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Words of Advice

In 2010 i was lucky enough to get to visit New Zealand’s largest game studio, Sidhe Interactive (Pronounced “She”) and got to spend an hour talking to one of the lead designers on the game shatter. In the hour i had with him, i learned how he got his start in making games and what was essintly a cautionary tale of what not to do. It was a an interesting hour and i learned more in that hour then i did in year 10 of my time at Onslow. So what I’m going to share with you now is something he email me, a list of advice on becoming a designer. 

Dont Assume You Can Start As A Designer

Game design is not a particularly easy profession to get into, especially here in new zealand, where there are very few opportunities in game development. 

Its worth considering starting in the indstrey as a tester in QA. Again this isn’t an easy department to get in to but you’ll get to learn a lot about how games are made and might be able to move in to design at a later stage. 

Level design is also a better option to aim for, rather then game design, as candidates only have to demonstrate an ability to build good solid levels - most major game genres have at least one example of a level editor for it. 

Create Things In Your Own Time 

The best way to show you’re interested and committed to the craft of designing games is to actually make one of your own. Products like Game Maker, Unity and UDK, make it Possible for anyone to make games. 

Alternatively, if your more interested in level design then creating level’s for a first person shooter might be more appropriate. 

What ever you build though, you must be sure to finish it; you will be judged on your ability to finish something as much as your ideas. When creating anything It’s important to be able to show your process -  plan your idea and document all stages of building it. Potential employers need to be show where you started, where you ended up and how you got there. 

Make Sure Your Written Skills Are Up To Spec 

Although Ideas are defiantly Important they are completely pointless if you can’t communicate them. all game fetters he to be written up and recorded and this information is commonly shared (via the game design document) with the publisher, so quality writing must be of the highest order. Proof Reading something five or six time is not uncommon. Remember that good writing includes consistent formatting and correct punctuation. 

In General, take course’s, write lots, get other people to review what you have written and get them to be as critical as possible. Start a blog; if you can write intelligent and interesting material about game design that will contribute to your portfolio enormously.

Learn To Express Your Self Visually

If you can’t draw then you should learn; its a skill that anyone can develop. You don’t need to be an accomplished artist but it really helps to be able to sketch something down quickly to help convey an idea. 

Following on from this it really helps to be able to produce a clean diagrams in an appropriate software package. Diagrams on a computer have the advantage of being easy to adapt, which is a major advantage when you have to change things a lot, which you will. Recommended packages are 

  • Flash
  • Photoshop
  • Visio

All of these are good for different things. Visio is of particular value if you are creating flowcharts, were as flash is good for more general diagrams and photoshop is great for splicing things together. You don’t have to be an expert in any of them; just need to able to get your point across. 

General Things To Do 

Devour Information: Read every genre of book, watch all kinds of movies, pick up magazines on topics you know-nothing about. A broadly read designer has more sources to pull from then just one who plays games. ( something i recommend myself is go to wikipedia find a random topic and just read about it. by the end of an hour you will have at least 10 tabs open and have read about several new thing you knew nothing about) 

Another thing, play as many games from a wide range of genres. Don’t just play the big budget fps or third person shooter, play some free flash games, or some cheep indie game made by one person in there basement. Places like steam, new grounds, desura, gog (good old games), even the PSN and XBLA have some amazing games that you can learn from. Limiting you self to one genre can both be good and bad just remember that, a person who knows the ins and outs of a fps will have its advantages but innovation come from things out side your comfort zone. 

When ever you play games, keep a note book by your side and critique them, make notes of things that work well, things that don’t work and why you thought this. Analysing game mechanics and how they could be better is a major part of what a game designer dose (although there normally dissecting there own work) 

The internet has tones of talks and articles from designers about there ideas or thoughts on games, on sites like gameasutra and some times there personal blogs, there is also lots of recorded sessions from past present gdcs (game developer conferences). Read and listen to what they say, form an opinion on what they discuss and most impotently don’t be bias when it comes to something your favourite desinger wrote or said. 

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Well thats it, everything he spent about and hour writing just for me, now you can have it too. There will be some links to site i like and to other places you can learn more after this, but i hope this will be of some use to you (who ever is reading this, if someone is reading this). When i got given this, it helped me gain some perspective in to what i need to do exactly to get my dream job and I’m now much better for it. 

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