If I wanted tighten up the graphics on level 3, what should I do?
May 1, 2008 9:38 AM   Subscribe

How can I (technically) prepare for a possible move from being a web developer to a game developer?

This is just a technology question for now. I'm not sure I'm going to be making the move due to a number of factors, so I'm not looking for information about actually working in the industry (I'll ask that question later if needs be). At this point I just want to know, if I decided to make the move, how can I best prepare?

The places I'm considering look a lot more like Telltale than EA or Ubisoft. They're smaller shops producing episodic games that focus on solid IP rather than massive, cutting edge, graphics-heavy games. I have some contacts, so I wouldn't be starting cold or anything like that.

The obvious answer is "Make a game!" but my current free time is a bit sporadic. Anything I could conceivably do would probably be so trivial as to not be particularly instructive. The other obvious thing is to grab the Source SDK and start mucking about, but if one isn't really looking at making something that resembles typical Source offerings, is this portable experience?

My technical background: I've got a B.Sc. and M.Sc in Computer Science. Undergrad was mainly C++ on Linux, with a sprinkling of other languages/technologies. I started my MS as a systems student, but ended up doing my thesis in more of a ubicomp/HCI area. I've got a decent breadth in both domains without having a ton of depth in either. For the last year-ish, I've been doing more scripting stuff (Python and Javascript), but I'm sure I could brush the dust off my C++ skills pretty quickly. Technically, I'm pretty comfortable picking up new things.

Long story short: Should I just focus on just being a sharper programmer in general, or are there more game-specific things that could be valuable?
posted by Nelsormensch to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: you can ask this same question in the forums (click 'community') gamecareerguide.com (disclosure: I used to contract work for CMP Media, and helped build gcg.com) and possibly get some decent responses. Gamasutra.com (which I also worked on), GCG's parent site and the web counterpart of Game Developer mag, regularly has articles that address breaking into the game industry.

Game companies are pretty high turnover, because people tend to burn out fast. A lot of triple-A titles have crunch periods that are like, half-a-year long. I'd browse through the Gama job posts and see what people are looking for. Still, I can't believe that you'd have any trouble finding a senior position with a masters', as long as you can get through a quick technical interview. I'd consider just cold-emailing some of the studios in your area (particularly the ones with open jobs) and asking them what they are looking for.
posted by fishfucker at 10:13 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Master C++.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:53 AM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Ditto what wongcorgi said. I see a lot of resumes that come through my game studio, including a few programmers trying to make the leap from web dev to game dev. While sound programming, math, and logic skills will count for a lot, most of the web dev candidates don't make it to the first interview because their C++ skills aren't up to speed or can't be demonstrated on their resume. If your current job doesn't require you to code in C++ in a way that you'll be able to show on your resume, consider working on some demo code, either as a game or in some other functional way.

And give some thought to what kind of programming you'd want to do and plan accordingly: gameplay, AI, physics, graphics, tools? They call for different skills and potential employers won't always make the leap from seeing you as one type of programmer to considering you for a different role.
posted by ga$money at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: Yep. Get good at C/C++. Whether you need all the OO nonsense depends on what religion the studio you're looking to work for is. (but at least know a few basic concepts.)

When I look at resumes, I'm more impressed when people have demonstrated they have done actual, nuts-and-bolts things in C. I wouldn't worry too much about it being 'trivial' or not. Just make sure what's there isn't buggy.

In terms of specific skillsets, I would encourage you to know 3d math-- write a simple polygon renderer and/or ray tracer. Write a dinky but at least somewhat entertaining 3d game using DirectX. Make sure you know things like dot products, cross products, matrix transforms, etc. YMMV, but I think _anybody_ working on 3d games should be comfortable in this area.

If you "don't have free time" to hone your skillset now, are you sure this is really what you want to be doing for a living?
posted by blenderfish at 1:25 PM on May 1, 2008

Also, re: ga$money, if a game studio is willing to hire you into a senior position solely because you have a master's, you don't want to work there.
posted by blenderfish at 1:33 PM on May 1, 2008

err; that was re: fishfucker
posted by blenderfish at 1:34 PM on May 1, 2008

Best answer: NETWORK! :) I'll defer back to my comments in this post about how to break in to a new industry.

The key is networking. For you, this will have 2 very clear positive effects.

1.) You'll meet people that are already living your 'dream lifestyle" in terms of career. You can ask them questions not only about technical skills you'll need to become a game developer, but also "day in the life" questions, to really help you determine if this career path is right for you.

2.) You'll be building your social-networking profile which will help you land a job once you've gained the skills necessary and have determined that the career jump is right for you.

So, as others have pointed out, join some of the more well-established game industry web forums and get to know people on there. Find out what the good networking opportunities are, either in a virtual space like the 'net, or in a physical space such as a convention or user-group. Make genuine interpersonal connections with people already living the life you want. Eventually you will gain all of the answers to the questions you have, and you'll also have contacts working in the industry that can give you a leg-up when it comes to landing your dream job.
posted by xotis at 2:10 PM on May 1, 2008

Yeah, after i posted that I thought, huh .. that could be inaccurate, because a lot of the jobs I've seen ask for title credits and job experience. thanks for setting me straight!
posted by fishfucker at 6:12 PM on May 1, 2008

Response by poster: Excellent, thanks for the input everyone.

If you "don't have free time" to hone your skillset now, are you sure this is really what you want to be doing for a living?

Sorry, I was a little unclear. I meant to convey that my time for this is a bit inconsistent as to avoid suggestions like, "{Serious Mod Project} always needs volunteers!" Some weeks I'll have a reasonable amount of time for this, other weeks less and so I wanted to avoid suggestions that involve a minimum level of commitment.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:51 AM on May 2, 2008

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