It took a year to do - Post Mortem

It took a year to do ? Post mortem from the start of my studies to the acquiring of my first industry job.

This isn?t written to toot my own horn or to fulfill my ego. What is written below are the truthful accounts of some of the events that occurred while I spent almost a year studying to get a design related job in the industry, the good and the bad.

The first step ? The completion of school and the choice to self teach.

I finished my high school education late 2005 and to much relief. The stress of cluttered exams and essentially tests that dictate your ongoing availability to study at universities and tafe is always very high.

But I guess I wasn?t as stressed as some people. I had a very fixed and direct idea of what I wanted to move into after high school. I wanted to become a game designer.

[For those still in high school who read this. Take my advice: If you plan to go into education straight after completing high school. For gods sake find a job that you believe you can enjoy and find out what you need to acquire that job. Don?t make the common mistake of so many of ?I?ll think about that later.? As a rule of thumb? have a basic idea by halfway through year 12 and a researched understanding by the end of your exams. If you decide to take a year or a few months off you have some more time.]

So I wanted to get into the game industry in Melbourne. I made it a task to research while in high school what schools were available to me in terms of game design. At that time there where 6 different educational courses on offer ranging from $6000 over two years, too almost $20,000 for two years.

I?ll be honest right now, Money was one of the prime reasons I didn?t delve into these courses or apply to them. Another was that I felt these courses where? to put it politely, diverting from the more practical tools a designer in this industry might need. Family had a lot to do with it as well at the time. My parents where going through some real tight financial issues. And asking them to even assist in paying for my further education was in impossibility. And I?m glad I didn?t ask because it only got worse from there and if I did ask for assistance. I would be curtain it would?ve broken the family economically.

So I opted to teach myself. At the time I told my teachers and I can still remember the insincere comments they made? oh they said I could do it, but in such a fake and dodgy way that I knew they thought this endeavor would lead to nothing.

I?m not a bitter man. But I enjoyed visiting my school this week and making them eat their assumptions.

Starting the study ? A long warm-up

I won?t lie, when it comes to teaching yourself, the start is always the hardest. You tend to procrastinate and muck around and THEN you start to do some work.

For me this translated to a 3 month...or shall we say ?holiday? between November to the end of January, Spending most of my time playing World of Warcraft and generally wasting time.

But, I ordered three books off Amazon.dot.com. One based on teaching you the unreal engine, one based on teaching you scripting and one purely theoretical. My objective now was simple.

I had become obvious due to previous efforts that getting a ?game design? position straight off the bat was an almost impossibility. So rather then mope about that I looked at the next best thing that I could start in and that was level design.

So I got to work on that. Making it an official project and calling it ?Before20? as I was 19 at the time, a little pun I made.

The first month was dedicated to learning the editor. The book I got for it ?Mastering Unreal Technology? was around 700 pages and had about 500 of them dedicated to the editor while another 200 went to learning Maya. I didn?t complete all the chapters in a month but I did learn all the necessities to make a good start [and wrote down 40 pages of condensed notes.]

I recommend this book because from it I essentially learned unreal ED in deep detail and Maya in enough detail to be understandable and useful.

So after a month of study I would spend the next few ongoing months making my level. Not just designing it but creating the meshes and textures for it. On the side of this if I got tired of making so many meshes in Maya I would write some more theoretical documents like ?What is fun?? and ?My favorite game?

As always I uploaded my work to the sumea website to showcase people my progression and passion.

Ups and Downs ?

In the last 12 months I?ve had some highs and lows. Usually the big high followed by a deep low. This is mainly due to applications and unsuccessful interviews with studios.

People tell you not to bet your hopes on something. And usually the case is that you don?t or at least try your best not to. But none the less even when you bet nothing on an interview you still feel very low with that knowledge that regardless of how much you put in and how much you tried, that you?re not good enough.

