If you work in the games industry, even on the very periphery, you probably have a nephew or cousin-in-law or other absurdly-distanced aquaintance, usually male, usually under the age of 15, who is REALLY passionate about making games. Maybe they haven't worked out what that even means yet, they just know you make games, and THEY want to make games, and that's awesome.
It can be really hard to make the jump from youthful enthusiasm to the nuts and bolts of real life and the games industry. I have talked to a lot of local kids about getting into the game industry, and the talk usually ranges from mildly interesting description of my varied responsibilities to relatively depressing assessment of normal industry work practices. Neither of these things I think are particularly practical, either for the younglings or for their parents.
In the interest of being able to actually provide them with some kind of vaguely useful set of data to guide their high school years and beyond, I started putting together a kind of game training cheat sheet. If this cheat sheet was a piece of software, this would be the alpha version. I am hoping that through this new blog thingy I might be able to get some more input and be able to turn this into some sort of actual resource.
Basics & Fundamentals
Understanding Games Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
The Game Career Guide (loads of helpful FAQs and articles about the industry)
Game Design Schools
These are schools that that employ actual industry professionals and have direct connections to game companies and events.
The Guild Hall
USC Interactive Media
GAMBIT at MIT
NOTE: Most of these schools are pretty expensive. Some suitable alternatives include Full Sail, Art Institute of Wherever, and any school that doesn't assign too much homework (non-Ivy League!).
Great Industry Advice
These are web pages that give sane answers to hard questions from students and other people looking to get into the industry.
Kiel Figgins' Student FAQ (updated, TONS of great stuff here)
Rob Jagnow (Cogs) on starting your own company
Arne's Art Tutorial
Game Artisans (3D Modeling)
Pixelation (I moderate here, it is a really amazing community!)
Concept Ships (A little specific/topical, but this is a GREAT blog)
NeHe OpenGL Tutorials
gamedev.net (Personally I find it a little hardcore/obtuse, but a pretty amazing resource still)
Derek Yu's Game Maker Tutorial Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3
Great Design Writing
NOTE TO PARENTS: Not all of these websites are guaranteed to be PG-rated, so if you are worried about that sort of thing I would take some time to check them out beforehand and get a feel for the kinds of content they have. A lot of the art sites especially do occasionally feature boobies, on account of women having them.
Game Creation Applications
These are kind of "one size fits all" applications that are generally pretty cheap or free. They are focused around the premise of making game development more accessible and easier. The tradeoff is that they can feel fairly limited sometimes, and they do still require some learning/experimentation. I am not going to promise that all of these applications are super high quality, but they have all developed a following of both professionals and amateur developers.
Unity (Extremely powerful IDE + 3D/Physics engine, pretty amazing)
Flixel (free set of game-related flash files, use with MXMLC or FlashDevelop)
Game Maker (Generic 2D game production)
MMF2 (Generic 2D game production, generally considered inferior to Game Maker)
Scratch ("building blocks" style game design setup, best for very young)
RPG Maker (for making Japanese-style RPGs)
Cheap or Free 3D Modelers That Are Pretty Great
For a lot of artists 3D modeling is really exciting, but getting your hands on "real" 3D modelers involves either thousands of dollars or a trip to the Pirate Bay. However, there are some competitive, well-supported alternatives that can help in the learning process, make it much easier to adapt to "official" industry modelers, and are pretty powerful in their own right.
Blender (Industrial strength but intimidating)
Milkshape 3D (OK this one is pretty bad but it is VERY easy for beginners)
Wings3D (My favorite modeler, but some folks are allergic to it)
SketchUp (This app is awesome, I actually modified Wings to incorporate some features from it)
Softimage Mod Tool (formerly XSI)
NOTE: DO NOT USE POSER OR BRYCE EVER OR YOU ARE FIRED FROM GAMES. Also, you can get a student license of 3D Studio Max (one of the "standard" industry packages) for a relatively affordable price with a student ID.
Competitions & Activities
These tend to be limited to the "independent" game industry, but are wonderful for developing new skills, meeting new people, or showcasing the efforts of a small team. The importance of these things cannot be underestimated!
Independent Games Festival
Thanks to Mike Kasprzak, Josh Larson, Raigan Burns and Kees Rijnen for their contributions!