My name's Adrian Sandoval. I'm 21 and currently attending Camden County College in Blackwood, New Jersey for a major in Game Design and Development. My ambition was to always be a part of the game industry, but it wasn't until my decision to attend Camden that I had settled on becoming a full fledged game designer and writer within the field. I live together with two other friends in an apartment complex across the street from the school, and have been attending for 2 years now. We are currently in Game Design 3.
It's Tuesday morning, and I'm getting ready for my first class. Game Design isn't until later that night, but that just means there are preparations to be done. I'm in Game Design 3, which means I'm on a team with 9 other people. Over the course of a year, we've been given the task to design our own game using the Torque engine from Garage Games. We all have our individual jobs, and I share the game designer moniker with another person. We're starting to begin the actual development of the game, so my job is now to make sure the team knows what they are doing, and that their work is within the game's original vision. That means I have to keep in contact with each member of the team, see what they are doing, and let them know what I think and what changes could be made. This leads me to the first important mission of the day: checking my email.
Aside from my personal letters and such, my main task is to make sure I quickly respond to any question a team member might have, as well as make sure there are updates on what will go on in class that day. Once I've checked and replied to these emails, the next place I go is to our specialized class forum (provided by firstpenguin.net) to see if there are any class-wide updates. Our professor generally leaves us news and asks questions through this forum, and it's a great way for all members of the team to respond at the same time.
I've done my prepping for tonight's class and have headed out the door. Originally, I lived 45 minutes away from the college and had to commute every day with two friends from my area who also attended the school. Now, we have an apartment together that's right across the street, striking the travel down to a brisk 10 minute walk.
My major is Game Design & Development, so I have a wide variety of classes as opposed to a bunch of classes generally geared on one thing. Right now, I'm headed to Structured Programming. I've had a basic interest in the subject, but it's never been something I thought I'd pursue as a career. Still, I appreciate being able to get hands-on with every aspect of the game design feel, so I think it's good to have some knowledge in the subject. It also helps me to understand what my team's technical crew is talking about.
Box Art by Karen McKenna
My next class is Creative Writing. It's always interesting coming to this class right after programming, since the subjects use completely different parts of the brain. Still, it's a bit refreshing, since part of my ambition as a Game Designer is to make stories for the worlds I want to create. I share this class with different people from all walks of life. Some want careers in different fields; others are taking it for recreation. This kind of world view exposure is really important to me, because the added exposure to different culture and ways of life helps mature my writing, which means I can make much more engrossing stories for my own individual projects.
Back at home, I have a bit of a break until Game Design at 6. I'll generally recheck my email and the forums to keep up to date since I have been gone. After that, my roommates and I study the best way we know how: playing video games. We like to think that this is the most serious part of our day, apart from Game Design of course.
My roommates and I are heading out the door. We could walk, but being the lazy sorts that we are, we pile into a car and drive off. While it gives our muscles a break, it's usually not a good idea, because we spend a lot more time trying to find a place to park than we would have spent walking to our class. Thankfully, we’re not late... most of the time.
Walking into class, this is where I say good bye to my two other roommates, because they're on the other team and have other things they need to do. My team has usually assembled by now, so my first order of business is to talk to the producer of the team. It's his job to make sure the game is keeping with schedule, keeping track of what each member is doing and being the voice of the team to our professor. Aside from updates, he also gives me the producer's report, which is his sheet that tells the professor what each member of the team did that week. Each member then has to check it for accuracy and sign off on it. After giving it the look-over, I sign it, and pass it on to anyone else who may not have signed off. Once this is done, it's turned in to the professor. After both producer reports are handed in, the class officially begins.
Before the teams go to do their thing, the professor gives us an update on things going on in with the college, the Game Design program, and the game industry in general. This is a good time for the students to get in some casual conversation with him before everyone fully switches into work mode. We also get a chance to discuss the college itself, and what things we can do to make the program better.
Now that each member of the team breaks off to work on their own individual part of the game, my goal is to talk with each of them and see what they were working on. Before I do that, I talk with the other game designer on the team. At the beginning of the semester, he came up with the concept, and I agreed to help work out the mechanics, puzzles, and level design. The game he came up with was Post Mortem Combat, a game which pokes fun at the time we've spent at the college. It's a first person adventure which stars the members of our team as we fight to save the world from an alien menace which is lead by our professor. Considering I've spent a good two years of my life at this school and this is the biggest project I'll complete there, it feels like the perfect student thesis, so I jumped at the chance to flesh it out.