These downs do lead to bursts of depression. People who tell you they automatically bounce back, after being rejected from an interview and more so not being told why, are possibility one of the world's biggest lairs.

I?ve yet to find someone who feels no sadness over failing something. It's part of our nature to strive and succeed.

However; while it would take time, it never took me more then a week to bounce back and start working on my folio and self teaching once more. One time it even took me just one day to go from disappointed depression to striving once more.

Failure is hard on us, but it's hardly a long term thing in this context.

Near the end, the last few months ?

I learned an important thing from making that level that encompassed my own textures and meshes. There is a very good reason why large-scale games are made up of 70-150 people working on them. Trying to take on to many different development aspects was a foolish choice on my behalf. But it gave me a valuable lesion, which I don?t think all will learn. I now know the appreciation of just how much time the most simple of art assets can take.

Which this in mind and my birthday a few days passed I decided it was time to change my direction. I started to focus on purely the design and assembly of levels. This was demonstrated in the Unreal2004 level ?Two Miners?, also taking the time to create a ?level design document? to the best of my abilities.

It was these two assets that I showcased to Blue Tongue at my job interview. The job I was successful in obtaining.

Moving onwards ?

While it is true that I now have that job that I have been for so long working for. It must be reminded that the hardest is yet to come.

I may have gotten the job. But that doesn?t mean by any means that it's securely mine. Now I must retain it.

I?m not totally sure what to expect when I walk in on the 20th, whether it's going to be easy or a difficult challenge. This I guess we?ll just have to wait and see.

I?m trying to take steps to prepare myself best for the day. Been given 2 weeks between now and coming in I?m taking that time to learn up on the basic principles of programming. Using a book on Python, My objective is simply to cover as much as I can to make me a more rounded designer.

I want to keep this job through providing excellent service and maintaining a friendly and positive attitude. I don?t intend to suck up or weasel my way around the joint; that is not how I operate and conduct myself.

So, it has been a very long year, filled with a lot of challenges, obstacles and even some very depressing moments. But I?m happy to say that I got what I wanted by doing it the way I wanted to. It took a lot of will power.

So, all cylinders on high and full speed ahead!

davidcoen's picture

wellcome to the roller coaster, please keep yoour arms inside the carrage at all times

Jackydablunt's picture

Yeah, heh, now comes the hard part :)

Good for you man, I know how long you've been trying for this and its greatly deserved. Yeah the worst thing you can do now is suck up or weasel around, because once you start, you'll never stop, if you become merely a "Yes Man" then you'll never become anything more. That being said though, humility is one of the best attributes. I'd say over the last four years about 80% of my work and maybe 98% of my ideas have been thrown out, and thats just normal. Don't get cut or lose your enthusiasm if in these initial stages none of your suggestions get picked up or you waste a day writing. The fact is, is that its Design, and the more ideas and deliveries that are covered, explored, and cut, the better the Design will be, and just because that idea doesn't suit the project at hand, does not mean you wont find a place for it in another context.

You said yourself you've had your eyes opened to how long an art asset takes to create, well thats the tip of the iceberg, and you're only at the very beginning. The most important thing for a Designer to learn I think in the initial stages of their career, and its something I'm still doing, is to get a full grasp on whats feasable, what's not, and where you can afford to push the boundaries. Make friends with as many in the company as you can (that will come anyway) so that if you want to find out the best way to do something in Art or Code you can ask them.

And if you find you don't know something or you need help, even if it is something rather embarassing like simple comp operation that any normal PC user would know, just look at them and say so, because thats the way you'll learn. I didn't do uni either, I taught myself, and because of this there are a lot of little tediums here and there that I've missed out on. I've spoken a few times on this forum about my opinions on certain personality types you find in the industry, and although I may have exaggerated and the general concensus was against me, I still hold by thoes thoughts. There will be some people that will just will not give you the time of day solely because you didn't go to uni or you don't know this or that. They'll condascend, they'll talk over your ideas and just flat out insult you in front of anyone and everyone. But I'll tell you what, these people are just as much an asset to your development as the positive people, and you should acknowledge them just as much.

