Beginning your Game Design Journey

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Have you always wanted to make career out of making games but didn’t know how or where to begin? Are you thinking about changing careers and want to know what extra skills you will need? Are you just starting college/university and wonder what you could do in your spare time to increase your understanding of game development?

I’m not an expert about getting into the games industry but over the last couple of years I have read and learned alot about what game companies expect when looking for junior designers from websites, talks with professionals and briefly working as a games recruiter.

The first thing you need to focus on is what type of designer do you want to be? Now there are many, many different types of designer lurking within the games industry. So read about the different types and decide which role suits you best.

The next question you probably have is “Now that I know what my goal is how do I get there?”.

Just like other jobs the role of a designer in the games industry requires different skills. But first of all, in order to apply for any of these roles you will need: a CV(resume), a covering letter, experience and a portfolio. Some job adverts state that experience is not necessary but to put yourself ahead of the competition experience in any form is essential. (But don’t let me put you off applying for jobs that state this. You may be that special candidate that wow’s them all on your own).

CV

There are a multitude of sites on the internet that tell you how to structure your CV. The sections that I have split my CV up into are: personal details, introduction, skills, experience, education, achievements, interests and references. Depending on how long you’ve been out of the educational system will depend on whether you order the experience or education first. If you’re a recent graduate, it’s wise to order the Education before the Experience section.

Length

Being from the UK my CVs length can be up to two (A4) sides long but if you have to reduce yours to one side I’d recommend reducing every sections length to the absolute minimum content, removing the introduction, acheivements, interests and stating in the references section that your references are available on request. That should hopefully fit onto one side.

Content

As I said before there are a lot of websites to help you with the actual content of your CV so I’m not going to go into what you should actually include within these sections. Just google ‘How to write a CV’ and you should get many results. Most importantly keep it up-to-date!

Covering Letter

Your covering letter should include anything that you couldn’t include in your CV. Details about extra activities involving organisation, games design, any university projects where you worked in a team that taught you about the development life cycle or project management. Really, your covering letter should be an insight to who you are, what you like to do and how you are preparing yourself for your future career especially the projects you have outside of your day job. This work outside of your 9-5 or university modules shows a deep commitment to getting into the industry and a dedication to further extend your knowledge. So keep this up! A few drafts of your covering letter may be needed to make sure you don’t repeat information and that the length is around one (A4) side.

Another important thing to consider when applying to game companies is to tailor your covering letter to that company. If the company is using the Unreal Engine to make their latest AAA game, in your covering letter make sure you talk about your latest UnrealEd mod (don’t forget to include this in your portfolio). You want to make sure that that company knows that your the best person for the job so spend time perfecting this document.

Gaining Experience

Experience doesn’t have to be commercial. Game companies love seeing proof that candidates are able to work independently or as part of a team on their own projects. This shows dedication, persistence and project and time management skills. It’s these skills that will improve your chances at getting selected for an interview. You can gain experience by working on game levels by yourself or within a mod team. Sites like GameDev.net have a fantastic Help Wanted forums where developers post recruitment ads for their latest projects. Simply sign up to the forums and find a team you can contribute your talents to. It’s that simple! Once the project is completed make sure you get an executable of the completed game and have files of the assets that you created so they are ready to be put into your portfolio.

Portfolios

Depending on what career path you chose will depend on what makes up your portfolio. Just remember that your portfolio should reflect whatever role you’re applying for and it contains only your best work. Always work to improve both your skills and portfolio content. And keep it up-to-date because sometimes your portfolio will be a better form of advertising your talents than your CV.

For level designers, it’s important to have playable levels and documentation for those levels in your portfolio. Try to create different environments showcasing different skills such as lighting, gameplay, newly scripted AI movements etc and different areas. In your documentation include how to load the level, top-down maps to show your planning for the level, a summary of why you made the level the way you did, any complications you ran into when creating the level and how you overcame them. The best tools to use for level building are Epic’s Unreal Editor and Source’s Hammer Editor. There are a multitude of other level editors that are shipped free with games like NeverWinter Nights but the Unreal Editor and Hammer Editor are very well recognised and it’s advised that you start with one of these.

For game designers, you need to demonstrate your ability to communicate clearly. You can do this through clear design documentation and diagrams. It is important that you show that you are able to pace out the gameplay and keep the player engaged and excited throughout the game.

Unfortunately, for you aspiring game designers most companies, because of legal reasons, can’t accept looking at original design documentation, however if you create a playable demo using either a level editor or an easy drag and drop game creation tool like the Torque Game Engine or Game Maker, you can present your idea to the company safely. This will also provide you with extra material for your portfolios as not only will you have a range of documentation but you will also have playable demos.

Building a great portfolio does take a lot of time and dedication, but I’m afraid there are no short cuts to getting your dream job.

If you have come across any other helpful sites/information regarding creating games portfolios please contact me.

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