By Nicole Canovas
As a Fine Art major, there were obviously many elements that stood out to me when I considered a game developing internship at Mega Cat Studios. I’d get to see the art and animation process, I’d get to learn how music is chosen and implemented into the game, and, my favorite part: I’d get to witness the birth of the stories that would eventually turn into games! After doing some background research I discovered that they were into making retro-looking games- another huge plus for me, being a SNES junkie. So far, at about a month or so in, I think I’ve gathered enough intel to provide a sort of Intern Survival Guide for other prospective gaming interns.
1) OWN YOUR NOOB STATUS
Now, here’s where a distinction should be made. Experience wise, I’ve had years of practice at the different components that go into making games, such as art and creative writing and actually playing games; but as far as combining everything into creating a game? In that respect, I have zero experience. That’s an important thing to remember going into any internship- arguably everyone around you will be more knowledgeable than you in their particular craft. And that’s more than okay- it’s expected. If you knew as much as them, you wouldn’t just be an intern! So don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand something (which will happen a lot), because odds are someone will rattle off a task to you, forgetting that you might not understand what they mean. They’re used to constantly discussing their progress with people that DO know what they mean, so once in a while you might have to ask for things to be translated into laysman’s terms.
Now, this is NOT to say that you should use your intern status as an excuse. Ask the questions, sure- but take notes and learn from them so you don’t have to keep asking. This is a learning experience, after all.
2) THERE ARE MANY COOKS IN THE KITCHEN
There are SO many pieces that fit into the final product when it comes to making games. When I was first getting to know everyone, I remember reading what everyone did in their Slack profiles. It read something like “Brendan- graphics. Hari- graphics. Frank- graphics. Andrew- graphics.” I soon learned why this was necessary.
I’d start writing an article for Mega Cat about Viking Democracy, a game they’re developing. Every so often I’d have a question about one of the levels, and I’d have to reach out to the graphics team for clarification. I’d have about a 1 in 4 shot of asking the right person. A lot of the time, I’d ask one of the guys, and they’d explain that they didn’t work on that level, so they didn’t know the answer, and to ask *insert other graphics guy here*. Everyone has their jobs to do, and then once they’re finished, all the pieces are put into place. So say I wanted to know more about the Chicken suit power-up. I’d have to find out what level that’s on, and who worked on that level, which would then lead me to answers. Like a fun little maze!
3) BE PREPARED TO BE SURPRISED
Is that an oxymoron? Whatever, it’s true. James, the Mega Cat founder, asked me if I wanted to help out with game designing docs, and I full on thought he had messaged me by mistake. I may have even done a double-take and checked if there was someone else behind me had I not been alone at the time. Be prepared to have new experiences and opportunities offered to you, and don’t be afraid to take them! What’s the worst that can happen? Someone can say “That idea is stupid,” to which you obviously respond to by saying “No YOU’RE stupid!” and sticking your tongue out at them. Just kidding. That’s not professional.
4) USE THE WEIRD PART OF YOUR BRAIN THAT YOU USUALLY SHUSH
I was super shy about giving ideas for game modes and plots at first, because I have a very… unique sense of humor. I once very tentatively suggested a “hooves mode,” where the characters feet turn to hooves, and they lose traction like Bambi walking on ice. It was mostly a joke, to be honest, but then Hari followed it up with the “Kitten Mittens” commercial from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia! I also remember a conversation with James about designing game characters where he said he preferred if the characters weren’t humans, and that their weapons were unusual, like slices of pizza. These were the weirdo ideas that I’d always had tucked away in the back of my mind, practically given permission to come on out!
5) RELY ON YOUR OWN GAMING EXPERIENCE
When coming up with game details think back to your favorite games and analyze why you liked them. You are the average consumer, the target audience; so your opinion is most likely shared by many others. Why did you connect so much with that one character? Why was that particular level your favorite to play? How can you integrate the most addicting and endearing aspects of your favorite games and integrate them into a completely new game? You can judge what might work and what might not work by putting yourself in the player’s shoes. Would I be into this game? If not, what would have to change to MAKE me into this game?
6) DO YOUR RESEARCH (FOLLOW THE WHITE RABBIT)
The indie gaming community is out there, but it’s pretty small. The retro indie gaming community: even smaller. It’s important to be up on what’s out there, though, so scour those Reddit forums. Make Google your friend. Look up YouTube videos and even scan the comments. Grassroot communities aim to grow, so if they’re out there, you can find them. Join them! Engage in them! Learn from their successes and failures, and share that knowledge with your own team.
7) PLAY MORE/DIFFERENT GAMES
Different types of games obviously operate based on different mechanics, so if you plan on helping create new games, it’s only in your best interest to discover these first-hand. At first you may be like “Oh I’ve played all the games in the Kirby franchise, I KNOW how games work.” But that’s just one type of game. Play beat-em-ups (my personal favorites). Play platformers. Play RPG’s. Play retro games, and play new games too for ideas. Play car racing games and snowboarding games, if for no other reason than there really aren’t many of them anymore. Add variety to your gamer profile! There’s no such thing as too much gaming experience! Unless you forget to eat. Always eat.
8) DON’T RUSH IT
Some ideas hit you like a brick and you need to write them down ASAP while you still have that flow going. Other times you’ll get the gist of an idea, sort of an outline maybe, and it takes time and coaxing for all the elements to fall into place. It’s worth waiting for the perfect idea than running with one that you aren’t truly confident in. You’ll discover where things don’t add up soon enough, and you’ll have to start from scratch! Okay maybe not completely from scratch, but some parts might have to be completely reconfigured! When you get stuck, just let what you do have simmer for a little bit, and I guarantee you’ll wake up from a deep sleep one night shouting “HEDGEHOGS WITH BB GUNS!” and your blockage will be cured.
9) MAKE FRIENDS
It’s not unprofessional to befriend your co-workers. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty much the opposite. These are people that are already doing well for themselves in a field that you’re interested in, so it never hurts to make some allies out on the field. You could realize that you and one of your co-workers are really good at batting ideas back and forth, building up storylines along the way. Music is another passion of mine, and we have someone here at Mega Cat, Mitch, that makes the music for the video games. That’s an invaluable resource to have when you’re at the beginning of your career- someone who already does what you may want to do and can tell you all about it!
10) HAVE FUN
Don’t overdo it trying to impress everyone. I mean yeah, try to impress everyone, but don’t stress over it too much. The point of an internship is to learn and grow your skillset, so just focus on doing that. Trying to go above and beyond what’s asked of you every time you get a task will burn you out fast, and you might not enjoy the ride. Come on, you’re making VIDEO GAMES! How cool is that!? You could think of the basis for a game that millions of people will one day enjoy. And you get to add a little bit of yourself in it! I’m working on a game doc right now that includes Punk music and bunnies, 2 of my favorite things. Fully enjoy every minute you get, and take full advantage of every opportunity presented. You may end up getting hired, but you might not- so soak it all in while it’s happening!