If there are any staff members that piss you off, don't get depressed or angry or butt heads, even if they put you down in front of others (happened to me plenty of times). The fact is, they're just Pratts, and most people in the office will know that already. Their actions make no difference to your's so just sit back, take the hit, and get one back by analysing their actions, refining what it is they're doing wrong, and learn that as a way not to do it.

It wont stop there either, when it comes the time to leave the first job you'll get the same crap again in the next but you'll be far more ready for it, and you'll be well aware of the fact that Games Industry people are just people, no more, no less.

More than likely, you're gonna have an awesome time there man, THQ is probably the best if any place for an entry level to begin, you'll probably learn more in the first year than I've been able to teach myself in the last four. But if there are times where you do feel down and you're not enjoying it, that's okay too, because I know that with my own life my greatest moments have been my failures and my worst decisions, because they have made me the guy I am proud to be.

If you need any help with anything in your initil stages, let me know.

Kris's picture

Well done mate. Don't be too worried about the first day, or your first couple of months. I was and still am questioning myself and wondering what I can do to prove I'm worth this position - but if you don't ask those questions then you're likely to become someone who'll end up getting the boot for thinking they're god al'mighty.

You'll learn a lot, this is where it starts to become a lot of fun :)

Brawsome's picture

Hey Caroo,

Taking a year to get in isn't too bad. I took over 2 years, from when I finally decided to seriously get into the industry as a programmer at the end of my 3 year uni degree.

Gettin' a job
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Worse for me was that my family could afford to support me going to uni, but chose not too and said I could go to uni if I could afford to. Which meant getting a job. Luckily there's HECS available or it just wouldn't have been an option (3 year CS/Management degree). So between work (bottleshop, tutoring, exam supervision, admin work) and uni there were only a few hours a week I had to myself... which I used to play games =0).

Where's your demo's?
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When I got out I thought, foolishly, that I could get into the games industry with just my uni demo's and marks. Turns out all the companies wanted experience or game demo's. With pressure from my parents to move out, and my girlfriend already living out of home and wanting me to move in, I had to find work and get on with it. Luckily I managed to get a job developing simulation software for the defence force where I managed to get some programming experience, but still couldn't get an interview with a games company. I even took a massive paycut during this and worked part time in defence and part time as a tester at Torus to try and get a foot in.

Time for demos?
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When the testing work started to dry up I went back to simulation full time and used my meagre 2-3 hours a night to start making some 3D OpenGL demo's and working on a 2D point n click adventure game. I managed to get a few interviews with Blue Tongue and Torus, but wasn't successful. However I kept applying and working on demo's to the point where my girlfriend began giving me signals that her patience was wearing thin (due to the fact that I never had any time).

Alright already! Just stop bugging us, you're in.
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Then finally, over 2 years after I started trying, at 24, Torus gave me a shot as a junior game programmer, where I was starting at the same level as guys in their early 20's and late teens, who had been programming game demos since their early teens (wish I'd started then!). Just quietly, I think Torus were taking a bit of a chance on me, due to my previous tester work, and constant pestering.

Drop in pay, jump in job satisfaction.
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It was a large drop in pay from simulation, which took a bit of getting used to. You really have to leave your ego at the door, but after a few weeks I knew I had made the right decision. Since then I've had the chance to travel to UK to work for Codemasters, and now I'm coming back to work for Tantalus, and am finally going to be on slightly more than I was earning in simulation. Over 2 years after joining the games industry.

