Getting Into Game Development
So you’re thinking about a career in video games – but you don’t know where to start. From art to design, the opportunities are far and wide. There’s more specialized fields than you can shake a stick at and with the technology and resources of today’s connected world, finding what you’re looking for can be a little overwhelming. We understand! With that in mind, we wanted to do something a bit different and provide a little resource guide for anyone wanting to learn more about the different areas of game development.
There’s often a few roles you’ll likely see when looking at what avenues to take. The most common are programming, art, design and QA. Positions can also intersect with other disciplines depending on the size and scope of the studio you’re applying for. We sat down with some of our team members and asked a series of questions for some insight into their respective fields. Let’s have a look!
Programmers create written code and debug issues that may arise during a game’s development. There are a variety of programming languages used in games, from C++ to Java, each requiring their own skill sets and expertise. Not all programmers are the same however. Engine programmers may innovate on and maintain game engines while AI programmers work to bring a game’s AI to life. It’s important to note what each role entails and what you’re looking for!
Cass Bennett – Game Programmer
What were some of the very first steps you took in pursuing Programming? Where did you start?
“I grew up always playing games and fell in love with them. I knew I wanted to work in games in some way – I longed to make my own. So I would read about the games industry constantly and wish I could be involved in some way. I wanted my name in the credits of a game! I’d read up on the various roles in a game developer team and I felt like I related most to the programming role. I wanted to be someone who could help designers and artists realise their ideas – so I started looking at universities that offered game focused programming courses, and ended up in Scotland in Abertay and took their Computer Games Technology course.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in Programming?
“Being passionate about something is honestly the best driving force for learning. It’s a lot easier to start learning & programming something you enjoy than something you don’t care about! And beginning to code something is just the start of learning. There are a lot of resources online & in libraries to teach yourself at home if you have the equipment. Look up the many game engine tutorials that focus on the programming side of game development, you’ll see that it can be a quick way for you to get to grips with what a programmer does and whether you enjoy it or not!
Is there a particular feature in a game that you think is brilliant? Google how you can write that yourself in code! Give it a go, and then change it up! Look online for games that have shared their source code, see if you can match what you see in the game to the parts of the code that relates to it. And never hesitate to reach out to developers and ask for advice! These are all things I did when considering what role I wanted to be, and hopefully it helps you too.”
What would you personally look for in someone joining your team?
“The best members of the team are always those who are there for the team, and not just for themselves. The friendliest of people are always the ones people want to work with. It’s important to be humble, respectful and helpful – it’s all about working together to make the best game you can make. Someone who looks down on others, or thinks their discipline is ‘better’ than another discipline is someone who is not fun to work with, and it can negatively affect the team.”
Do you have any best tips for anyone applying for a role in Programming?
“An important thing to do is to always update your portfolio, and show the work you’re proud of! If you are applying for a specific role, note down everything in the role description that they are looking for. You should tailor your CV so it’s easier for the employer to see if you match the job description. Even if you don’t think you have enough skill, there’s no harm in applying. Maybe you fit a different role, or maybe they might have a role further down the line for you!”
In game development, the game designer is responsible for the overall design aspects of the game. That’s a very broad brush stroke, but it really just means they work to create the stories, environmental structures, combat elements, UI and more. Design can thus range from narrative design to level design. You can expect to be involved with almost every department of the team.
Ian Farnan – Technical Designer
What were some of the very first steps you took in pursuing Design? Where did you start?
“I got into game development from about the age of 14. I was into a very niche scene with people running their own private MMO servers based around a Korean MMO called Legend of Mir 2. I wasn’t doing very much compared to others, but I was changing, and balancing values based on health, damage, experience, etc. Sometimes I’d be brave enough to edit the sprites and give them a slight makeover. Ultimately, this was modding for an MMO. Modding existing games is where I think a lot people begin their path. Many designers I’ve worked with have done this at some point early in their career. It gives you experience with real world industry tools and is a great entry point into development for everyone.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in Design?
“Right now, many developers (including us) use tools that are widely available to everyone. Choose Unreal Engine 4, Unity or Godot and start making games! There is a huge amount of free resources out there for all skill levels, whether it’s on Youtube or Udemy – they’re a great place to start. If you feel like this is too steep of a first step, then go the way of modding. Modding an existing game can be less daunting as there is already a framework of a game to work with. Get yourself in an online Discord community of other developers, surrounding yourself with other people who are either working in games or working towards the same goals as you can help motivation or be an outlet for help when you find yourself stuck.
