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Ask the Experts: The Go Between

Ask the Experts: The Go Between

November 17, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

In the latest advice column from Gamasutra sister website GameCareerGuide, a reader asks whether to study programming in addition to 3D animation at the university level. Is an added background in computer science always helpful to game industry artists and animators?

Jill Duffy, editor of GameCareerGuide, gives a conditional yes, naming the reasons the student might actually choose to stick with just one major.

Gamasutra, which is affiliated with GameCareerGuide, is running this exclusive game industry career advice column in full. For more advice about breaking into the game development industry, visit GameCareerGuide's Getting Started section.

Dear Experts,

I live in North Carolina and am a university student. Currently I am majoring in art with a focus in 3D animation. My passion is art, but in order to gain any of the artistic control I'm looking for, I would need to have a position in game designing.

I'm considering double majoring in computer sciences and starting in the industry as someone who would communicate between the programming and the visual sides of a game. Sound like a plan? Or am I planning a bit too much for something I don't know anything about?


Dear Go-Between,

In game development, it never hurts to know programming. This is true for producers, game designers, artists, quality assurance testers, sound designers -- everyone. And there are art-centric jobs that require computer science knowledge, like technical artist or technical art director. (See also the July 7, 2008, article in the Related Articles list below.)

From that way you phrased part of your letter, that you want to "gain artistic control," it sounds like your real aspiration is to be a creative director or lead game designer.

Honestly, that's a fine aspiration to have, but it's an aspiration. I would recommend that you have a more attainable shorter-term goal, such as "get my first job in the video game industry" and then after that perhaps, "get a better job in the game industry with increase creative input working on AAA console games."

Take it step by step. You won't become a creative director or lead game designer until after you've been in the game industry for a number of years. First, you'll need to prove yourself not only as a game developer, but as an employee and valuable team member, too.

More importantly, you need to keep your future goals in check with your present goals, which are presumably related to being a successful student with killer projects.

How will you focus on those immediate goals if you're busy thinking about becoming a creative lead in 10 years? To reach those longer-term goals, you have to be successful with your shorter-term goals. And here is where the decision that you have to make right now (regarding your major) becomes tricky.

One the one hand, it would be great for you to learn programming. Like I said, it never hurts; and if you want to be a technical artist or something along those lines, then you should put in the effort now to learn the associated skills. On the other hand, if studying programming takes time and dedication away from your art, then will you be producing the best artwork you can?

It sounds to me like you area an artist first and fore mostly, so it's super important that you make the best portfolio (or demo reel, since you are an animation) you can. How you decide to manage your time in order to accomplish this is up to you. If you think you can do this while double-majoring in computer science, then go for it.

If you think computer science will divide your attention, then maybe a better plan is to focus solely on art and animation in school, but teach yourself some basic programming on the side. If you become good enough to include something more technical in your demo reel and portfolio, then it will be seen as an added bonus when you apply for game jobs in the future.

Good luck!

[Jill Duffy is editor-in-chief of and is content manager for the Game Career Seminar series. She is also senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine. If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, send it via email to [email protected]]

Related Articles

"Ask the Experts: Two-Timing NJ Developer," July 7, 2008.

"Which Artists Will Companies Hire?" by Carey Chico. March 13, 2008.

"Game Art and Animation: An Introduction,"'s Getting Started section.

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