Level I: Dawn of the First Week
When I tell other people that I’m going to game school, I’m met with one of three responses. The first is rather a rather straight forward: “What’s that like?” The more interesting ones range from some form “So what do you do there” to “Why?” Beyond my personal explanations in a previous post, I didn’t really have a why other than it’s what I wanted to do. Likewise, I had no idea what school for game design was going to be like. After a week, I feel comfortable answering the latter two questions in a limited capacity.
It turns out there is a fantastic “why” someone would want to attend a school for game design. It’s the same reason why someone would want to attend Hogwarts, it’s magical. That and it creates a direct in to an industry that is notoriously difficult for individuals to break into. This is where I believe that most value will come out of my program. Within a week of being here I was having a one on one conversation with an executive over at Gearbox discussing the finer details of design decisions. That kind of ability, to be connected to the industry, is in and of itself worth a small fortune. That it comes freely as part of my program (well “free” as in included with tuition) is a godsend. My response to why, henceforth, is going to be met with “industry fast track.”
Now as to what do I do here, well everything. Like I said, it’s Hogwarts. And like Hogwarts, we get trained in just about every aspect of our discipline. Our program is divided into several “Tracks” not too different from houses. The artists hang out in their Gryffindor tower bravely facing creative decisions the rest of us. The programs, Slytherins naturally, approach things from a cunning and efficient perspective. Erstwhile, the producers (my track) remains paragons of design. We research and create ideas (obviously Ravenclaws). Within the production track, we are divided into 4 subdisciplines: Level Design, Management, Game Design, and Technical design (my specialty). As a tech design I serve as a hybrid programmer and designer, able to build out systems and code where needed. Classes are built out around these tracks. Even our workspace is segregated, all of us were assigned a desk and laptop by section, producers in the far corner, artists with the fun towers, and the few programmers in our cohort huddled across the wall. It’s a lovely open space with a lot of vibrant nerd décor including a giant cardboard tracer.
The first week went by in a blur. I remember coming in Monday morning to my desk, settling in with emails and such before heading to our first class. We discussed our expectations of the industry vs. the reality most of our professors have had. The class is geared for every track to gain a better understanding of what it’s going to be like living life as a game developer from a practical perspective. As a pie in the sky dreamer, it’s a welcomed slap of reality. Next came game design I or as I like to call it so far, how to hack creativity. Our professor could easily sell this material for a small fortune among startup minded entrepreneurs. I consider myself fortunate to have the ability to sit in on such a course. The next class was Tuesday morning, technical design I or coding in c# and unity. The material speaks for itself. We’re also engaged in projects, the dominant focus of our lives is Rapid Prototype Production or “Build a game in two weeks with strangers, then do it again with new strangers.”
The prospect of such a class sounds daunting considering every group project in undergrad felt like pulling a dogsled while the hounds rested in the sled. However, I’ve yet to meet a person in this program I dislike. Every single individual here, from the artists to the programs, is a brilliant and driven individual. Each of my peers reminds me of the other big advantage of such a program, the peer network. I could gush for pages about how my new found friends are inspiring and fun and quirky in their own way. Even those who have never coded in their lives, those with English degree to whom this remains new, and those who have been building games since they were 10, each of them has been aggressively finding their lane and playing to their strengths. They all want to be here and I cannot stress my great fortune to be in the company of so many talented and bright individuals.
Of course it wouldn’t be much of a game school if there wasn’t time for fun and games ourselves. In the time we’ve been here, I’ve found myself bonding over games of Smash Bros and Crawl, I’ve joined much better Overwatch players in non-ranked matches, and I’ve lost track of how many games of Magic the Gathering I’ve engaged in. It’s a nerd paradise. So to answer why and what: it’s my people and we have a great time building entertainment for other people.