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What They Don't Teach You At Game Design School 56

Posted by Zonk
from the white-zone-is-for-loading-and-unloading-only dept.
The Guardian Gamesblog has a piece wondering out loud at what they do and don't teach in game design courses. From the article: "Games development requires expertise, and hiring graduates fast-tracks game development. Arguably, the release from the burden of training should allow developers to create new technologies. The industry has encouraged the university games courses, sending development kits to departments and staff to seminars. Since Abertay's flagship programme launched almost nine years ago, 165 games-related degrees have sprung up across the UK, a trend equalled in other countries around the world."
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What They Don't Teach You At Game Design School

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  • What? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cooley (261024) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @05:10PM (#14788369) Homepage
    I think this article is basically saying that you can't learn creativity in school, and that the games industry could benefit from fresh, outside voices.

    How is this any different from any other creative industry?

    Did I miss something?
    • Re:What? (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, it says that the best thing to do is to get a liberal arts degree, and this is the best advice pooled from all those in the industry without game-related degrees.

      "OOOh it really makes me wonder.." - Zepplin

      Maybe Gamers are the worst people to make games. I don't know. You might could actually blame games for that, a first in my book.
      • Re:What? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Jacius (701825)
        Maybe Gamers are the worst people to make games. I don't know. You might could actually blame games for that, a first in my book.

        Loving to play games doesn't necessarily mean you are good at creating games. And it's not just this way with games.

        Just because someone liked Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies doesn't mean that they could have done a good job directing them. And that tubby, dancing, shirtless football fan in the 5th row could not replace his favorite team's quarterback with a moment's noti
  • Why would they? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TeaQuaffer (809857)
    College != Trade school.
  • by blanktek (177640) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @05:13PM (#14788405)
    While I have no personal experience of working in the industry or attending one of the courses, I tell people to get a degree in English literature, psychology, world religions, history, creative writing or philosophy.


    Would you like fries with that? Seriously, I do have respect for these fields. However, this is not the type of education good for the majority of computer game design. If you have a talent for 3D art, go for it if you can face the competition. How about computer science? Duh! Math and physics are good too. Then again, why was some random blog post on front page again?
    • by Morpeth (577066) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @05:49PM (#14788703)
      Actually I've been a successful developer (mainly in the financial & civil engineering industries, not gaming) for 12+ years and have a Liberal Arts background; a BS in philosophy/psychology. And yes, I also enjoy the hard sciences and math, not all L.A. majors disdain the sciences as many people assume.

      I taught myself enough coding and sql to get an entry level job years ago, worked my butt off, and have done just fine. I actually consider -- as have many of my managers -- my degree an asset. I have solid logical and analytical skills, much of which I attribute to my college studies. I also communicate significantly better than many of my counterparts -- that can be rather valuable when trying to confer ideas in a meeting or writing technical specs or a design doc.

      A lot of people mistake philosophy for 'comtemplating you navel', but a lot of branches of the field required some heady thinking -- try really getting your mind around people like Kant, Heidegger & Nietzche and you'll understand my point. There are a lot of abstract, multi-faceted, complex ideas in their work. Believe it or not, a lot of that kind of thinking can translate nicely into the IT industry.

      My 2 cents anyway...

      • lot of people mistake philosophy for 'comtemplating you navel', but a lot of branches of the field required some heady thinking -- try really getting your mind around people like Kant, Heidegger & Nietzche and you'll understand my point.

        Or better yet- don't. Philosophy isn't something you write about, its something you experience. If you need to read philosophy, you're missing the whole point. If you need to write about philosophy, you just like to stroke your own ego.

        • by Morpeth (577066) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @06:13PM (#14788905)
          "Philosophy isn't something you write about, its something you experience. If you need to read philosophy, you're missing the whole point."