Have an internal monologue about why you are or are not enjoying a game. Identifying problems that are a detriment to your experience and providing solutions are part of the job. I imagine many people already do this, but having foresight of how proposed solutions can affect other systems is vital. Every change, no matter how big or small, can have huge influence over other systems and training this foresight can be very important. Having at least a basic understanding of other disciplines and what they do is helpful. Making games is a team effort, and disagreements or concerns from another disciplines can and probably will arise.
Some knowledge about their role and what they helps in understanding their perspective. Learn to provide and receive criticism. It’s so important to take criticism and be able to provide it constructively. You will no doubt love your own ideas but understanding why others may not and when it’s time to let go of an idea is a daily part of life. Expand your skill set as the skill ceiling is unbelievably high and there is always something new to learn. Don’t be intimidated by this or think you don’t know enough, nobody knows it all!”
What would you personally look for in someone joining your team?
“Someone who can demonstrate their willingness to learn and have an open mind towards others.”
Do you have any best tips for anyone applying for a role in Design?
“Research and build awareness of the studio you’re applying for. What tools do they use? What type of games are they known for? If you’re asked for an interview, you’ll no doubt be probed about how much you know about them, their games or their toolset. Keep your resumé or cv simple and concise. This could be a personal preference, but I’ve seen a few people try and stand out by including gamey elements as a way of expressing their skill level. “Level 8/10 at Unreal Engine” doesn’t help anyone’s understanding of your knowledge with software.”
-A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell
-Spelunky by Derek Yu
–GDC Youtube channel
–Game Makers Toolkit Youtube channel
–CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science (Free edX online course)
–Open Source Society University on Github
–Tom Loomans’ Udemy C++ course
Phillip Turner – Technical Designer
“As a technical designer, my day to day work often involves being the team’s “glue” so to speak – that is, to bring the various elements from other disciplines together and to create a cohesive, fun experience inside of the engine. Some of my first steps in pursuing the role led me to take courses in 3D modelling, programming, and level design in order to better understand these workflows. For those pursuing a position as a technical designer, experiment as much as you can to know your toolset inside and out, know its capabilities and limitations! Likewise, don’t be afraid of exploring other discipline workflows, it will vastly improve your ability to communicate your team’s vision.
Beyond the technical aspects of the role such as programming and scripting, I would also personally look for someone who has a good eye for usability and user experience. Quite often my daily workload will revolve around problem solving usability concerns and then implementing these as iterative improvements. A solid understanding of other discipline workflows is also hugely beneficial to both you and your team as I’ve previously mentioned. And of course, last but not least, play lots of games! Take note of the techniques they use to provide you with a great (or not so great) gaming session.”
The very first thing you see when firing up a game is its art. The logos, the menu screen and all the visual elements onscreen, whether 2D or 3D are all done by artists. There are so many roles within art itself and there’s no one-size-fits-all. From environment art to character modeling, each artist is instrumental in bringing a game to life.
Andrew Weir – 3D Modeler
What were some of the very first steps you took in pursuing Art? Where did you start?
“After using more common software like Adobe After Effects and Photoshop, I eventually discovered and decided to use the free software Blender to create some characters and basic 3D scenes. It was not as popular at the time, believe me. This quickly leaked into my daily work that I was producing for my art class in school. Nobody quite knew what I was learning and presenting, but after getting more familiar with the software I had a portfolio of work that was good enough to get into a university course on games design and art.
This course was heavily directed towards environment design, but there was still plenty of room to branch out and learn a relatively new software called Substance Designer. Today, Blender and Substance are still the tools I use on a day to day, and due to being cheap/free to use there is no shortage of tutorials online to get started.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in Art?
“Environment art is a little hard to distinguish sometimes as a solo artist because it can easily encompass other areas of art that can stand out on their own. Including but not limited to: Prop Art, Materials, Ambient VFX and lighting. Keeping in mind each of those areas from an early stage can really help an environment, but there is only so much time to focus on each area. In a large company, the Environment Artist might just be placing props in a scene and pre-made VFX and so on.
If they are involved with the early production of a scene they might need to determine the most optimal way to create a scene that represents what they require. For me, the area that pushes the environment along most are the Materials and Shaders. Learning more in this area can allow you to break down an environment very quickly. Knowing optimal ways to texture the environment as a whole can allow you to rapidly create a complex scene with smart materials on a limited number of procedural assets and surfaces – later to be populated with props.”
Do you have any best tips for anyone applying for a role in Art?
“Lean into the kind of environment or art you find most fun, and try to find places that display similar work. If you have a specific company in mind, try to lean the artwork into their style and direction, but with your own twist on it where possible.
