer, the programmers are the ones who are implementing your designs and actually making them happen in the game. So, if you know how to talk to the programmer and you understand how they do what they do, you’re gonna be more successful in getting them to code your designs just the way you want them to be.

The second thing that you can do in school is take some art classes. If you take some art classes in school, it helps you be a better game designer later on because by learning the basics about art such as composition, lighting, color, positive and negative space, maybe even some architecture, you’re gonna use all of those things when you’re constructing game levels. That also is gonna help you practice drawing and sketching and explaining your ideas in a visual way. And that’s gonna help you communicate your ideas to the art team but it’s also going to help you communicate your ideas to everybody because as humans we all learn better in a visual way. So as a game designer, if you’re pitching your ideas to your team or you’re pitching your ideas to another publisher or another game company, if you can draw some of your ideas and present them in a visual, it’s going to be so much more successful.

Another thing that you can do in school is to take some creative writing classes. The reason you would take creating classes to help your career in game design is because you’ll learn the basic techniques that you use to tell compelling stories. You’ll tell compelling stories in your games because for most people their favorite games are the games that have a great storyline. But you’ll also learn how to use storytelling to pitch your ideas and to inspire your team and that’s gonna help them get on the same page as you, understand your designs, understand what you want as a designer and it’s gonna help you bring the team together to successfully create your vision. And it’s also gonna help you with day to day business writing like sending e-mails or putting together presentations. You’ll also probably end up writing a lot of game design documentation as a game designer. You might even need to write in-game instructions or some games will have character journals for example and you might be able to write those.

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One last thing that you can do in school to help start your career as a game designer is that you can start actually modding games or even making small games of your own. Most commercial game engines, especially the ones available for PC, come with level editors and other modding tools that’ll let you make new characters, new missions, new stories or even new game levels. If you can learn those tools now, those are actually very similar to the tools that professional game designers use to make the game in the first place. And, in fact, in a lot of cases those literally are the exact tools that the game designers used to make those games. So if you can start doing that now it’s going to help you a lot in your future career as a game designer. Another reason to start modding games now is because it’s gonna let you start experimenting with what makes an interesting and fun game level. And it’ll let you get that game level out in front of friends and other people in your life to start getting feedback. They can tell you, “This part was fun, this part wasn’t fun” and they can help you understand what makes a good game. And that’s gonna give you a huge leg up when you get a job as a game designer.

Thanks very much to Michael M. for this excellent question. If you have a question about how to get a job making video games, come over to gameindustrycareerguide.com and leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I answer every question on the website and I answer every e-mail that I receive and I might even answer your question right here on this podcast. Thank you so much for listening today, I really appreciate your time and I will see you next time, right here on the Game Industry Career Guide podcast.

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