          Utter nonsense. Actually you're missing the whole point as you're obviously of the philosophy as "touchy-feely goobley gook" mindset, and I doubt ever took a single real course in the discipline. Have your read "Being and Time" by Heidegger, "Genealogy of Morals" by Nietzche, or say "Critique of Pure Reason" by Kant? Obviously not.

          "If you need to write about philosophy, you just like to stroke your own ego."

          More nonsense. Would you say this about someone publishing a math theorem, an archaeological discovery, or say some new genetic sequence? I doubt it. Why is writing about philosophy (as academic field, like epistemology and phenomenology, not the meditative pop culture bullsh*t you're talking about) any different? And don't forget most early philosophers like the Greeks were also scientists, mathematicians, political theorists, and they even took the first shot at what we would call psychology. But I guess their work was just stroking their egos too? Whatever.

      • > I taught myself enough coding and sql to get an entry level job
        > years ago, worked my butt off, and have done just fine.

        Glad it worked out for you, but could a kid today break into the biz that way? There's been tragic diploma/certification inflation over the last 10 years.

        If you applied for a bunch of jobs tomorrow, some pinhead would ignore your experience and ask why you don't have formal computer credentials.
        • Yeah, I hear a lot of this "I never bothered with a degree" from tons of people.. but honestly, 20 years ago I might have said the same thing.

          Do you think the average kid these days is going to be ok in software development without a degree? Its not totally neccessary, but then, by the same logic, neither is a car.
    • The days when programmers were the key players in computer games development have long since passed (they probably ended at the time of the first industry crash).
  • My Take (Score:5, Insightful)

    by th1ckasabr1ck (752151) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @05:19PM (#14788468)
    "I am often asked what kind of course a prospective games designer should enrol in. While I have no personal experience of working in the industry or attending one of the courses, I tell people to get a degree in English literature, psychology, world religions, history, creative writing or philosophy. This is echoed by a number of long-term jobbing designers I have spoken to, none of whom has a games-related degree."

    For what it's worth, I'm a game programmer and the designers that I've worked with have almost all come from other walks of game development life. They start out as QA guys, artists, assistant producers, programmers, etc. and then transition over to design.

    I'm still not exactly sold on these game development majors yet. If you want to program games, get a CS degree. If you want to be a game artist, study art. If you want to be a level designer, make levels. If you want to comvince a company to make your next grand idea for a game, well then good luck.

    While you're getting your degree, work on game-related projects on the side. It worked for me.

    • Between this and the tons of craptacular TV commercials these schools are putting out I'm very glad I didn't go this route. I've known I wanted to be a game designer since I was 13, but I've always known I would never get to just start out at that point. The lead designer is a lot like a movie director...and just like in Hollywood you have to start out as a gopher or some other low level job and work your way up, just like the parent said.
  • by kaldrenon (954188) <kaldrenon@gmail.com> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @05:22PM (#14788501) Homepage Journal
    This article certainly raises a good question, but fails to answer it. If the game development programs offered at universities don't teach people how to design games, then what should be done about it?

    The author says that "in most creative industries, the people from the outside have the brightest ideas and the cleverest approaches to solving problems." In effect, what he's saying is that for game development to flourish, the degree programs offered for game development should be ignored. Seems a little contrary to me.

    Along with the fundamentals of programming, the core of a Computer Science degree, a game developer could need countless different references and sources, depending on the projects he intends to develop. A person making a football game, for example, needs to know more about sports, physics, and physiology, depending on the intended realism, whereas a person making an insightful and thought-provoking RPG with a deep storyline would want to do cultural, historical, or anthropological studies.

    Because of the vast variety of secondary resources needed to develop certain different games, and because no one can really teach innovation, I say that all a game development degree can teach in order to assure its usefulness are the fundamentals of programming in modern video game design. A few more electives than other courses would certainly not be amiss, but learning to program is the only thing every game developer needs. Everything else depends on their objectives.
    • As someone who doesn't work in the computer games industry, but knows several poeple who do, and has been paid to design non-computer games, I think the take home message is that there are a number of roles in the game industry - game design as a role is not well catered to by games developer courses.

