“Okay, Chuck.” you say. “I get it. You think you’re talented, or whatever. So what exactly would your ‘dream job’ be called?”
Please, please. Call me Charlie.
There are hundreds of different roles within a typical modern day game studio, and like some kind of jerk on the internet, I haven’t been very specific thus far. I should really point out that Game Design and Game Development describe two very different disciplines within video game creation, even though both are used interchangeably to describe making games. In my humble little brain-dictionary, Design is done by the “art department,” and Development is done mostly by programmers. Designers figure out what the game will look like, developers make the game work and play the way it should. This may sound like silly semantics (and a little alliteration?), but I’ve chosen to make these distinctions because the gap between both disciplines is widening, and requirements for each are becoming more specialized. In fact, many universities now offer separate degrees for design and development.
As a pretty artistic guy, I took a deep interest in the design side of making games during high school. Even before taking that 3DSMax course I mentioned in my last post, I had developed a vast understanding of Adobe Photoshop on my own, and have since learned a thing or two about other professional-level digital art tools such as Maya and Zbrush. Creating art content for games comes naturally to me; I’m good at it.
Yet, the more knowledgeable I’ve become about each part of the art/design side of game creation, the more apprehensive I’ve felt about pursuing it vocationally. Something keeps shooting down the idea before it gets very far. It don’ feel right in mah gut, yaknow? I’m sure all of my design knowledge will prove itself beneficial, but I’m not destined to be the person responsible for creating art content; modeling characters, levels, weapons, and so forth.
So if design ain’t my thing, that leaves development! Oh, by the way, I have zero programming skills. For some reason, I was never very interested in the tedious art of coding. Considering I just finished claiming that Game Development was done “mostly by programmers”, this should raise an alarm for you. The hard truth? Unlike art, programming does not come naturally to me. I was not a born a coding-voodoo-genius-guru like my buddy who landed a salaried programming job with security clearance immediately after high school. Fortunately for me, programmers aren’t the only cog in the game development machine. There’s another, less programming-centric cog I might just be perfectly shaped for.
At the AAA tier of the industry, the name for this particular cog varies from company to company: Senior Developer; Lead Developer; Chief Director; Project Lead… let’s not worry about more semantics. Basically, this is the guy responsible for managing most, if not all, parts of a game’s creation. This guy’s like a movie producer and director combined. He manages and delegates most of the work involved in a production; he maintains a “big-picture” vision of where he wants a game to go, how it needs to play, feel, and sound. He needs to be a master storyteller; a pseudo-psychologist that understands what players will experience while they play. He is often responsible for planning development milestones and meeting deadlines of publishers and other superiors. Along with his team, this guy checks every asset, idea, and feature against his vision for the game, adding and cutting as necessary. He’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but his co-developers are Justices with votes in every ruling. He needs to collaborate openly with his co-developers and designers, humbly accepting the fact that most of the great ideas that will make the game stand out will come from his peers, and not himself.
I’m only vaguely beginning to scratch at the surface here, and this job is starting to sound sort of complicated, right? I know! Isn’t it fascinating!?
No, I’m serious. Everything I just described may seem like a stressful nightmare to you, but I see a plethora of interesting challenges intertwined in satisfying, fulfilling work. This guy I’m describing, let’s just call him a Lead Developer, has my dream job. That Lead Developer position can be VERY different depending on the circumstances—studio / publisher / weather conditions / whatever—but regardless, games are projects that need to be managed. I can’t imagine a better place for me to focus my passion.
Aaaaaaaanyway, I can finally say I have a solid vision of where I want to go professionally.
We’re full circle. Next, I begin the process of deciding where I will pursue a university level education. Maybe. I’m strongly determined to pick a school in a city full of game studios. My soon-to-be wife (I hate the word ‘fiancee’) and I are carefully considering all of our options… and man, we have a lot of options. Seattle? Raleigh? Bangkok? Some place in Iceland!? We could go anywhere! Okay, maybe we should stay in country. Still working on my bilinguality.
Obviously, we’ve got a bit of work ahead of us before we’re really able to make a decision. My goal? To reach out to every single video game studio that tickles my fancy. A paid job offer may sound like a laughable expectation, but that’s where I’m going to start.
This is going to be hilarious.