Over the first few weeks, it was our job to work on the Game Design Document, or GDD. This document basically covered every aspect of the game, including the story, levels, and mechanics. There were also sections for other members of the team, including an art bible for our concept art and an engine overview which documented the hurdles that the programming team will have to go over. In the end, the document turned out to be about 80 pages long. Now that the document is out of the way, we make sure that everything stays as it was written in the original GDD, as well as flesh out some of the puzzles and obstacles players will face within the individual levels.
The first members of the team I talk to are our art directors. The game has a cartoon-like feel, so it's always a treat to see what they have to show. Now that a lot of the concept art is out of the way, it's up to them to translate this into 3D. Currently, our character designer is now attempting to make the weapons in the game into 3D using Maya 7. She lets me know what I'm looking at, what she's done thus far and what needs to be done, and any obstacles that may end up halting production. I'll give her my thoughts and any constructive criticism I may have before moving to our level designer.
We're currently using Hammer from Valve Software to create our levels. During the earlier part of the semester, we took the blueprints to our college and used them to design our level. What he does now is enter those blueprints into Hammer and creates the map based off of the 2D blueprint. This usually gives the level a startling amount of accuracy to the original map, which is what I'm looking for as the game designer. Later on, once we move into Alpha production, we'll begin to add texture to the walls so that we have an accurate model of our school.
Sketches by Karen McKenna
Next, I move on to the technical team. Both of them are currently slaving away at the Torque engine, making sure that the game runs the way it's supposed to. Right now, we don't have that much of the game done, so they are working on getting some basic A.I. done so that the enemies we create later on will have something of a brain. This presents them with a lot of challenges, which they make aware to me. Gems we've encountered in the past included things like making sure an enemy placed into the game world wasn't running around in the sky. They let me know of bugs such as these, how they've attempted to fix them, and other such nuances within the Torque engine.
It's also been their job to make sure that whatever the art team designs is importable to Torque. Originally, we had a problem with a gun that was imported from Maya and came in facing the player, rather than at the enemies like it should have been. This has since been fixed, as well as successfully importing levels designed from Hammer into the Torque engine.
As we know from an industry standpoint, it's a bad idea to release a game with obvious bugs, but from a student standpoint, we know this kind of mistake will cost us our grade. Once I inspect and approve something for the game, I turn it over to our Quality Assurance member. He then looks at the art models and plays through a section of the game to make sure there are no mistakes or hitches that will make for a shoddy game later. When something is discovered outside of class, he writes all this up in a bug report for me and the producer to look over and post online so that the team knows what areas of the game need to be worked on. Within the class, I tend to watch over his shoulder, so I can see the bugs as he finds them.
When a game is in production, it's important that the word gets out so people will know about the game. This is where my marketing member comes in. It's his job to sell this game to potential customers, as well as let us know what areas of the game test well within our sales demographic. I like to sit down with him, come up with ideas for marketing material such as posters, magazine ads, and t-shirts. We also take some time out to set up focus group testing, so that we can see what the public thinks of our game as we're designing it. We can then make important decisions on what to keep and what to change based on the public opinion of our game.
Finally, I make time for our web master. He runs and maintains our website at tdstudios.net. Here, we run an online copy of the GDD and have news updates that let the public know about our progress with the game. It's important that I let him know everything that has been accomplished at this meeting so that he can post the necessary information on our website. Here, he also maintains our QAs bug report list and other important documents that members of the team may need to refer back to. In exchange, he tells me of any potential server problems that may happen. At one point, our host was attacked by hackers, but he was able to figure out the damage and help solve the problem.
The day is winding down, but our team assembles together for one last meeting. Our producer lets us know if our professor has made any comments on our progress, and if anything needs to be changed in order for us to make our milestone deadlines. At this point, we get to discuss what our plans are for the coming week, and anything else relevant. At this point, we're adjourned, and reminded of the next online producer's report, which will be up the next day and will have to be signed digitally.
Class is over, and our professor rushes us out so he can get ready to teach his Game Design 2 students. At this point I'll reunite with my roommates, and we'll update each other on how our games are doing. We may go out to eat later, or just come back home and play more games or watch some movies.
The day's over, but I've made sure to sign off on the producer report the very moment that it was put up on our forums. Afterwards, I can get some much deserved rest. There's no class tomorrow, but I'll have to remember to keep my cell phone on in case anyone from the team needs to contact me. In essence, my class is an ongoing project until our game is done. I don't think I'd have it any other way.