      Why are people surprised by that? There are a number of roles in the building industry - an engineering degree will teach you how to design a structure which will stay up, or an air flow system, or the electri

  • by Anonymous Coward
    So you graduate school and immediately start designing games? Is that how the industry works? I thought you had to work your way up, then your opinion/experience starts to actually matter.
    • So you graduate school and immediately start designing games? Is that how the industry works? I thought you had to work your way up, then your opinion/experience starts to actually matter.

      Silly me. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we just designed games because we wanted to. We didn't even have degrees. Heck, most of us didn't even have computers.

      And when we made computer games, we usually had to teach ourselves the programming languages from obscure manuals written by engineers who were more inte
      • by Anonymous Coward
        >Silly me. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we just designed games because we >wanted to. We didn't even have degrees. Heck, most of us didn't even have computers.

        >And when we made computer games, we usually had to teach ourselves the programming >languages from obscure manuals written by engineers who were more interested in >designing circuits than in writing manuals.

        You try and tell the young people today that... and they won't believe you.

    • Unfortunately, the real world is stupid, in every industry.

      In my current place of employment (Hedge Fund), we are seeking a fund manager. Now, the first thought on my mind was to promote the guy who has been the Finance department manager for a decade. Obviously, he knows whats going on in the company, and is very intelligent.

      The company decides to hire people with management degrees and stuff. I have yet to be impressed with one of these people. The last one took many months to even figure out how we
    • There is a full design track in most companies, starting with level design or assistant design and working up to lead design. In some companies there is a director position above lead design, in others a producer. So you may come out of school and immediately be doing level design under the direction and tutalige of a more experienced designer. Or you may spend some time doing design grunt work like writing proposals for other people's designs or designing non-critical systems in the game like menu flows
  • school:

    Just because you can make Yet Another FPS or Yet Another Driving Game or Yet Another Sports Game doesn't mean you should.

    The second thing? How to cash virtual checks from virtual money made in virtual gaming world from virtual designs.

    I still haven't figured that one out yet ...
    • The second thing is easy. Just play Project Entropia [project-entropia.com]. The in-game currency is freely convertable to real-world currency and vice-versa. Additionally, the game has no sign-up or monthly fees, the client is freely downloadable, and you don't need to put real money into the game to play (although it's damn hard if you don't). You start with a set of clothes and nothing else. You cannot fight mobs without a weapon (but you can collect "sweat" from the mobs while they beat the living snot out of you.)
  • Well maybe they do, there was one large Australian games company that started a "games university" with substantial government funding. After the students payed up a sizeable fee for enrolling they signed away any rights to intellectual property to them (and the contact was so ambiguous as to potentially apply to any of the students future work related to the games industry!). After some apparantly sub-standard teaching about games programming they actually required the students to work unpayed on this comp
    • whoa whoa whoa, there.

      I think you might have some facts wrong there, idk if ur talking about Quantum or the AIE (Academy of interactive entertainment, which i study at).

      You don't sign your IP away to your games, you do sign an agreement that if they want to show off student work (which you own) you give them permission too. You don't have to sign it, they just get annoyed if you don't.

      Most students who have done the course and really want to get into the industry (u'll be suprised by the ammount that just d
  • Heh... if they really want it to be realistic, they should have the prof (financer) come in three quarters of the way through the students final exam project and cancel it if it won't sell enough copies (and maybe just cancel some arbitrarily). The students could then try to get on with another groups project in the class, or they get a failing grade for the course (cuz being layed off in the real world is no more fair than that).
  • by Kamineko (851857) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @06:07PM (#14788859)
    I'm currently taking a BSc Computer Games Technology course in Liverpool John Moores University, and it's one of the worst mistakes I've ever made in my entire life.

    It's a terribly watered down degree, similar to CS but without any of the reputation or respect. Can you honestly take anybody seriously with a 'Computer Games Technology' degree?

