Friday, January 13, 2012

Game development, how you could get there...

Since I've gone through the trouble of listing my real name on this blog a few months ago, it might be time to tell a bit about a project I'm working on. It's a game and I'm very proud of how I got to that project. But first, let me tell you how I got there.

Take the power into your own hands,
just take those stupid gloves off first.
As a kid, I always liked video games, but after I graduated the Dutch equivalent of high-school, I wanted a challenge that would give me something in life. Note that  my majors in high-school were physics, math and chemistry and I was young and reckless. I started studying languages and cultures of Japan at the university of Leiden. I was doomed.

I didn't fit in at that study and I was thinking of switching, but there was this one time I spoke to a professor about the absence of video games in research at the faculty of arts. She told me I should give it a shot. Long story short: my BA paper for Japanese studies was about "The narratology and character relations in Japanese video games".

Why Japanese and computer sciences?
answer: Akihabara
I finished my BA in Japanese studies, but didn't feel like doing a master. Now, because Leiden university has a lot of different studies in all fields, I was able to go back to exact sciences and start a bachelor in computer sciences alongside my Japanese studies. I finished my first year of computer sciences together with my BA.

In the meantime I started chatting with the professors at computer sciences. This time I would do something very serious! I would go into the field of artificial intelligence! My BSc paper: Calculating and predicting the game Five or More. I guess it was games again... queue silent celebration.

I started my master in computer sciences a year and a half ago. Not even a couple of months into the master I got an E-mail from a professor asking if I wanted to run for an internship at some company. At this internship I would develop a piece of software and I could do a research on the development process. This company was called gaming works and they play games at companies to show good and bad parts in working relations. I suggest you click their link, these people do really cool stuff and go around the globe. I had to develop the software part that calculated things in one of their games.

Since most of my study career was about games, I wanted to do my Master thesis on something serious this time. I learned during my internship that I really enjoyed software development, so I wanted to research something in that field. The conversation with my professor went like this:

"Doc, I've finally seen the light! I want to do something in software development. You said something about risk assessment ans severity last class? I want to research those subjects!" I said when I barged into his office. I was doubting for months and was finally ready to get my act together.

"That's alright, you can go in these directions," he said calmly whilst he put some print-outs on his desk.

"Great! I'll take that one!" I said, pointing eagerly at the paper about risk assessment.

The professor hesitated. "You know... You could do that, but I've also got this subject for you..."

As it turns out, I'm now researching how to teach people software development through playing a video game. I'm developing the game. It's a research about games... again.


It might look like I'm bragging (and maybe I am), but I want to share a lesson I learned from all this: keep talking to people. The phrase "it's not who you are, it's who you know" is often used in a negative context, but I learned that it can be put to your advantage with little effort. With most of my professors I only chatted a couple of minutes total over the years, but they all knew I had a passion that had a lot of research capabilities: video games. I became a go-to guy for video games and the only thing I had to do for it is casually talk about what interested me.

If you want to do something in video games and you're even just remotely passionate about it, talk about it with everyone, especially your superiors. This goes for superiors in work AND education, but also isn't limited to the subject of video games. If you're a office worker at a bank and you have a passion for flowers, if your superior knows about it, you'll probably be helping the next florist set up shop with a loan.

Networking, now with blue noise gradient!
Talking means networking. Most of your network will not know what to do with your skills or passions, but you'll only need 1 person in their network to ask for a certain skill or passion and you're set. Make sure you speak out in classes and meetings if you feel strongly about something. Don't do this to impress, because everyone else will hate you if it's for that reason. Speak out to show people your stance and skills in situations where it's applicable and necessary.

Having said that, don't attract attention if the situation draws on your shortcomings. A lot of politicians are guilty of this. You don't look pretty when you stand up and start shouting something along the lines of "We don't need water! It doesn't even have a taste!"

Having also said that, don't hesitate to ask for explanations. Asking questions shows your interest and stance on a subject. The answer to the question can also show that a person might be capturing the audience's attention with a bag of hot air.

If you are already into gaming (or something else) and you are still left out for any reason, there are always specializations. You can specialize in AI or physics when programming, or sprites and 3D models when you're an artist. Make sure you are the go-to person in whatever comes to you naturally.

Competition improves prestige, but hampers
personal excelling.
However, be careful you are not doing something someone else is doing already. By the time you do, it can't hurt to learn something else too. I tried to set up a game development project over a year ago and it was really hard to find good artists. Mind you, there were a lot of good artists, but most of them only wanted to do concept art and didn't want to deviate from it. If more of them were willing to go a little beyond their field and make some textures or static background sprites, the search would have been a lot easier for me.

If any beginning concept artists are reading this, here's a little advise: Concept art is part of pre-production of a game, which is a very uncertain stage. Make sure you do something alongside of it which is also needed later in the production cycle. If you stick with a game longer, it will look better on your portfolio for recruiters and you'll meet more people in different fields which in turn will give you more job security.

Getting the subject back to my latest project: keep an eye on this blog. I am going to share stories about the development of my own educational game that, to the contrary of similar products, should be fun AND educational. I hope this post will give readers some advice on their career.

Also: thank you, all you new readers. I got over 1300 page views last month for no apparent reason. I haven't really had a lot of comments (1 in total on all posts), but thank you all for visiting.