Friday, May 10, 2013

Playing the Video Game Career Counselor

Being a video game developer is like being a mini-celebrity. The first question people ask you at social events is "What do you do for a living?" - and once they hear K's reply, he gets swarmed like the last human alive in a sea of zombies. And if the audience consists of teenagers or their parents, the immediate next question is "How do you get into the games industry?"

The Horde zombie t-shirt from Threadless
Kinda feels like a scene from one of K's fav Threadless shirts, The Horde
Over the years, K estimates he's had to answer that question, oh, a little less than the number of stars in the galaxy. And the number of starry-eyed young'uns who have actually become video game developers? Well actually, only one that he knows of. So here's the story of the little game developer wannabe who could.

Once upon a time (aka 2004), K was on the forums for a newly-released game that everyone was raving about. It had originally gained popularity as a PC-only game, but this latest addition to the series was the first time they'd gotten a console release. The problem was this: die-hard PC fans were complaining that the "console tards ruined it" because the new game seemed to have longer loading waits and each level was divided into 2 zones. K set the record straight by explaining the latest version of the Unreal Engine had a visual node limit (it could only render so much object complexity in a given scene), so designing the game for PC only wouldn't have made much of a difference. Apparently his explanation was a little too knowledgeable-sounding, because one of the forum readers soon sent him a private message (PM) and asked "How do I get into the games industry?? :)"

grunge globe
Who knew K would be helping out people across the globe? O_o
The guy was a college freshman, in a country on the opposite hemisphere of the world, and he had no idea what he wanted to do besides the fact that he liked playing video games. K started with the fundamentals of what the different roles are – artists, programmers, designers, producers, etc. – and some basic advice how to get in. But the questions kept coming. So rather than type out 10 giant follow-up messages, K suggested doing a phone call. So the freshman purchased a phone card, and asked away to his heart's delight for the next hour. And that was that.

Six years later in 2010, the guy emailed K back out of nowhere and said he had done it! He had finished a degree in computer science, gotten a job as a video programmer, and now ironically, was getting out of the industry because he was sick of the long work hours. But he wanted to thank K for all that he had done. How cool is that! Even more interesting, last week that same guy just emailed again and said that he's tired of working for the government. Apparently, he plans on returning to his first love after all: programming for the game industry. :)

Anyway, I just thought this was a cool little story since I've witnessed K answer the "how to become a game designer" inquiry over and over again and this is the first time I've ever heard of a payoff for his efforts. Best of luck to ya, former-freshman-turned-programmer!

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