    The only reason I'm on this damned course is that I was told that I would gain experience with the Nintendo/SN Systems SN-TDEV development Gamecube. Sure enough, they do have a room full of 'em, but none of the staff know the first thing about them. They just... sit there unused.

    The entire course content is very basic stuff with respect to the complexity of some sub-areas of computer game development... You're not going to be making The Experimental Gameplay Project any time soon. Heck, you'll have to wade through two years just to get off the teletype games!

    My only hope is a possible switch from CGT to CS at another university at the end of this year, or, because SCEE Liverpool are literally just down the road, I could possibly do my placement year there (fat chance, but you've gotta hope, right?)

    Please, stay the hell away from these degrees. You want some serious skills that you can use, and a degree you don't have to be ashamed of? Take a classical subject, or just plain old CS. Make some games in Allegro, SDL, OpenGL or DirectX in your spare time.

    Another thing: These degrees course content is all on the internet anyway. I mean literally... the third year OpenGL syllabus is word for word NeHe. Seriously.

    "Third year?" You yell?

    Yup, Liverpool JMU CGT is a low-requirement course for folks who want to start from the bottom up. And I mean the VERY bottom... it's only on this years syllabus that they changed from DarkBASIC to C++.

    Beware.
    • Mate, do yourself a favour and try to come up to Abertay in Dundee. I'm on the 2nd year of the CGT course and loving it. We're learning useful things that are still used in the industry and so will actually be useful when we graduate. I don't know much about your course but I have a classmate from down that way who looked into both courses and settled on Abertay from its reputation.

      Sorry to hear that you chose the course because of the Gamecube development, we've got 3 of the dev kits at our uni and none o
      • the only thing we can't do with the Linux dev kits is gain full access to the sound programming (there's a good reason for it).

        What?

        (Curious.)
        • The sound processor is right at the other end of the hardware next to the part that deals with the encryption and stuff like that, i.e. the stuff Sony wouldn't want everyone to get their hands on who bought an £80 dev kit. The professionals use an actual full box kit whereas we use a harddrive in the PS2 with Linux on it.
      • whereas in our Playstation 2 games development the only thing we can't do with the Linux dev kits is gain full access to the sound programming (there's a good reason for it).

        Like Jerf, I'm also curious about this "good reason". Is it a technical reason or a financial reason or a Sony-must-protect-trade-secrets-that-aren't reason...? :)

      • I picked the CGT crapola as my insurance choice, my first choice was an EE Masters in Southampton, but I couldn't hack it, the halls made me go insane. To avoid Labours amazing top-up fees, I rang as many places as possible, and they let me into CGT. Which is ironic really, because I never go in... because I don't need to. The profs are catering to the inexperienced, and all the lecture slides are on the internet anyway. (Both in the lecture slide form, and if you type in a few select phrases into Google,

        • Then do what you're meant to do at university - drink, shag, learn genuinely useful skills.

          If you're relying on your degree getting you a job, follow the BSc with an MSc in something more saleable - software engineering would be a good match, if you don't want the irrelevance of CS.

    • I got in to Teesside with only a GNVQ. Its games course is well respected and the lecturers are pretty good. (Fred Charles, Marc Cavassa and Stephen Mead have written some pretty decent stuff in AI and interactive story telling techniques.)

      All of it was fairly high level, first principles programming, recent DirectX, OpenGL, AI (Which was tough considering the lecturer barely thought of the Sims as real AI...) All the maths and physics that go with getting stacks of cubes to not ping off everywhere or a nic
    • Probably too late for you, but here is some advice for people reading this. You will spend at least three years studying for an undergraduate degree. Under no circumstances should you commit these three years of your life to a place without visiting it and talking to the people who will be teaching you. No matter what you have read on the web about a place, you must visit first before signing up! When you visit, do not be shy about asking questions. How are you going to get answers if you don't ask question
  • Fully in support (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cgenman (325138) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @06:55PM (#14789167) Homepage
    Despite what some people are saying here, the article is basically correct. The cross-pollination of ideas is what makes for great gaming. Original takes, fresh ideas... these are all essential. You need a broad knowledge and love of history, dance, psychology, engineering, sociology, and a lot of other fields. And all of these interact in interesting ways.

