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Aspiring Game Designer

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Hello there!

Pretty much my entire life I've wanted to get into the creation of entertainment either in video games or film (or both), via the creation and development of original intellectual properties. I am now at the stage in my life where I'm steadfast on what I want to be, and that's a game designer. I've not taken the conventional rout to becoming one (programmer, level designer), as I am getting a degree that is related to teaching leadership, team management and essentially running government agencies/public organizations. I'm going to be graduating this May with what I'm assuming is going to be a 4.0 cumulative GPA, however I am worried that my irregular path towards the game industry may prove troublesome. Now forgive me if this sounds somewhat resume'esq, but I feel its best I said what I can/can't do if I am to get quality feedback.

The reason I mentioned my GPA is... I'm not certain how well my grades will carry towards getting a job. I also don’t have job experience outside of writing for an only gaming magazine for a few months, as I made school my job and my free time spent towards writing, music, and playing games.

I have absolutely no background in programming at all, and zero skills related modeling with programs such as 3dsm. My only real background with programs is as followed.

Music Production through FL Studio and VSTi plugins
Sony Vegas
Particle Illusion
Excel (Microsoft Certified)

Of those skill sets I'd say I am of intermediate level (including Excel as that Certification was in 2007). Only Photoshop and Microsoft Office seem to be truly useful out of that bunch towards the gaming industry.

As for what I know I'm great at.

Writing Stories
Drawing (layouts – ie. pencil level designs similar to architectural floor plan)

I have a basic concept of the industry right now and the games that are out there. I know what's failed horribly and what has done great, as well as plenty of ideas on how to make further steps towards innovation and creating engrossing experiences for a given player base. I also feel that I understand a great deal about the quality gameplay mechanics in MMO's, RPG's, and FPS's. I've even spent the last few years in my free time (when not doing school), designing my own IP, story/concept/gameplay etc.

I've listened to many interviews, gone to various company websites and so forth and am still hunting for this answer. The best I've gotten was from Bethesda’s website where it was stated that while most of the designers there didn't have degrees related to gaming (art, history, psychology) they had backgrounds in (programming, art, physics [engineering]).

Now I'm the kind of individual who wants to be one of the best game designer's in the world. So much so that I'll work whatever hours it takes to become a better one outside my job. I don't have that job yet though, and that's why I'm here asking for advice.

If anyone here can tell me what I can study, learn, and focus on applying in order to get into the gaming industry I would be most thankful. I don't really have a ton of time since I'd like to be working fairly soon after graduation in four months. Plus I still need to focus much of my time towards maintaining my grades. I've read about some possible job entries, though I’d like to hear your professional perspectives on it.

Anyhow, long story short. Please help me out with any information that would help steer me onto the correct path of becoming a game designer. I'm willing to climb any ladder, and then some, from the deepest pit in order to accomplish my goals.

Thank You!

Montgomery Markland

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1) Start a mod team for a game such as Half Life, Unreal, Call of Duty, Crysis, Fallout, etc. Keep the scope of your mod small (one single awesome playable level) and add one unique, compelling gameplay feature to the game. When you have that finished, polish it for months, work on the audio, the visuals, everything. Create the most awesome section of game for whatever modding platform you have chosen and then use that as your demo reel. You'll get interviews if you execute well and the rest is up to you and your interviewing skills. (This route has the con that you are not making connections inside of the industry while you are working on your reel).

2) Get a job doing QA for a studio and in your spare time learn the tech that the studio uses and create the exact same thing I described above in your spare time. Do a competent job as a QA guy at the same time. Use your creations as your internal job application. This approach probably has a higher success rate, but it chains your ability to advance to the studio you work in some regards (ie you might not ever be able to show what you make to anyone outside the studio, limiting your portfolio's utility unless you go make something with some publicly accessible tools).

Basically, make an awesome level for a game and you will get a job unless you are scum (and if your level is awesome enough you can probably get away with being scum too -- I'm sort of scummy sometimes and I have a job).

Kaftan Barlast

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I'm willing to climb any ladder, and then some, from the deepest pit in order to accomplish my goals.

Could you be the guy who gets stuck with the amzingly bad job of implementing custom character models and weapons in our UT3 mod? :p We've made great progress, you'll probably only have to repeat the process 20 times now before it works



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Thank you Montgomery for the advice. QA is actually the one job I've heard I could get right into, so you've further confirmed that possibility. I was going to mention QA in my original post but I wanted to see if it was brought up without notice. Blaine Christine over at BioWare started out his career in QA and is now a Producer over at the Austin branch, so I know good things can happen with that rout.

