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Specializing In Game Development

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to start a discussion to ask a question that I’ve had for a while, that I am sure a lot of people with a similar experience level to myself may also be struggling with. A disclaimer before we get started: I know there is no one-size fits all answer to this question, but the hope was that maybe we could start a conversation that myself and others could perhaps gain some insight from.

So, on to the question: How do I pick a specialization in Game Development?

When I was a kid, game maker was basically the closest I could get to a game engine. So when I decided that I wanted to make video games, I started by figuring out that I would have to learn to program, so I did… Programming is the critical essence of a video game, without it the game–quite literally–cannot exist. Therefore, as a kid I held a strong connection between my programming ability and my ability to make video games… as I got a little older however, I started to learn that a lot of game developers got their jobs by making modifications of other videogames, doing things like making maps and content. Organically, I fell into making maps in Unreal 2K4, and then UT3 Shortly after. Years later, I have amassed quite a bit of spread out experience in almost every aspect of game development. The problem is… I love all of it. I have not found one thing that I don’t like (aside from manually creating a navmesh in the skyrim creation kit… that is annoying as hell).

How do I pick between all of these things that I love? I don’t really want to single out any one thing. I’ve honestly been thinking about considering myself a technical artist and going from there. I’ve learned Maya and Zbrush because I wanted to make my own art, but I realize in a true production environment the art department is entirely separate. I’m not the best 3D artist, but I’m sure that I could get better. The problem is… I just can’t be a great programmer AND a great artist, AND an Engine Guru, AND a Tools/Systems guy.

I’m sure someone else must be struggling with this too. If I love pretty much every aspect of game development, how do I pick something to specialize in? Or do I just follow my whims and end up with a Frankenfolio that has bits and pieces of code, thrown in with level design and then art pieces?

Thoughts?

It sounds like what you would like the most is something like a Level Designer. What that would involve is an understanding of game design but a bit of scripting knowledge and art skills can be involved as well. At a basic level, you lay out a level but it can be more involved since you might be required to do art things like lighting or in-editor stuff like landscapes and stuff like that. You could also be required to set up gameplay elements for triggering events and making things work. For UE4 that could involve doing Blueprint work.

Well Darth, what I’m sayin is… I’ve done all those things, but really I’m not sure that that is the “ONE THING” I want to do. That’s the struggle. Working in AAA space basically means that you have 1 job only, but in indie space, people struggle to make a living : (.

Basically by committing to be a “Level Designer” I in some sense waive my right to touch gameplay code, or do any art that is not Environmental art.

EDIT: The thing is this: it :“sounds” like I would like level design the most just because that is what I am most comfortable with, but how can I know I don’t like something else more? Honestly my problem is… I like everything that I’ve tried about the same… I just have less experience with Art (mainly because its taken me a while to get software licenses (you know… the pricetags))

I’m just saying level design since you like more than one area, it involves a bit of many things and it’s something you can specialize in that will get you a job. The issue is that if you don’t target some type of job position and become really good at that then it can become more difficult to find a job that fits your skills.

Yea… I guess that’s true.

One of the hardest things is building a level design portfolio while working on a project with only 3 other people. Because we have so few we all wear a lot of hats. So I feel like it makes it hard to just focus on a single specialty area. At the same time though, working with a team is an equally valuable and rewarding experience. We don’t have enough people for everyone to specialize, so sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off working on my own projects entirely. Oh Well…

Well, I appreciate the feedback.

What’s this question really about bls61793, finding work or building a new indie game?

If you are a indie/solo game developers like many of us here, you will need EVERY of these skills. & some more. Looks like you are in a good position.

If you wanted to be a development team, then you will need to specialist. If you can’t decide what you like most, then think of what you are best at The one that get you the most complicate or along these lines.

Actually, I think the best course for you would be working in all of these areas.

What I want to say is simple: The best teacher is yourself and asking the right questions is the objective you want to follow. When you learned to program, I assume you knew, which question to ask and searched for a solution. Personally I had always problems with tutorials, because I couldn’t grasp the essence, what people tried to tell me. I always ended up doing trial and error, which helped me a ton.

I would make a priority order and go from there.
Which area do you like the most or which area would you choose, if it were a head-to-head race?
If you know the answer (which I can’t give you), you know in which area you should spent most time in. That doesn’t mean you can’t work in other areas. You just invest most of the time in the top priority area, the second most time in the next area you like and so on. With this work order you will likely excel in your main priority area at some point, but you won’t lose experience in the other areas. You will gain knowledge in all the areas, but you could work in a company, if you need a job. It all comes down to your time management and you have to accept the strain you are putting on yourself. You also need to keep up your ambition, which is the most difficult thing to do. I am talking out of experience, because I always wanted to create things just by myself. Strangely enough I am not an egomaniac, but I always liked the freedom of making things when I want to do them, not when they were demanded from others.

I hope I somewhat could be of help. I hope I even made sense :).

Thanks to everyone for the responses thus far. I’d like to say that I think I can figure out a specialization. The only reason I feel I need to specialize more is because I’m currently in a job search that is taking way too long, so I’ve been thinking a lot about my skills lately and how to try and sell them to a company. (In terms of games, IDC if they are AAA or Indie as long as I can make a living). I also have somewhat of a unique problem in that I love computers, but I have a degree in Biology… which wouldn’t really help me build many CPU or GameDev skills during day job.

So yea… I really appreciate all the advice. I think I need to do more sculpting in Zbrush to really determine if I prefer art or not. I also have a bit of a hard time deciding because I know that good programmers tend to be in higher demand than artists or designers and I feel like I can be a good programmer… so yea. Part of me really wants to focus in on programming because I feel like the job market is more stable. I have a lot of conflicting ideas, but at the end of the day, I guess it’s about balancing what I most like to do with both: what I am the best at, and what employers need the most. Just seem to be struggling to find the balance.

Also, Direct Response to franktech. It’s mainly about finding a job. I love pretty much every aspect of games, so I don’t really care what I’m doing as long as I can get paid to work on cool stuff. I’m willing to specialize into any role that’s really needed, but I’m trying to figure out which skillset I should try to highlight to get hired somewhere in games, or even general software.

+1
To following the programmer track…

There is a consensus and you can confirm it by chatting with recruiters or reading past posts, that its easier to get work as a programmer than a digital artist. There was a solid thread about 4-6 months ago that covered this same theme. The conclusion was that there are many more job opportunities going the tech route, as long as you don’t insist that your first job is in video games.

So next question, did you do any programming on the biology degree?

If so play it up. If not, don’t worry, biology is still well regarded in the tech world because its technical and because its highly structured. So go ahead and get a job as a programmer in a role that meets expectations for now: location / hours / pay etc… Then afterwards, keep hunting around for work in video games, because its easier to land another job when you already have one. Good luck dude!

Thanks, I’ll take that advice seriously… I did my senior thesis project on an annotation software program that I wrote in PERL… I’m not too impressed with it, but it works, and its some of the cleanest code I’ve ever written. So I’ll probably shoot for programming, at least to get a computer related job… I’ll keep doing the artsy stuff in the spare time. Should be fun. I always tend to worry about people dismissing the degree because its not C.S, C.I.S, or E.C.E. I’ve done a fair share of programming, and read a fair deal of code… just not sure what level of skill most entry level software jobs want.

Thanks for the support!

No worries, good luck again!