Designing Better Designers...
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Fifteen years ago I entered the video games business as a tester. Back then that was a fairly standard way to break into the industry. You didn't need qualifications or a specific talent, you just had to like games and not be an idiot. And if you showed willing you could be anything, I know producers, designers, programmer and artists who took this route.
Games specific courses were thin on the ground in those days and my experience of graduates from them wasn't really very encouraging - it seemed that both artists and programmers were much better off getting a degree that gave them a good general appreciation of their discipline, rather than one that supposedly catered to our needs as an industry. With solid degrees under them they could learn quickly on the job, cutting their teeth in the white heat of 14 hour days. It was better to get new recruits that had no delusions of game making knowledge, because it took a few wasted months to beat this out of them.
So, for a long time, I looked down on these courses. Of course, I never really knew what I was talking about when it came to either art or coding, I was judging from a ridiculous position. After being a tester for about a million years I moved into design, which is where I always wanted to be.
While I learned my trade through a cornucopia of mistakes, the system began to disgorge graduates from game design courses. Now I knew what I was talking about, and I didn't have much respect for these degrees. Not that some of the graduates weren't good, they were, but they were good in spite of the course they'd attended.
Times have changed though, the courses have changed and I've changed. Somewhere along the line I grew up and realised that the best thing to do, if I didn't like the results of these courses, was to be more active and say something about it to the people that run them, rather than ranting to any unfortunate who would listen.
Last week I was invited, along with two of my bosses from Sidhe (Tyrone McAuley and Andy Satterthwaite), to Victoria University, here in Wellington. We were there to see five game prototypes that had been made by cross functional teams, bringing together computer science students and design students. And we were all very impressed. I can only speak for myself, but I was also mightily relieved.
The reason the three of us were invited along was because we had given the lecturers some pointers on how we thought they should structure the course. In the process of this advice we also wholeheartedly volunteered ourselves to give a presentation each on how to make a game in five weeks. It was during my presentation that I first used the term Hinterland of Fail
but didn't really feel I got the point across, hence my post on the subject.
The demos that these students created were excellent, there is no other word for it. What they produced in a few weeks was well beyond my expectations and if any of the students are less than very proud then they're way too hard on themselves. It's impossible to say if any of this was down to the involvement of me and my colleagues, I expect they're just bright kids who think long and work hard.
But I'm glad I wasn't sat on the sidelines simply commenting on the results like I used to. The time it took me to prepare and give a presentation was negligible in comparison to the potential benefits, because who doesn't want graduates that know a thing or two, who can think for themselves, who act well under pressure and, just as importantly, know their current limits.
These courses will continue to proliferate and if you're an experienced game developer then they need your help. Don't criticise the results, get your oar in and make them better.