If you like some background noise while working, the GDC talks, Gnomon Workshop and endless amount of tutorials are a good choice. Don’t just watch videos for Environment Art – some other areas have useful tips that can help you look at things from a different angle like 2D/3D Max/Maya and so on.”
Lee Peers – Environment Artist
What were some of the very first steps you took in pursuing Environment Art? Where did you start?
“As long as I can remember, all I’ve ever wanted to do in life was make computer games. The earliest memory I have is using a Vtech Master video painter on a tiny TV to draw and paint animations. I didn’t take it too seriously because growing up you’re told making games isn’t a “proper job” and “you need to think more realistically”. So as I was going through school drawing and taking art classes, the time to apply to college was getting close and the closest to games I could get was to take an Art and Design course. This was more traditional art: pen and paper and oil paints and so on, which lasted about two years.
Just before the course ended we got notified that the college was to trial run a games design course (a first in the country I think). This was a two-year course that focused on games which had sections in design, art and programming. I think this helped because I now have a better understanding of the individual roles within a game studio.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in Environment Art?
“Practice and be patient. If you are serious about pursuing a career in art, the best thing you can do is just keep practicing to improve your skills, take classes, post your art on forums and sites such as ArtStation and get involved with game jams – anything to keep yourself progressing forward.”
What would you personally look for in someone joining your team?
“I would look for someone who has a willingness to learn and improve on their skills. An eye for detail and the little things is extremely important too.”
Do you have any best tips for anyone applying for a role in Environment Art?
“Make sure your portfolio is relevant! For example: employers won’t be too interested in seeing the vehicles you made if you’re applying for a character artist role. If you are going for a 3D generalist role, it’s worth having a bit of everything to show your range. But if it’s specialised, it’s best to keep it on subject and not water it down with non-relevant work.”
QA might be one of the most misunderstood roles in game development. Software testing doesn’t just entail playing a game over and over every day. Although playing the game being developed is part of it, there’s a lot of work that goes into discovering bugs, documenting issues and properly bringing these to the attention of those who can fix them.
Lee Picton – QA Tester
What were some of the very first steps you took in pursuing QA? Where did you start?
“I have had an interest in video games for most of my life and was looking for a new career path when I was pursuing a QA position. I started by researching into companies close by which Sony Liverpool happened to be near. An important factor I considered were the role requirements, there are different skills that would roll well between one job and another, but I stayed on the lookout for areas that I didn’t have the experience in and learned what I could to be ready.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in QA?
“The advice I would give for someone looking into a career in QA would be to read into the standard practices that are taken within the role as a lot of companies in the industry will use similar concepts when it comes to test coverage. There are plenty of areas around the web and/or in libraries that can provide the information needed for people the gain an understanding of the requirements.
Consider putting yourself forward for different opportunities that may become available within testing. If you are working for a test team that covered titles for other companies, investigate onsite roles to gain the experience in working face to face with developers. Enroll into any opportunities that arise to gain the knowledge into other possibilities such as automation, technical requirements and compatibility. With smaller developers, there may be chances to practice another field of game development.”
What would you personally look for in someone joining your team?
“The important qualities to me when looking for someone to join the team is communication, a good eye for detail and the ability to handle tasks independently alongside being in a team. Projects are consistently changing during their lifecycle, so it is necessary for everybody testing to know what is required each day and be on the same page when it comes to the content of the title.
There are always possibilities whereby one part of a title has been fixed that another becomes broken. A keen eye for detail is needed to spot these situations when they arise. The steps to reproduce should be as accurate as possible and the information provided to the developers should be clear so that not only does the developer know what they’re looking for, but anyone new to the project can also achieve the result.
Different projects will require varying amounts of people to cover them so being flexible to handle a task or title alone can be just as important as dealing with a team working on another. The agile nature of game development can see new features being added, changed or removed from day to day and having a calm and focused attitude helps both the QA team and the developers deal with any of the situations that arise.”
Do you have any best tips for anyone applying for a role in QA?
“Take part in any public beta tests and join the related forums. Not only will this give you exposure to the types of issues that you may find when taking on the role but will also provide you with examples of experience during the interview process.
If possible, attend game conventions and speak to the teams showing off their games. Some members may be part of the QA team for the title and can help to provide some insight into the position
When looking for your first role in QA, a good starting point can be with one of the teams of the “big three” Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony or as part of a small indie company. The former can be great areas to learn the skills that you need while getting your name out there on a major company title. The latter is great for joining a team who are passionate in what they are producing and gaining an understanding of the development while working closely alongside the developers themselves.”