Howdy, I have a somewhat serious career question. Spoiler: I've had a glass of wine and finals just ended so please excuse any dumb typos. I am a graduate student at a major state university in the US that is fairly well known for graphics research (it is in the top ~50 in the world for graphics research). I am a PhD student here. I absolutely love video games, and I have always loved Obsidian games in particular. Before Obsidian, back in the early 2000s when I was growing up, I would spend hours and hours playing Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, I've just loved these games.
It is a backup plan of mine in case grad school does not work out to work in the game industry. I am an excellent student, and not to bad of a researcher, but my wife and I are thinking about settling down and starting a family. I have VR development experience working as a computer scientist intern for the Department of Defense and some unique development experience, for example I have a patent in the digital signage industry.
I am told that in order to get into the video game industry you have to write "mods" for games. I really enjoy GPU architecture and writing CUDA/OpenGL/OpenCL code. I am pretty good at writing shaders, but I really shine when it comes to optimizing code that you want to run on the GPU. I got my start in the industry (years ago, before I went to school) as a video game tester. I am very detail oriented. I am not a huge fan of making mods for games because I just don't have a lot of artistic talent. My brothers make mods they love it, but it isn't for me. This isn't to say I am not creative, my whole family is creative af, but I just can't draw like my siblings.
I was wondering what kinds of jobs somewhat like me should be looking for? Is it reasonable to think I could get a job in the video game industry if grad school does not work out? Is it true that only people who make mods really have any hope of getting a career started in this industry?
Thank you so much for your thoughts To prove my skillz (and that I am real), I attached a picture of a recent project. It is called a Sphube. It is not just a cube with round edges. It is a sextic algebraic surface. The ray tracer I wrote uses bounding boxes and a really simple iterative solver (Newton-Raphson method) to find the roots where the ray intersects the surface. There are some interesting optical properties of the sphube. This is not something you will find anywhere else (to my knowledge).