Game Development 101 – Part 1/2

By on August 20, 2011

From rabid gamer to budding developer; what does it really take to make the transition?

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As a self-proclaimed tech-lover and video game enthusiast, Rohan Anchan has been with MEGamers for a little over 4 years now, spending most of his time ranting about the good and bad stuff that comes out the doors of the video game industry. However, having recently acquired a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science with specializations in Games Programming & Software Engineering, he now shares his insight and opinions on the various matters/issues that come with preparing oneself to make a break into one of the most commercially successful and rapidly growing entertainment industries today – video games.

In this first part, we look at the process of video game development, touch upon the kind of technical knowledge required for it, and get some insight into gaining a formal qualification for the field.

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Of all the gamers and readers that we have out there, I’m sure a good many of you have, at some point, entertained the thought of taking your passion for video games and turning it into a career choice of sorts. At some point, you were so intrigued by and drawn into the happenings of the virtual worlds that were unfolding in front of your eyes, that for a few moments you couldn’t help but wishfully indulge in dreams that had you conjuring up the next GTA or Half Life game. Well, guess what? If you can relate to my merry banter over here, then now is probably as good a time as any to take the next step and start working towards turning those dreams into a reality. Today’s video game industry is one of the fastest growing segments in digital entertainment, a fact that also makes it highly lucrative.

And these two facts coupled together drive the fact that getting in and staying put takes an insane and unrelenting amount of hard work, determination and dedication. Make no mistake; as video game technology continues to mature and their quality reaches absurd new heights, development houses will settle for nothing short of brilliant workers with razor-sharp skills and tonnes of knowledge and experience. However, don’t let that deter you – with a little bit of knowledge on the subject and some careful planning, you too can pave a path that ultimately leads to that “dream job in the gaming industry” you crave for. So, let’s pump your gray matter with some of that knowledge now, shall we?

Developing video games: What and Why?

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is video game development, and what does it entail? From solely a consumer point of view, not many gamers take the time to ponder the answers to these questions; they just know that they’d love to jump straight in and somehow start creating hoards of interactive pixels. Obviously, that’s not the way things work out in the real world; there’s no magic “make an awesome video game” button, and there’s no shortcuts. Video game development, at the outset, could probably be defined as a directed, controlled, and coordinated creative process that seamlessly brings together aspects of computer programming, art and visual design, interactive storytelling, audio composition, and project management, for the purpose of producing a real-time, fully interactive software program.

As you may have guessed, that is indeed a lot of work when you break down the individual aspects into their constituent tasks. For every facet of a game, countless hours are sunk into planning, preliminary designs, concept artwork, prototyping, testing, and whatnot; everything has to meet a certain quality standard, only then does the actual work of producing the final product begin. With that comes the massive pressure of producing high quality work within strict, often unforgiving deadlines, and that’s where the crazy marathon begins. There are numerous “horror stories” detailing the real-world working conditions that developers have been put through for the sake of meeting deadlines, and from these, working 14 hours a day, 6 to 7 days a week comes as little surprise.

Given these bitter truths about working in the industry, I wouldn’t really blame you for wondering why any sane person would want to subject themselves to that kind of pressure and stress on a daily basis for months on end. In short: if you need to break so much of a sweat over it, then why bother getting into games development at all? The keyword here is “passion”; believe it or not, but the desire to contribute to the field is so great within some people, that they’d gladly jump in at the slightest opportunity, horror stories and nightmares be damned. And hey, gotta give those people some serious respect – they’re the reason we’re able to get our regular doses of gaming goodness, after all! If you’re the kind of person who enjoys solving challenging problems, you’ll get a big kick out of making games, as there are countless issues to be tackled through the life of a project.

Then there’s the benefit of working in a rather informal environment where you don’t have to spend a day at your desk choking in your old necktie, or give mundane, monotonous business-like presentations to a board of grumpy looking old-timers. And finally, there’s the “cool factor” behind getting to tinker with some fancy equipment and cutting-edge technology on a daily basis. All this, while getting to know a bunch of other talented people, having games and beer/pizza nights, and bringing home a decent paycheck. Does it still sound all bad? Not in my opinion. Sure, there are problems to tackle and milestones to be met at every turn, but if you hold on to that initial passion of yours, there’s plenty of fun to be had and knowledge to be gained too.

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Loves video games lots, but loves video game development even more. Has a Bachelor's degree in the field, yet the technical complexity behind those billions of interactive pixels boggles his mind. His brain will either conjure up the next best game or turn into gravy in 5 years time.

