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Development, Design & Programming: Games & Simulations

How do I turn a passion for gaming into a job?

Do you know your Gears of War from your Halo? Can you appreciate the subtle differences in gameplay between Pro Evo and FIFA? Do you eat, sleep and breathe video games? Whatever your addiction, you probably never let it get as far as this guy...

However, you can probably still understand why the video game industry is a multi-billion pound global industry. It is also one of the most exciting, creative and fast-moving areas of work for budding software engineers to get into. Consequently, it’s pretty competitive! But if you’ve got what it takes and have a passion for gaming, then you can certainly make it!

What are the different kinds of games I could work on?

Computer games don’t just spring up out of nowhere. Every video game, from Tetris to Assassin’s Creed, is developed, designed and tested by a dedicated team of software engineers before it is unleashed upon the public.

If you break into this line of work, you could be developing or designing all kinds of different games; from platform games like Donkey Kong Country Returns, RPGs like World of Warcraft and first-person shooters like Call of Duty, to sports games like Fight Night Champion, driving games like Mario Kart Wii and strategy games like Shogun: Total War.

Moreover, you could be designing and developing games for many different kinds of computer platform, i.e. PCs, consoles like the PS3 or handheld devices like the Nintendo DS.

Alternatively, you could be working on games for mobile phones and other digital software platforms like iPads.

Furthermore, you could be getting involved with the new generation of computer technologies and developing games for the latest motion sensor devices, like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect.

A large amount of video games are now published across various different platforms. Consequently, modern games designers and games developers might be tasked with making games compatible for a range of different consoles, which have dissimilar control pads and operating systems.

Other developers will need to make sure that certain games are optimised for internet gaming. There has been a massive growth recently in the popularity of this type of gaming and many games now have the option for web-based shenanigans.

What is it like to work in games development and design?

Games developers and designers can be employed on an independent basis or as part of a small games development team which deals with a range of external clients. However, the majority of people will work as part of in-house teams for games publishers, such as EA Sports, Eidos Interactive and Oxygen Games.

These offices tend to boast a casual working environment. Indeed, you’re much more likely going to be wearing jeans and a t-shirt to work than an expensive suit. However, you will normally be required to work long hours, especially when it comes to meeting tight development deadlines.

How is a video game created?

Video game development teams may develop brand new games or sometimes they may be developing the new edition of an existing series of games, e.g. Football Manager. This will involve tweaking, refining, updating and adding new features to an existing game in order to create a fresh product, which is built using the same core game engine.

Each and every game development project is likely to follow the same process. Firstly, an idea or concept is dreamt up, the project is then planned meticulously, and the creative and technical intricacies are then written up in the form of an extensive scope document. Once the project has been approved and the scope has been tweaked, revised and signed off, the development and design activities begin.

The producers, developers, designers and artists that comprise the development team all work together. Each different job function is a vital piece in the jigsaw puzzle. These guys liaise with each other throughout the development process in order to ensure that everything complements everything else and that all the different aspects of a game integrate seamlessly.

Prototypes are produced; these are then tested, tweaked and refined. This process is then repeated until the team and the games publisher is happy with the finished product. Understandably, this can be a fairly lengthy process. It really depends on the scope and complexity of the game, but normally it takes a number of years to finish developing a new bestseller!

Once the game has been designed and released into the public domain, the development team may have to perform essential maintenance duties. They will monitor the game’s performance and find the bugs which have been missed and haven’t been ironed out. They will then develop ‘patches’ that can be downloaded by users. These ‘patches’ will fix any existing bugs and thus enhance gameplay.

Specialisations within video game development

As previously mentioned, games development teams are made up of various constituent parts. Most people will focus their efforts on one specific area of the development or design process. Some people may even focus their time completely on one specific area of the game, e.g. one single level or the appearance of the characters.

What is the difference between a games designer and a games developer?

Games designers make the important decisions that influence the overall look, feel and functionality of the game. They make the creative and strategic decisions on everything, from the story’s narrative and the user interface, to the reaction of certain characters in certain situations. Arguably, these guys are the real driving force behind the creative side of the games industry!

Games developers or programmers are the most important cog in the games development wheel. These guys write the actual code, using programming languages, such as Visual Basic, Java or C++, that makes the computer games actually work.

They put the creative ideas and concepts into action and essentially make the magic happen. You can have all the great ideas and pretty 3D graphics in the world, but without a team of skilled programmers, your game is going to suck!

What is the role of the artist in games design and development?

Artists (a.k.a. animators) control all the arty stuff. They make games look good. If you’re impressed by a certain game’s graphics, then you should be congratulating the game artist.

These people produce sketches and use digital design and artwork software to create aesthetically pleasing 3D or 2D images that provide the game with a background, texture and vibrant visual appeal.

If you work in this area, you could be designing the backdrops and scenery of the different levels, designing the appearance of the game’s characters and sketching out the weapons, tools, vehicles and other objects that feature on the screen.

What is the role of the producer in games design and development?

All of the design and development activity is overseen by a producer. Essentially, this person acts as a project manager; helping the development team to meet deadlines and encouraging them to work together in the best possible way in order to achieve the desired results.

What degrees are useful for a career in games design and development?

The majority of games developers/programmers will have an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as maths, physics, software engineering or computer science. Artists may have studied digital design, graphic design or another similar subject at university or within a further education college.

Although a degree is not essential, it is highly recommended. The video game industry is an incredibly competitive industry to break into and therefore anything that you can do to get an edge over other candidates is a good idea.

However, the most important thing that you need is a passion for gaming. You will need to understand the gaming market, how games work and how they appeal to consumers. Then and only then, will you be able to become a successful games developer or designer!

So, if you’ve got some technical nous, a mathematical brain and a taste for software engineering or digital design, a career in video game design and development could be right up your street!