I'm actually trying to self-teach myself level editors (ie. CoD4Radiant or G.E.C.K). Once I get down actually understanding everything and being able to create what's in my head, I think I'll be able to make some great stuff.

As for your UT3 mod Kaftan Barlast, I'm not sure I am qualified to do that very well. Perhaps I misunderstand what you're asking? It is true that I'd be willing to work up from the junkiest job and climb up the ladder though. So long as I'm in a situation where I'm learning tools to be a great game designer in the future, I don't mind what it is.

Thanks again for the replies, if anyone else has any extra info I'll be sure to soak it up!

Edited by Bast, 15 February 2009 - 11:35 PM.

Matthew Rorie

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As a note, every one of the five owners of Obsidian was once in QA.

Also, the "game writer" topic that's right below you in this forum is a good resource for more tips from the Obsidian peeps, many of whom responded to that thread as well.



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As a note, every one of the five owners of Obsidian was once in QA.

Also, the "game writer" topic that's right below you in this forum is a good resource for more tips from the Obsidian peeps, many of whom responded to that thread as well.

Thank you Matthew. That's quite neat and humbling to hear how all of the owners started in QA. In fact it only gives me a greater feeling of excitement to know this. I did indeed look into that topic (the game writer one) as well and found some helpful information, as I too love to write stories. I'm currently deliberating on applying for a job in QA after graduation or going to Full Sail for a Masters in Game Design (assuming I get financial aid) and then doing the same thing. The benefit of the latter is that I would get exposure to a simulated game development cycle plus get more familiarized with terminology and procedure. Plus I figure the degree can't do anything but help on a resume. The downside though is that I could possibly get the same benefit in QA minus the degree, and have over a year of relished game industry experience.

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask what the professional opinion of these two routs would be. Would it be smarter for a person like me to go right into QA after graduation or take 13 more months to get this degree?

On a side note, I'm also trying to learn as much about the fundamentals of game design as possible by getting into books such as "Chris Crawford on Game Design" and "Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals." I'm also trying to read as many game designer blogs as possible. If anyone on here has a blog related to games that you don't mind sharing publicly or in a PM, I'd love to read it.

Again thanks for all the help you've been giving me so far!



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Your grade point average doesn't really matter. If you have a 4.0, but are hard to get along with, you wont' get hired.

You could have a 4.0 and still not understand what makes a good story (and you wouldn't get hired).

What matters is basic knowledge, passion, drive and personality. Don't spend all your time locked in a room doing your homework and then your nights going out to a bar to kill the things you just learned (I saw too many friends fall into this trap). Sure game development sounds like a good time. But it's a lot of work. It's easy to SAY you want to be a game developer, but to ACTUALLY want to be one is a whole other story.

Someone who really wants to be a game developer, in my opinion, would have 1-2 of the following done by the time he graduated college:
- A short story showing good character development, dialogue, story and/or plot (for a creative designer)
- A playable level with some sort of custom assets in your favorite editor like Unreal3, NWN2, NWN or Multiverse (for a level designer)
- Some custom made art assets (models, textures, environments) used in someone's playable level (for an artist)
- A custom game engine, or core technology functionality to be applied to a game engine (for a programmer)
- Any or all of these things in some sort of RELEASED mod/game/download

Most importantly (and this is entirely my opinion) these should all be NOT school related. If that 4.0 GPA required you to write a Unix Bash shell, or a basic terrain generator of course you did it. And you probably did it quite well. But what matters in this industry is what you did AFTER you completed that 4.0. Did you go home with your A+ terrain generator and continue to modify it beyond the requirements? Maybe see if you could get a model to load in and some basic collision detection? Or maybe take your 4 page A+ story draft home and turn it into a quest in the NWN2 engine?

Then you're a game developer.

If you got your A+ on the assignment, popped it onto your thumbdrive and went out with you friends I wouldn't bother applying. You like the idea of being a game developer, but you're not quite committed to the amount of work.

(this isn't entirely directed to you, just something I've noticed in general. A lot of my person friends have applied to companies, or asked me to give their resume to our hiring guy and it just lists school projects under their portfolio and it makes me sad on the inside).

