Game Development 101 – Part 1/2
From rabid gamer to budding developer; what does it really take to make the transition?
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.