    For example, say you're knocking out another wrestling game for THQ, and you're grappling with the problem of how to represent grappling. A few perspectives:

    The gamer perspective: Press the A button rapidly / wag the sticks until one player achieves dominance. That player then executes an attack by pressing the A button again. This attack should be of similar magnitude to if the players had been simply smacking eachother around in the ring, though increase that if they've hardly grappled this round and decrease that if they've been grappling constantly.
    The dancer perspective: Using the joysticks, the two players are trying to direct eachother's energies around eachother in a game of chicken. Commit too much to a movement, and your opponent can take advantage of your momentum and lose you. Commit too little, and you will never win.
    The film criticism perspective: The player who "is on a comeback" or "is the underdog" gets a big boost to do a series of dramatic moves culminating in an amazing near-victory that is quickly shattered by a last-minute stunning turn of events, hopefully not involving yet another metal chair.
    The engineering perspective Wrestling involves a series of roughly 15 positions and holds, and 19 reversals. The transitions between these states usually follows a set pattern of movements, each of which can be blocked by the opponent if they can react in time to the visual clues. The game, therefore, is a glorified back-and-forth of rock paper scissors to first manipulate your opponent into the position you want them and then release your damage move.

    I often feel that my weakest trait as a designer is that I know too much about videogames. When a problem arises I know the solution, which just happens to be the same solution I've seen seven or eight other games employ. Pushing back against the easy answer during a crunch period when everyone has a 24 hours worth of stuff to do every day is difficult.

    Likewise, game criticism plays a fault for a lot of the overall blandness. If you listen to Miyamoto talk about gaming, he talks about the wonderment of finding bottlecaps underneath bushes when you're outside as a kid. If you listen to the Silent Hill 4 team, they talk about the isolation of modern living in a apartmentalized, regimented society. If you listen to Game Pro, games are about polygon seams and framerates. We need deeper criticism. We need to be able to look at the ways in which games reflect the human condition. Film criticism does this pretty well, and is one reason why film crit is a valid if not necessary thing to study if you're going to become a film maker. Game criticism is, by comparison, hollow. That's one of the reasons why designers need to study everything: they each need to discover on their own how to take a critical yet humanistic eye to the finished product of gaming.

    Other things they don't teach you in design school:

    The team's enthusiasm is your most important resource. Sometimes it is worth throwing in a cheap but useless feature that everyone wants just to keep people happy. Sometimes you have to yank a great idea so that your programmer can see his wife.

    Two to three weeks at the end of the project will be lost to nitpicky, contradictory requirements that the console manufacturers push onto everyone. Even if you've gone through it before and know that "This time it won't happen to us." it will. And ultimately it will have no bearing on the quality of your game: you're just tearing your hair out to keep the big three happy.

    There is polish that developers notice, and polish that gamers notice. A develope
    • I agree with the view on critics. The main problem is it's too crowded with websites with no business plan that exist purely being paid for by companies that will pull advertising if they get a bad review.

      Film critics are usually paid for by another income stream (newspapers, magazines, art reviews, etc)
  • by geminidomino (614729) * on Friday February 24, 2006 @01:15AM (#14790766) Journal
    "Never put a save point right outside a casino."

    *goes back to Sabatar*
  • 'Do game-design degrees have what it takes to inspire new and exciting directions of entertainment?'

    Yes the degree I did has modules in design issues throughout.

    'This is echoed by a number of long-term jobbing designers I have spoken to, none of whom has a games-related degree.'

    Who probably didnt actually have access to a games related degree at the time they were up for university...

    'Designers who come from the outside may require a bit more work, but the results should push games to the next level.'

    The ba

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