Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Attack of the Cell Phones

Don't forget cell phone games as a way to break into the industry. They may not be the latest and greatest, but since cell phone technology is limited, you'll have a chance to work on old-school games, like side scrollers and puzzle games. Personally, I think those genres are being forgotten too quickly in the next-gen, "it's gotta be 3D" console world, but perhaps I'm just getting old. :-)

Another bonus of the less complicated technology is that the jobs usually don't require expert assembly knowledge, or even prior industry experience. Unfortunately I don't know many people who have worked on cell phone games, so I can't say whether the culture is more or less insane than in the more traditional studios. It's just one more opportunity to keep in mind.

Happy New Year!

May 2005 bring you the best job you've ever had.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

GDC: A good place to job hunt?

Another job search possibility is if you can make your way to the annual Game Developers' Conference which is coming up in March. There are booths to visit, tutorials, lectures and talks to listen in on, all about making games. There's even a mini-job fair, and most companies will take resumes. Cool, right? Well, as you might expect, it's going to cost you. If you just want to wander around and look at the exhibits, it's about $150, which doesn't include finding somewhere to stay, and getting yourself to California. If you want to go to the lectures and other events, it'll cost you at least $500. If you look at it as an investment in your future, though, it's probably worth it. :-)

Another down side is that the conference is definitely geared towards developers, not consumers. If you want to have fun and see the latest games, you're better off going to E3. The GDC is all about the latest code editors, hardware and the like. There are quite a few games on display, and plenty of cool new products, but it's more about function than fun.

On a personal note, I went to the GDC my senior year of college, and gave out my resume to anyone who would accept it. When they found out I didn't have any game experience, though, most didn't give me a second look. Only two companies I talked to there followed up, neither of which led to a job, so for me it wasn't really worth it. If I could have afforded the conference events, though, I might have felt a little different.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Big Dogs vs Small Dogs

Is it better to work for a big studio or a small studio when starting out? That's a tough call.

Big studios give you job stability, are more likely to be working on a game you've heard of and like, and they're more likely to hire people without experience in the gaming industry. Unfortunately, big name studios are also more likely to work you to death. Everybody knows their name, everybody wants a job, and if they burn you out, they have a steady stream of replacements. Plus, if you have a really cool idea for a feature, there's less of a chance someone will listen to you.

Small studios usually let you work on a more significant portion of the game, and they're more likely to let you give creative input. They're often looking for extra help, but you'll have a tough time convincing them you can do the job if you haven't shipped any games yet. If they're working on a brand new title, you might get to make the next killer app, but of course it could also tank. Look at the games they'll be releasing soon. Do they have their next project lined up, or is everything riding on the current one? If you don't have a family to support, and you don't mind looking for a job again when the project is over, this might not be a concern for you.

With any studio, be careful if they make a game you really love, but also make games you hate. Even if they promise you'll be working on a particular game, be wary. Once you're hired, they might stick you on
"Emily's Extreme Tea Party." :-)

The important thing to keep in mind here is: don't rule any company out automatically.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Job Listings

A couple resources for your search, while I'm thinking about it:

Gamasutra - Hands down the best. Really great articles, tons of job listings updated constantly, and a good source for gaming industry news. If you haven't bookmarked this site, you should.

Monster - Sure, you've been to Monster, but did you know there are quite a few game companies that post there? It's a really good place to look if you'd like a job making Flash games or games for cell phones.

GameJobs - I never had much luck with GameJobs; their listings tend to get out of date pretty fast. But since game jobs are all they do, it's certainly worth looking at.

GameDev.net - GameDev.net has a lot of great information, and a decent set of job listings.

That's just off the top of my head; I may come up with more later.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Testing the Waters

Another excellent way to gain experience is through an internship. That's right, you'd be surprised at how many game companies offer internships. They don't advertise them, they don't pay well, and they may require that you already live nearby, but they do exist. Lots of them. Visit the web sites of your favorite studios, and send out some inquiries. Many company sites have an easy to find "Jobs" or "Employment" link off the main page, but if not you can usually find it under "Corporate." There should be a generic human resources (HR) e-mail address somewhere that you can write to.

Now I'm going to give you what could be the most important advice I have to give:

You will be ignored. Do not give up.

I don't mean you're going to get an auto-reply rejection letter. You aren't going to hear anything, at all, from most of the companies you write to. You'll start to wonder if your e-mail is even working. It may be as bad as only receiving one reply out of a hundred e-mails, and that one will probably be a rejection.
Doesn't seem very professional, does it? Well, that's just how it goes. Don't let it get to you. They just don't know you yet. Keep trying, and you will find someone who's interested.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Beating the Catch-22

Everyone knows, "you can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without a job." The first thing most game companies want to know is, "How many games have you shipped?" and when you say "none," you've almost lost them. But that doesn't mean you can't have experience.

Thanks to the awesome power of the internet, you can make a game right from home. There are all kinds of free editors, compilers, linkers, and everything else you need to write your own program. Don't know how to write applications in Windows? There's a ton of sample code out there to learn from. Don't worry if you have no artistic skills. Gameplay is gameplay, whether it's with pyramids and spheres, or people and guns. If you want to really be impressive, get some of your more artistic friends to help out with the models and artwork. Of course, it doesn't have to be fancy, or 3D, or even original. Make the game you want to make, or at least one you know you can make well.

If you don't want to get bogged down in the OS calls (for example, if you know you want to make PS2 games and don't want to learn Windows rendering), grab your favorite game that has editing tools, and make some mods. Stretch the capabilities of the game to their fullest. If you can take a first person shooter and turn it into a puzzle game, that's pretty impressive. Mods are also a great way to show talent if you're an artist, or looking to become a level designer.

When you're all done, the best way to present it is often a web site. Not every company will be willing to accept an executable or video you send, but almost anyone will go to a website and look at screenshots.

In short, be creative! The important traits you're trying to show are: enthusiasm, talent, and your ability to follow things through to the end (but a work-in-progress can still be very impressive).

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Skills to Pay the Bills

Ok, so if you're still with me, on to how to actually land this job. What kind of skills do you need? If you're a programmer, obviously you're going to need to know how to program. Most places will expect you to know C++, though a few are still set in the ways of C. If you've got a degree in Computer Science, they won't be showing you anything you don't already know. And thanks to the crunch times, you'll probably see a lot of code that scares the heck out of you. Experience with assembly is useful, but only if you want that to be your area of expertise. Assembly is usually reserved only for rendering, since that's the bottleneck on most platforms. Assembly on pretty much any machine will do, since you can't exactly run PS2, Xbox, and GameCube code on your own.

3D math is helpful in a few areas, mainly physics and rendering. If you don't want that to be your area of expertise, it's not really necessary.

If you don't have a CS degree, get yourself some books on C++, download a free compiler, and get learning.

Having a specialty is always helpful; it can get you niche jobs that are hard to fill. For example, if you know how to write plugins for Maya, lots of places need that.

For artists, there isn't a whole lot I can tell you. If you're a traditional artist, you'll obviously need to know Photoshop, and if you're a modeler, most places I know of use Maya.

For QA, you need to play lots of games. Lots of games. And you need to know how to break them. If you try hard enough, you can break just about any game - walking through walls and the like. Oh, and you should like doing that, too. :-)