Squeezing into the game dev industry

A real life tale of how you can go from broke student to Unity3d dev

Chances are that if you are a student, unemployed, or at a job you aren’t very passionate about- sitting in a dorm somewhere or at home, broke poor, with cans of ramen noodles piled on the floor, wondering if it really is possible to get that “dream job” in the world of game development. I personally was terrified, as a kid, of being stuck in some boring dead-end job. The prospect seemed just so abominable – we spend the majority of our lives asleep and at work, so I decided early on that instead of aiming “for the cash” – some rich mans job like a stock broker or accountant, which I envisioned as dreadfully boring, I’d go all out and do something that I really liked, no matter what it took. Here is my personal account of how I was able to squeeze into the world of game dev starting out as a student-I am now wielding a dual-position as a Unity3d Developer and Animator.
I’ve had many friends with “cool ideas”, as they said, for cartoons and games. However, a “cool idea” is worthless without someone to turn it into reality. I’ve had plenty of ideas of my own, which I’ve used. I’ve found it amazing that people would be so enthusiastic about their “ideas”, yet when push came to shove most would not even half-heartedly attempt creating something. I soon learned to politely ignore such folk. Luckily, when it comes to real game dev in the world of people for which game dev is work, similar folk tend to arise, only this time their ideas are hugely valued, assuming they can pay the budget of a game, which is usually sized in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is the life.
When it comes to educating yourself and becoming competent in game development, the education system alone won’t suffice. There are some game development schools popping up here and there, and I’m sure many do a fine service of educating new game developers. However, those are not a requirement, and chances are you are not going to such a school, and are either a student, jobless, or at a job that you aren’t really interested in – it is completely possible to train yourself under such circumstances – Indeed, I am just such an example. It does help, of course, if your formal education has at least something relevant- computer programming, animation and art are a good example of the skills required. However, only you can’t really train yourself. Luckily, the internet is full of amazing software and tutorials on how to use said software: no longer do you have to go to some “facility” to learn, all you need is a non-ancient pc with an internet connection, and some free time.

I was first inspired to take this path when a computer science teacher in 7th grade showed me how to animate a square and make it change its position in Macromedia Flash (now Adobe Flash) – from then on I was hooked. I started making all sorts of cartoons and later, interactive games in Flash, and consider it amazing for learning to create games, since you can draw a squiggle and have it move within moments through either keyframed animation or through code. Through the years, I’ve spent whatever energy I had during my free time working on personal projects, at first 2D animations and games in Flash, and later 3D animations in 3Ds Max, followed by 3D games in Ogre3D and Unity3D. While I love the software I use, I do not mean to suggest that you yourself should use exactly the ones mentioned above – for each piece of software that I mentioned, there are probably half a dozen or more alternatives which are just as good – what matters is that you enjoy making stuff in it and that it “clicks” for you.
Start simple: a running cliché in game development forums is of newbie users attempting to create “This next big MMORPG with FPS elements, space travel, interplanetary diplomacy, upgradeable structures, etc” – I made this one up, but the types of posts you see can be very similar. What usually happens is that such people first think they can do everything and that their great idea will inspire everyone to work for them for free. These projects usually attract similarly inexperienced people, assuming they are not closed by the moderators due to the mocking of other users, and they go on for a bit, producing perhaps some nice art assets and some rudimentary game mechanics – and then suddenly we never hear from them ever again. This happens over and over, so much so that experienced users can usually spot such projects at a glance.
Before joining a team or doing a complicated project, do something real simple: create a game like pong, or something equally rudimentary. It may not seem as impressive, but you’ll learn a surprisingly great deal. Indeed, the most important thing you’ll learn will be what you can actually do and what you still can’t, and how long it will take you to do something. Once you become more confident, start increasing the complexity of the things you create and of the tools you use, but don’t jump into the deep end too quickly, since a finished simple project is worth infinitely more than an unfinished cooler project.

Creating games for yourself for fun is possibly the surest ticket into the game dev world – a finished simple game that your job interviewer can play is worth exponentially more than a resume that says you have studied all of these programming languages and received good grades. While hiring practices differ for different companies, I have a much higher respect for companies that see what a person is actually capable of through their finished works, rather than a degree or two: I’ve heard a story at my company of how a person was accepted for a test period after answering every possible programming theory question the interviewer could throw at him, and being able to describe even the more obscure functions in a programming language – indeed the interviewer was so amused he kept on throwing more and more obscure stuff at him just for fun, all of which was answered. However, when things came to the point of doing actual work, there was nothing there: while completely knowledgeable on the theory, the person was totally incompetent as a game development programmer. Making simple games for yourself as a hobby will help you avoid this fate and teach you more than any education system ever could (unless it specifically asks you to create simple games, in which case you must be in a very awesome school or university).
Apart from liking the “idea” of being a game developer, ask yourself if you like the process itself: creating a new and interactive experience for users and seeing every possible way it could have turned out, all of the possibilities and the like while creating a game is infinitely more rewarding to me than meerly playing a game, where you are stimulated for a bit but receive no lasting sense of accomplishment. Game Development should be fun, enjoyable and rewarding overall, and if it’s not then you are probably doing it wrong. Sure, each game can have its boring and frustrating parts of development, but those should be eclipsed by the overall excitement of creating it, and be seen as nothing but a momentary setback. Finding the right job where this is the case is extremely important, and I’d pick a job where things are generally fun and rewarding, and which allows me to express my creativity over a job, even in the game dev sector, that pays more but where the atmosphere does not allow you to fully enjoy the process of creating games. Luckily, I’m in just such a job.
The moral is this: these days’ people first look at what jobs provide money, and then learn the needed skills accordingly. This is, to the bemusement of my friends, many of whom don’t even have jobs, have unsatisfying or boring jobs, or low-paying jobs, is exactly the opposite of what I did: I learnt those skills which I deemed enjoyable, rewarding and fun, and I guessed that if I was sufficiently competent in those skills, eventually I’d find a job that corresponded to my what I liked doing and in what I was good at. Luckily, I was correct. I now work at Melior Games which is the awesomest place to be - we get our own armchairs, pc's/macs and get to make games all day! yay!



Yury Nikshich,
Unity3d Developer at Melior Games

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