In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Danielle, who asks “I’m looking to go into Game Design. Do you have a suggestion for the best laptop to use? What are some of the requirements a Game Designer would want in a computer?”
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why your choice of computer depends on your software
- How to find out what type computer is needed for each game engine
- How to make an informed choice for the best performance while you design games
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, welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast. This is episode number 35. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com, and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.
This week’s question is from Danielle, who sent me an email to ask me this. “I’m looking to go into game design. Do you have a suggestion for the best laptop to use? What are some of the requirements a game designer would want in a computer?”
The right tool for the job
Okay, Danielle. I could tell you exactly which computer I would buy if I were starting as a game designer today. The bad news is that it really depends on which software tools you’ll be using to make your game. And the tools you’re using might very well be different from the ones that I happen to be using. In that case, my hardware advice wouldn’t apply to you at all. And guess what? Even if it did apply to you, it might not apply to many of the people listening to the podcast right now, and it definitely wouldn’t apply to people listening a year from now, or five years from now.
But the good news is that I’m going to tell you exactly how you and everybody else listening right now can find out what kind of computer you should buy. Then you can find out for yourself, and it will apply to you now and in the future. Here’s how to find out which computer you should buy to design your next game.
The bare necessities
First, there’s certain hardware that you probably already know that your laptop needs to do any sort of productive work, like you need to have built-in WiFi, you might want to have USB ports if you need to connect an external mouse or a hard drive, or Bluetooth if you want to connect external devices without the need for wires, and you probably want a fairly big, crisp display.
Luckily, nearly all laptop computers come with those things built in these days. The only feature that you might need to put some thought into is the display. Be sure to get one that has good color, and is big enough that you can comfortably read and work on it for several hours at a time, especially if you’ll be doing any coding or scripting. Even if the laptop’s got a screen that maybe seems a little too big, and it makes it a little too bulky and you think, “Ah, it’s not something I’d want to carry around in my backpack,” I’d still recommend going with something like that if you can afford it, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at the screen, and you want it to be clear, and you don’t want it to fatigue your eyes.
So what would a good game design laptop need beyond those bare essentials? How much memory do you need? How much internal storage? How speedy of a processor? Which operating system? Not to mention, should you buy a Mac or a PC? Well, those are the things that mostly depend on which software you’ll be using, because a computer is really just a collection of hardware that you use to run software. So the software is the important part. That’s what you use to actually make the game. So to find out what hardware you need, all you have to do is decide which software you’re going to use, and then look on the software company’s website to see a list of which hardware they recommend.
The engine that drives your decision (and your game)
Now, as a game designer, there are several different pieces of software that you’ll need to run in order to plan and make your game. You’ll need to run web browsers, maybe a word processor like Microsoft Word or Evernote, maybe a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, a few other small software packages like those. But overall, those smaller packages, they’ll run on just about any computer that you could buy new at the store right now. Those are not the packages that you need to be concerned with when you’re selecting your hardware.
The software you really need to pay attention to is the software package that you’ll use to create your game world and script of the game, in other words, your game engine. Now if you don’t know what a game engine is, well, it’s a large, powerful collection of software tools that you use to create your game. You might use it to create your game levels, your characters, your lighting, and you’ll use it to script the level so that things like doors and traps and enemies work the way that you want them to. Most game engines are relatively big, complex pieces of software, so you need to make sure that you buy a computer that can bring the right amount of computing power that the game engine demands.
Fortunately, the companies who make the game engines, they also will tell you exactly what sort of computer you’ll need to use those game engines. You just need to go to the company’s website, and look for a page called “system requirements.” Once you find that page, it tells you exactly what your computer will need to have. For example, right now, and it’s February in 2016 as I’m recording this, if I look at the system requirements page for the Unity 3D game engine, I can see that my computer would need to have Windows 7 or higher if it’s a Windows machine, and a graphics card with DirectX 9 capabilities, and so on. They helpfully mention that any computer made after 2004 should work. Or if I look at the system requirements for the Amazon Lumberyard game engine, it says that I’d need to have 8 gigabytes of RAM, 60 gigabytes of disk space, et cetera. All of the minimum requirements are listed there on the company’s websites.
Don’t sell yourself short
But keep in mind, the minimum requirements listed on those pages are just that. They are a minimum. If you can, it’s always better to spend a little more money to buy even more than the minimum requirements. And that will make the game engine tools run even better on your computer, and you’ll be able to keep the computer longer before you have to replace it and buy a new one in a few years. If you can’t find the requirements page on the company websites, it might be easier just to search for them in Google. For example, if you want to use the Unreal 4 game engine, you’d search Google for Unreal 4 system requirements. The page that you’re looking for should be towards the top of the search results.
So that’s how to figure out which computer you should buy. You just choose which game engine you would be using, look for that game engine’s system requirements, and then buy a computer that meets or exceeds, hopefully exceeds, all of those requirements. Oh, just one more tip. Once you think you know the exact computer that you want to order, try posting a link to it on the game engines discussion forums. All of the game engines have discussion forums where the community of other users of that engine discuss things. So this is a handy way to ask that community of other designers that use the engine, whether they agree that you’ve chosen a good computer package. You might get a little bit of the typical religious debate that happens whenever you talk hardware on a forum, but you’re also likely to get some good advice from people who have experience with that specific game engine.
All right, that should help you pick the perfect laptop for designing your next video game. Thanks to Danielle for the question and thank you for spending this high quality time with me today. If you have a question of your own, stop by the website and leave a comment, or send me an email just like Danielle did. I might answer it on a future episode.
For more information and inspiration on getting a job and growing your career making video games, visit me at gameindustrycareerguide.com. I’m Jason W. Bay, and I will see you again next week, right here on the Game Industry Career Guide podcast.