For comparison:
- I had a 2.3 GPA in College.
- I wrote a PSP RPG engine with basic collision detection and combat to try and emulate old school RPG's using the homebrew SDK info here
- Using the NWN engine, I was hired to prototype an MMO (Arden: The World of William Shakespeare ) and I worked 8-48 hour days doing it for a year (yes, 48 hours straight)
- I was turned down by 3 companies before I got offered the job at Obsidian (and Obsidian was my number one choice when I moved out ehre; least likely I assumed).

I think you get my point. I got hired (luckily) and I like to think that I work hard enough for them to be glad they took the chance on hiring me. GPA can only get you so far, and while it sets you up for a good foundation for future knowledge, it doesn't have direct correlation to your actual applied knowledge, your work ethic, or your ability to work in the game industry.

If you want to get here, keep up the good work. 4.0 is nothing to scoff at. It's an impressive feat in itself. But make sure you're making your own projects on the side, Have a healthy portfolio to show people when you graduate and apply for jobs. Write some outlines, some full-on short stories and some game mods to show your knowledge. Keep applying and show your determination. If you can't go straight into Design, get a QA job. Once you're in the door you can show off your amazing skills and get moved as needed.

If you're truly passionate about something, in my opinion, it will show in your life and your skills. And eventually, it'll pay off.

Good luck!



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Your grade point average doesn't really matter. If you have a 4.0, but are hard to get along with, you wont' get hired.


If you're truly passionate about something, in my opinion, it will show in your life and your skills. And eventually, it'll pay off.

Good luck!

Thanks again for even more information. I'm actually a quite reserved person. I don't do bars, or really even go out with friends. I'm also a blast to get along with, so I think I'm alright there :(. I used to just play games up till my senior year along with my work, but I realized that I should have been building skills and putting work into learning skills pertaining to the industry. Some of this was due to my indecision on if I'd go into the gaming industry or the film industry (I've clearly decided on gaming). The only reason I mentioned my 4.0 is because the more I read into everything the more I began to feel that grades wouldn't help as much as I thought on a resume; which you've validated. Unfortunately my degree has nothing to do with technical game design skills. I've learned a lot of team management/leadership skills plus I've taken every history course possible since I love history.

"GPA can only get you so far, and while it sets you up for a good foundation for future knowledge, it doesn't have direct correlation to your actual applied knowledge, your work ethic, or your ability to work in the game industry" - this is a statement I agree with completely that I think everyone who wants to go into the games industry should understand. I'd even be inclined to say this applies to other industries/jobs as well.

I've already written a fairly deep outline for a 5 trilogy storyline, and am now working on witting a smaller story much like you described as a (creative designer) which takes place on a planet in this universe during on of my timelines. I've also been improving my skills in making textures, since I figure that could be helpful if needed along with some art sketches. [side note - if anyone knows if the Photoshop plugin "FilterForge" is used in the industry please let me know]. On top of this I'm also teaching myself UnrealEd, though it's 2.5 and not 3. Overall, I'm trying my hardest to make myself as well versed in a variety of game design elements as possible. My biggest issue is programming which I'm pretty much putting in the back burner... though I plan to try and learn python down the road. I'm also somewhat of a "perfectionist," (though not to annoying levels around people) so helping to clean up a game, no matter how demanding actually seems fun to me.

Out of everything mentioned I see myself as either a creative designer or possibly a level designer (as I've always enjoyed architecture).

I've also been reading http://www.sloperama.com/advice quite a bit too. It's been quite a bit of help, and anyone like me who wants to do game design should check it out.

To be honest, I don't think I'm going to get right into a job as designer. That said, I've found one open game design job that I may be able to fill simply due to my knowledge about the game (and that knowledge being a requirement for the job). QA is my best bet right now, and to be honest, based on what I've learned about it I think it may be the best starting point for me. It may be considered the "low class" job as I've read, but it seems to teach a lot of valuable tools about the game development process, and also gets you into the mindset of working long hours right away... especially if you always volunteer to work extra (not to say others don't work long hours). I actually am shocked you worked 48 hour days. I understood that things could reach 100-112 hour days during crunch time, but that's pretty crazy. I don't think I could physically work that long (48+ hours strait) without starting to make really stupid mistakes with my work.

I think I kind of rambled a bit here and there haha.

Again, thank you for the advice. I've definitely taken everything said in this thread to heart thus far. You folks at Obsidian are doing a great service to the community by taking time to do this for everyone.

Edited by Bast, 03 March 2009 - 05:35 PM.

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