A traditional university student writes to the 'Ask the Experts' column on GameCareerGuide.com, asking whether to ditch computer science
and pursue game graphics at a game specific school. Jill Duffy and Andy Schatz have advice.
Gamasutra is also running this advice column on how to break into the game industry. For more information for beginners and novices, see GameCareerGuide.com
I am attending a traditional and well-known university in New England (starting sophomore year this month). I was pretty sure coming into the school that I wanted to major in computer science, but it wasn't until this summer that I dove into graphics with OpenGL and wrote my first game using graphics (Pong, sadly...). I also made my own 3D world with camera movements and other things.
However, the university does not specifically have a game programming degree or anything of the sort. Do you think the knowledge I will gain through computer science, with a concentration in computer graphics, will be enough to get into the game industry, or should I consider transferring to another school?
My only fear is that I might be limiting my career if decide I like something more later on. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
Andy Schatz, founder of the indie game studio Pocketwatch Games in Southern California, has a hybrid arts and computer science background, so I asked him what he made of your situation.
"I was a computer science and fine arts double major at Amherst College. While I came into college with a strong self-taught background in computer programming," said Schatz, "I found that I didn't excel in my heavily theoretical computer science courses. At the same time, I didn't have a deep background in art. As a result, I was a middling, if enthusiastic college student."
Why Do You Want to Leave?
Are you happy at the university, J.T.?
Is there anything else in your life that is drawing you out of that particular school and affecting this consideration of yours to transfer elsewhere? It sounds to me like going to a game school would be a "do-over" for you, academically speaking at this point, seeing as you've only completely one year.
From the information I see online about your school, the computer science degree with a concentration in graphics is pretty solidly geared toward someone who is interested in game development.
I also noticed there is a student graphics group for game artists and animators, as well. And, I see that you are able to take a class or two at the university's school for digital imaging. I don't actually see what you think your school is lacking. What's the problem?
If you're itching to leave the university for another reason -- not just because you want to focus on game graphics -- then I think you need to address those issues.
On the other hand, if you're very happy at the university and are just questioning your commitment in the computer science department, that's another story. No matter what major you choose or how resolute you are in making that decision, you will always wonder whether it would have been more fruitful to take another route. Thems the breaks.
"I find that most people enjoy the work that they are best at," Schatz said. "It's more satisfying, you will progress furthest in your career, and people will respect you.
"Since you are a student, you still have an opportunity to choose which subject you want to excel in. My advice is to pick which subject you are willing to work the hardest at, as eventually that will be the subject you will find the greatest success in."
"In short," Schatz said, "pick the subject that you can see yourself staying up until 4 in the morning working on. If you have that kind of enthusiasm in both subjects, then you are lucky: You've got an embarrassment of riches. Pursue them both!"
Those Less Fortunate
For students in a similar situation to J.T.'s but who don't have "degree with emphasis X" offers at their schools (community colleges often fall into this category), it never hurts to have a deep knowledge of computer science in any area of game development.
Having a computer science degree will never take away from your ability to become a technical artist or graphics programmer, and there are other ways you can polish your secondary skills in computer graphics and whatnot.
Internships, certificate programs, and even non-matriculated classes either online or in person can help you take very generalized education and make it more specific to game development, if that's what you need to become a competitive job applicant in the field.
[Jill Duffy is editor-in-chief of GameCareerGuide.com, where she posts this bi-weekly advice column. If you have a question you'd like to see answered here, send it to [email protected]]