Name: Akira Yamaoka
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IV. Breaking In as a Designer
Question: How would someone go about becoming a game designer today? What advice would you give an aspiring designer? What skills or personality traits are ideal for the job?
Avellone:Here's some general advice on getting into design from Obsidian Entertainment. Note that this may have been used in past interviews, but it's our response, because we get this question a lot:
First off, if you're interested in story and world creation, I would recommend trying to get established in the pen-and-paper game industry or in books or novels. Game design requires a love of game mechanics, lists, and tons upon tons of rule sets. If you're interested in computer game designing, then here's what we look for/what you should focus on:
1. A love of RPGs.
2. A critical eye for RPGs(and, preferably, other games as well), including feel, interface, pacing, weapon balance, level design, and so on. Play a lot of them, and be able to tell what you like and don't about each game. The more-specific, the better.
3. Good design skills. Not only do you notice the elements mentioned above, but you can also implement them well. Know and recognize game clichés.
4. Good writing skills.When not actually arguing and throwing feces at each other through our cage bars, a large portion of a game designer's job is design documentation or writing 5,000 e-mails. That means you need good technical writing skills and an ability to organize your thoughts. You need to be able to pass a document off to audio, QA, marketing, the programming staff, and an artist, and they should be able to find out whatever information they need just by looking at the document.
If you want to prep for a job in the game design field, I'd suggest the following:
"Persistence and enthusiasm mean a lot in the game industry. So if you get knocked down once, just get back up and try again. You'll get noticed." -- Chris Avellone 1. Play a lot of games, and analyze what you like and don't like about them. If you interview for a game company, that'll always be part of the interview questions. And having smart answers ready beforehand helps them determine if you'll be a good developer or not.
2. You should play a lot of games, but just as importantly, watch a lot of other people play games. Pay attention to how the game is played, especially the interface and menus and the means by which the player interacts with the game. When you do, you'll quickly start seeing what irritates players and what they enjoy. Keep a running log in your head of successful ideas used in games, and what made them work.
3. If a game comes with level or map editors, play around with them. Try out levels or scenarios with your friends, and use that as an acid test for your work. There are tons of editors out there, like the level editors for Warcraft, Arcanum, Neverwinter Nights, or any others you can get your hands on. Put your levels or mods up on the net, get critiques, and try to make a name for yourself as a good level or map designer before you even go to a game company. It helps when the interviewer's already seen your work on the Internet and has perhaps even played one of your levels.
4. Persistence and enthusiasm mean a lot in the game industry. So if you get knocked down once, just get back up and try again. You'll get noticed.
5. If you're looking for college classes to take, I'd suggest some programming courses and creative writing courses, maybe a little bit of art, and any classes that deal with interface design or layout for computer programs. Learn how to write critically and technically, and become familiar with Microsoft Word. Programming classes are a bonus, because they help designers understand how computers "think," and they give them better avenues of communication with programmers in general.
6. Game development is a very team-oriented process, so we'd also recommend taking as many college classes as possible that reinforce teamwork and communication (or, if not in college, finding the opportunity to work with teams). If you have difficulty with working in teams or with communication, your job in game development will end up being more difficult for both you and the people you work with.
7. A lot of designers did not start out as designers. If you want a door into the game industry, try manual writing, Web design, quality assurance, or any of a bunch of other jobs in the game industry. Make your interest in becoming a designer known, and if you have the skills, somebody should give you a chance.
Then there's the application process. A lot of this information you can find on the Web. But it can't hurt to stress it a little more:
1. Always include a cover letter with your résumé.
"Get a job in quality assurance. Unlike most industries, the gaming equivalent of "starting in the mailroom" actually puts you in the thick of the action." -- Ken Levine
2. Spellcheck and proofread anything you submit. Ask your friends to look over your cover letter and résumé, too. Obsidian has rejected numerous applicants because they don't proof their work. In the game industry, that kind of attitude creates bugs and makes people mad.
3. Research the companyto which you are applying. If possible, address your cover letter to the specific person who will be reading it. Customize your resume and cover letter to suit that company and the position to which you are applying. You don't have to know everything about the company, but know enough so you speak intelligently about what they do and why you're interested.
4. Carefully read and follow the company's submission criteria.For example, if they ask for a writing sample, be sure to include one. Again, we have rejected numerous applicants because they can't follow directions, which, again, is a bad thing in game development, since it causes bugs and makes people mad.
5. Touch base with your references before you give their contact information out. Sometimes relationships sour or dim with perspective. Or, in some cases, [references] aren't even there anymore.
Bleszinski: You need to understand most of the disciplines that are involved. You need to be an avid game player. You need to be a big picture guy, as far as paying attention to pop culture and relationships, and life, in general. Real life experience does make you a better game designer. If you go skydiving or scuba diving that will make you a better game designer.
But you also need to put yourself in the right position to get a design job. If you're working as a programmer on a project and your lead designer is expecting you to work with him on coding systems, then talk with him about the design. Show others that you have a thirst to get into design. If that lead designer quits, then you'll be in a good position.
"The skill to communicate with others is very valuable, because you have to cooperate with a lot of people to finish a project." -- Akira Yamaoka Understand that it's also your job to sell your creative vision. It's not just enough to come up with it. You're the one who's going to be on the press tour. You're the one standing on stage with an executive at E3 trying to sell what you made. It's a multifaceted job.
The ideal traits include a good balance between logic and creativity. Be artistic and open minded. Be focused. Charisma doesn't hurt either, because you're selling the game to your team members. If they buy into your vision, they'll work hard and try to help you make that vision a reality.
Levine: I wouldn't count on lucking out like I did. The way into game development is very clear, however: QA. Get a job in quality assurance. Unlike most industries, the gaming equivalent of "starting in the mailroom" actually puts you in the thick of the action. There is no better way to get an understanding of what makes games tick. There's no better place to observe design elements that read brilliantly on paper but turn into crap when they hit the screen (which happens more often than not). And there's no better place to figure out how to fix those design elements when everything goes pear-shaped.
In terms of skills and personality, I'd suggest the following:
Learn how to write a document. I generally structure all my docs in a reverse-pyramid style. I start at the top, with a single sentence: "Freedom Force is a real-time heroic tactical RPG which allows players to grow and manage their own team of superpowered heroes." Then I expand that thought out to a paragraph. Then a page. Then two pages. And so on. Write a document assuming that no one cares what you have to say. The reader is not in your head. They will not come to you. You have to bring it to them. How? Be clear. Be concise. Be entertaining. Keep your concepts based on things they understand and relate to. And, for God's sake, watch those proper nouns. Nobody ever liked a game design document because the designer had worked out the family tree of the villain back 27 generations.
And play a lot of games. Even bad ones. In fact, especially the bad ones. If you can't find one useful idea from every game you play, you're not looking hard enough.
Yamaoka: The skill to communicate with others is very valuable, because you have to cooperate with a lot of people to finish a project. Creators often have egos that they need to control in order to go in the same direction with the team. Also, being aware of content on other media is helpful as a game creator.
Quoted from: Gamespot