University's tough. You've got an endless amount of coursework and exams to prepare for, you've got to get by on student loans and you're far away from home. You go to university because you want to gain the knowledge you need to start a career in your field - which in my case, is game design. But the road to acquiring a degree has been anything but smooth for me.
Fast forward to my third year of university - I'm averaging the minimum passing mark and these days, anything but a 2:1 or above will make getting a job in this industry rather difficult. However, in this industry, proving you can create and finish a game holds a great amount of weight. So one year later, I've just finished and published my first video game, titled Bug World, which is available on Windows Phone and coming very soon to iOS.
But surely if my grades aren't good, then my game can't be any good? Quite the contrary. Not to blow my own trumpet but I'm extremely proud of my game and when I've watched people play it, there are smiles on their faces and they're laughing and having a good time. What I'm saying is a number mark doesn't always translate to the person's talent. So how did I create a video game whilst studying game design?
On my games design course, we were taught rather niche skills within the practice of game design. Cinematography in games, the business of game development, research methods... none of those skills I was professionally taught really helped me to a great degree when creating Bug World. A lot of the time, university taught me things relating to the Unreal Development Kit, which is all well and good as it's a fantastic game engine. Bug World however, was made with the Unity Engine, which uses Java, C# and Boo as it's codebase. The very foundation of games is its code and it's sad to say I was not taught that at university. I taught myself how to code in C# and create levels in Unity by locking myself in my dorm room and studying online videos made by tech-savvy bloggers, not employed lecturers. I taught myself to rig and animate characters and optimize graphics by staying in my room for entire days, clicking and typing away on my laptop whilst avoiding my university studies.
The thing is, not only did teaching myself actually teach me (arguably) more useful skills for the career I want, but it made me happy. See, the skills I was learning at university did not make me happy. During the development of Bug World, if I had to go into university that day, I dreaded waking up. All I could think was "I can't go into class today, I need to increase Bug World's frame rate on the mobile phone" or "I don't want to go to class today, I want to make a brand new level!". As it happens, I loved creating Bug World. I woke up every day, brewed myself a cup of coffee and relished the challenges I faced every day when creating it. And as it happens, I despised going into university. I dragged myself out of bed every day, bought an energy drink from the garage on the way and slogged my way into class. I think being intellectually stimulated and challenged through my own choice, made me happy.
I'm originally from Jersey, an overseas British island so my tuition fees are rather expensive. My student loan was adequate, just enough to get me through a term with a good weekly budget. A lot of what we hear in the games industry nowadays relates to development costs, and Kickstarter funding. Whilst I'm sure bigger games require more funding, I'll tell you the exact cost of creating Bug World. £80. The direct development cost of Bug World was £80 - and that was only to pay for my Windows developer account and iOS developer account. I used free software wherever I could - a little bit of research shows that there are so many free programs and alternative solutions for creating content. Blender, GIMP, Unity Free, MonoDevelop - the free alternatives are there and I spent one year creating Bug World. I borrowed my partner's mobile phone for testing purposes, I borrowed my friends MacBook for iOS testing, I used some free, open-source assets, I created the soundtrack using my laptop's built in microphone, my instruments I already had and a free, open-source DAW called Audacity. Money was not an issue.
Whilst my grades may not be stellar, I like to think there is value in creating a game by yourself with no budget. And it's a fairly large game (for a mobile platform) at that. It is an adventure platformer with action and puzzle elements. It features twenty five levels across five different worlds - all of which feel a little different to play from the last. It features a story told through beautifully hand drawn comics. It has an entirely original soundtrack. I'm more proud of it than any body of work I've created for the university. And near the end of the development for Bug World, my grades actually increased by about 25%. So I like to think I've become a good game developer from my own venture. And hopefully, that should give employers a good reason to look at me. I have had friends in my previous classes who have been and gone, and now are working for some of the big game developers in Britain. I want a career in this incredible industry and Bug World is how I wanted to get my foot in the door.
The overarching theme of this article is hope. When you're the worst ranked student in your class, there is still hope. I love creating video games. They are the perfect expression of freedom, of creativity and technicality. And I just love it. I don't want a number my university gives me to define me - I want the body of work I've done on my own to define me. Let my games do the talking for me, instead of my degree. At the time of writing this, no other current student has created and published a video game of their own (either on their own or part of a team). Hopefully that puts me higher up the pecking order to get a job in the industry I've grown to love. Relying on hope has never let me down in my life so far, and I don't think it ever will.
For those who are interested, please feel free to check out my video game Bug World. It is available on the Windows Phone Store (link below) and it is coming to iOS very soon. Thank you for reading.
My Website: http://ac130productions.webs.com/bug-world