Time is precious
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My advice to anyone still at school wanting to get into the industry is to take advantage of the time you have there (oh yes, you have free time than you think) and work towards the area you want to get into with as many demo's as you can, and skip uni if you can, good demonstrable experience counts for more than a bit of paper (and it's cheaper too!). If you don't have the luxury of supportive parents and have to work then it's going to be quite difficult. Managing your time is going to be the most important thing of all so you don't become a burnt out hermit trying to make your demo's. Another alternative is to save up for a year, then work on demo's solid for 3 months, if you don't have anything good by then, take a real look at yourself and decide whether this is the right career for you. Of course if you don't have partner or any friends then you should have plenty of time =0).

And now...
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Unfortunately after a couple of years of programming I'm looking at maybe getting into design. Polishing my existing designs, more demo work and another paycut perhaps? Oh and also convincing the company to lose an experienced programmer for an unexperienced designer (why not promote someone from QA instead?) Don't know if I'll be able to pull it off a second time, should probably just be happy where I am, for once.chameleon2006-11-10 07:23:57

Caroo's picture

Jackydablunt:

As always mate your advice is honest and solid.

I?ve kind of come to expect the fact that there will be personally crashes. But that doesn?t mean I?ll go looking for it. Social wise my number one priority is to make friends. Not find and suss who will be a problem. They come later if at all.

I?m gonna ask questions when I need to but probably not for every little minite detail.

As believe as a ?freshmen? in this industry my goals should be to not only strive to attain my employed studios level of quality and even further. But to also be a friendly and approachable mate.

I don?t consider myself anti-social. There are some types of people that really annoy me. But I doubt I?ll be seeing any of them in a game studio.

Kris:

Thanks for the supporting advice mate. And I totally agree. We should never stop striving to try and be the best we can be. Sure we have some lazy days and get emotional lows just like anyone else. But we should always bounce back and pick up where we left off.

Chameleon:

Thanks mate for taking the time to write out your experiences. I did read it through and it?s always interesting to see how others have gone about the industry. You sound like you?ve had a tough battle as well. But hey. Look at you now. You?re in a small industry being something you consider enjoyable.

My advice to you is if you wanna be a designer. Be a designer. It might take you a while to get that position. But work towards it and who knows. And besides a designer with programming knowledge is always highly regarded I believe.

Good luck with your future endeavors mate.

MoonUnit's picture

Just wanted to say thanks for sharing, its allways great to hear of another persons experiences. Im amazed at your dedication. Im coming into the second year of my games based uni course and fully aware of how its allmost entirely unesecary, but i like having deadlines and being in this kind of enviroment (well, most of the time). I taught myself a lot of software applications throughout highschool and still seem to self teach more then any lecturer is actually pushing me forward (but that might be my course). I had to chuckle at the bit about the dissatisfaction from highschool teachers, my god i understand. "You want to do what? oh..." You certainly dont find this profession in any of the recommended course guide books.

Best of luck with the new job.

Jackydablunt's picture

I hope everything's going well there Chris, I'm sure it is, let us know sometime.

Moonunit, don't think for a second the course you're doing is a waste of time. Even if only for the little crap things like learning Project and Excel, and Project planning, game engine restrictions, when to create and when to work, and things like that, courses are very helpful. You said yourself you like the deadlines and things, well learning that alone is gold.

The most important thing I think however is the contacts you make in courses. You're in there with a group of people all sharing the same goal, and potentially achieving it. You never know when in two years time some guy's gonna know a guy who knows a guy, and so on. Others may disagree but in such a tighly knit industry I think the contacts are the key.

Yeah games are creative things, and I don't know what field your focus is, but of the creative industries it'd have to be one of the more restrictive. It's dead easy to come up with "a great idea for a game" but it doesn't make it feasable, and you may need to redeliver aspects of that idea in a round about way. Courses (I at least assume) will teach you the templates and restrictions, they'll teach you the rules, and the single best way in my op to bend the rules is to learn them first.

Caroo's picture

Just posting to say that i'm having a really great time and that i havn't forgot about sumea. I'll post something more detailed over the weekend. I'm still somewhat adjusting to full time work hours XD!!!