Slaving Mindlessly + Video Game Career Advice

Posted by Anthony H -

I check the date of the last blog entry and realize it’s a week old.

Wow.  What happened to that week?

It has literally been jammed with work.  At the studio, I’m slamming gameplay into the map I’m working on.  Tweaking AI routes and so forth.  That work feels like it’s ramped up considerably.  As a result I’m exhausted.  Sure making video games is fun.  But it also causes your eyes to burn and your mouse finger to seize up.  And your hair to fall out…clearly.

The fruit of the stress is a map that plays more and more like a game now when I launch it.  Cool stuff.

In addition to work and more work, I’ve been doing the revision pass on Black Bottle based on the fantastic and very thorough feedback I received from my test readers.  Thanks to all of you who read!  \o/  And making frequent stops at the UPS store near the studio to hurl galleys in new directions. (That one I sent to Canada cost me).  I’ve already successfully placed a large quantity of the copies Tor sent me with various bloggers and reviewers.

Pile on top of this stuff the usual privileges ( homework, feeding young bodies, etc. ) and I’m shot.

So what can I offer you today?

How about my take on breaking into the Video Game industry?  It’s got a pessimistic bent to it, but I’ve tried to shine it up a bit.  It’s also not categorically “the path” because everyone in the industry has their own story and their own opinions.  But here’s mine:

1) Don’t pitch game ideas to people in the industry.  Mostly that’s because we’re all a bunch of very smart, creative people and we know it.  We have our own ideas and we don’t need yours.  Go away.  (Seriously, that’s how it’s going to come across even though I personally would never tell you to go away.)

2) Once you’ve gone away, don’t give up!  Learn a skill associated with game development: and learn it well.  Enroll at the Guildhall at SMU or another similar college that teaches the craft of game development.  Decide if you want to be an artist or a level designer or an engineer.

3) Play a ton of games and analyze what makes them good or bad.  Pay attention to your experience.  Think meta.

4) Suffer.  You will probably work non-stop on 6 hours of sleep if you enroll at the Guildhall.  They are going to put you through the wringer of “crunch”: which is essentially what a game studio goes through in order to achieve milestones (deadlines with the publisher).  I have experience working 12+ hour days 7 days a week for many many months.  It doesn’t make me special.  It makes me normal.  In exchange for this special torture, you have good odds landing a job if you graduate from the Guildhall: they have an extremely high placement rate last I checked.  Another path is to become part of a mod group and build your own game.  This is how I broke in.  Sometimes, modders form companies and are then acquired when their game is a hit.

5) Land in the trenches of a real company.  Yea!  Now you can pitch that game idea!  Sort of.  Well…in fact, not really.  Odds are good that the studio you now work for has an identity that they strive to maintain by producing games that support that identity.  In other words, if you work for Bungie, you’re doing Halo: full stop. So, you want to make sure you pick the company that matches your personal interests in gaming because you are going to spend a minimum of 4 years getting your feet wet, learning the ins and outs of a production house before anyone is going to take you seriously.  And you want to have fun while you’re doing it, rather than say, working on Barbie.

6) Having been a modern journeyman for the past few years, proven yourself both bright and hard-working; willing to sacrifice your life and weekends in the name of game-production, you have squirmed your way into the inner circle of a studio that’s on the verge of the next big thing.  Assuming that the studio isn’t bought, or goes under due to horrible business practices, you will now be able to *maybe* pitch ideas for games.  I feel lucky to sit next to people smarter than myself.  If you Google the names of renown it will send you down the storied road of euphoria and infamy that comes with being a full-fledged game-designer.  Yes, it does have a kind of rock star aura to it…but it’s nerdy and I haven’t noticed women throwing themselves at any of us.  What you will have is the privilege of taking part in real creative meetings where you talk about how to balance the power level of the magic sword of my ass against the chicken grenade (or whatever)…and your contributions will not be in “authoring games” but in seasoning the collective stew that becomes (hopefully) the next big thing.  And if that’s true…well, you’ll have a Porsche I guess.  But frankly…I drive a Hyundai.

Enjoy the week.

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