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  • Eric

    Hey a cool read!
    I’m currently in a game design program myself and have some questions I would like to ask, is there any way I could contact you about some of my own questions?

    • Rohan Anchan

      Thanks! :-)
      As for any questions, feel free to post them right here in the comments section; I’d be glad to help, and you might get more responses from other folk too.

  • Mr2boostbandit

    Hi Rohan,

    I just came across your article while doing some research about breaking into the game development field. This article was really helpful! I’m mostly interested in the art and visuals side of things as it seems like you might be too. My biggest issue right now is figuring out what kind of education to pursue, which is a big deal as education is expensive. From what i’ve read so far, many entry level jobs don’t explicitly require any degree, but I see you have one. What is your opinion on wha kind of degree is necessary? I’m looking into mostly online certificate and associate programs but I’m not sure. What do you think? Thanks!


    • Rohan Anchan

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks, glad the article comes across as useful.

      I’d like to point out that my degree focuses on Game Programming as opposed to Art, as I’m not really the artistic kind, and enjoy programming more. However, to answer your question: I would definitely recommend a formal qualification for anyone aspiring to become an artist as well. While you are right about entry-level jobs in smaller companies, the big guys out there (Ubisoft, iD, Bethesda, Valve etc.) all clearly show a preference for a Degree or equivalent qualification. And I’m assuming that eventually, these are the kind of companies you would want to work for? So think of it as an investment for your future; it would be a real downer if you lost out to another job applicant just because they had a degree and you didn’t, right?

      As for the kind of degree itself, an undergraduate one seems to be good enough, so check out institutes offering a Bachelors in Digital Media / Creative Industries / Fine Arts and the like. Some good places to have a look at would be DigiPen Institute of Technology, University of Advancing Technology, and QANTM College. I haven’t checked out their online/off-campus offerings extensively, but I know they do offer artsy courses aimed specifically at video games. One other advantage of putting the time and effort into a Degree is that you will automatically have a few pieces of work to include in your portfolio by the time you’re done, as part of assignments and projects. And for the art department, every single company absolutely wants a portfolio, so work towards building one up in your spare time as well as during your education.

      All the best! :-)

      • Anon

        I am a game developer (programmer) had this passion since I was a kid, but I dont’ have any certificate, I didn’t finish collage due to ADHD, but I never really needed it, I can just throw my portfolio in the faces of interviewers and get the job, and sometimes I get offers from random people from all around the world without asking, while my bachelor friends were struggling to find jobs.
        IMHO all you need is proving your skills, even if you cant find a job just do your own works, post them online, write tutorials, win game development contests, basically expose yourself, thats how I got different offers even though I’ve never had a job!This would work on both programmers and artists, so if you really have ambition, buy some game development books, or watch video tutorials online for services like lynda or 3D Buzz, then start creating your own games or demos, illustrations, concept Art .. etc and with some talent you’ll enter the game industry in no time.A degree is always a plus, but you have to work on yourself and develop you skills or you’ll never reach higher ranks or wont be able to find jobs at all! game development is one of the top ranks of software developers, you need more than a degree to get into it.

        If you want an example for an Artist, check out this guy, he is here in UAE, I bet no one could resist employing him.

  • LoXatoR

    Hey Rohan,

    I am a 17 year old starting to do my Major in Computer Science at AUS.Like you and many others I enjoy gaming more than anything.I was thinking how to get into the game development field,so any ideas about what should I do after completing my CS or what I can do along with CS.Please do share some light on it :)

    • Rohan Anchan


      I’m not exactly sure what academic options are made available to you in your course, but if you have the option of “specialising” within your CS study, I would highly recommend selecting a Software Engineering specialisation, or as many Programming units as you can, assuming that you want to get into the code side of things. If you’re looking at the arts, then check to see if you can do a Minor in Arts / Design / Digital Media etc. alongside your CS Major.

      After completing your degree, you can either go in for further formal studies (eg: a game programming focused degree), or undertake training at an institute offering a certificate in Animation, 3D modelling, etc. There are loads of options for this the world over, so put your Googling skills to serious use here.

      Lastly, the important thing is to keep practising what you learn along the way, so spend your spare time during Uni. building a portfolio. This could be anything; from doing some original sketches, to writing small interactive demos, to using free game/world editors to design your own simple levels or mods. There are also many free game engines and tools to help beginner’s get started with making small games in 2D, Game Maker being one of them. Research these tools, pick a few of them, and try them out…then try and learn them in depth on your own time while you study your CS at Uni.

      Good luck! :)

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