An aspiring level designer writes to the Ask the Experts
column on GameCareerGuide.com: “I'm lost at the moment as to what jobs there are for my major and most specifically within game development, since this is truly what I want to do.” We’re running this helpful breaking-in column on Gamasutra.com as well. For more advice on getting started in the video game development industry, visit GameCareerGuide.com
I recently graduated with a BA in studio art and a minor in religious studies. I’ve been interested in getting into the video game industry for a while now but I was at a university that didn’t have a curriculum toward any of the career paths within it (at least specifically). I worked on learning C/C++ for a while during my free time but found that it got frustrating for me over time. I didn't seem to be able to get past the basics.
After researching the industry a bit, I found that level design was something I was interested in, so I set up an independent study on it. I had recently been playing,
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and decided to use the level editor (The Elder Scrolls Construction Set) to create a mod for this game. For the independent study, I also learned how to use Photoshop and a 3D modeling program called Blender.
My plan was and still is to create some new meshes and texture them to be placed within the game. I also came up with a story to go along with this mod. I am currently still working on it and since it is a huge project, it will be a while before it is finished -- not to mention that all this is being done independently.
Out of all I was trying to learn in a semester, I didn't get around to placing enemies and really doing anything with the gameplay. There simply wasn’t time.
Is there anything that I can do as a job with the little experience I have right now and my art degree in level design or any other area of game development?
I'm just kind of lost at the moment as to what jobs there are for my major and most specifically within game development, since this is truly what I want to do. Maybe there are ways I can group up with people online and do some work as a team that way.
You’ve done a few things right so far, but have a few things left to finish. Let’s start by looking at what you’ve done right.
You tried to learn programming and figured out that it isn’t for you. Still, you now know the basics of C and C++, which is highly useful for any one, regardless of job title, who works in the video game making industry.
Second, you’ve showed an ability to be self-taught when necessary through your learning Blender and Photoshop. This a quality that not all people possess, but that game developers really need to have.
Third, you’ve tried your hand at actually making a game
, albeit a mod, and thus you know more about game development now than you did before this project. You know about time constraints. You know how much work you can reasonably complete over the course of a few weeks and while focusing on other commitments at the same time. You know that working alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
And you have a degree in studio art. That’s solid. It shows you have foundational art skills.
How to Proceed
I think you already know the main piece of advice for how to move forward from here: finish your mod.
I’m even tempted to say that not
finishing the mod at this point will look worse than if you had never done it at all.
Set yourself a deadline, and finish your mod. Even if you have to focus on only finishing one level, finish it! Complete it. Finish your models. Put in all the textures. Place your monsters. And finish what you’ve started.
In all likelihood, to finish this mod within the next six months or so, you need at least one more body to help you. You can work with a remote team (there might be some readers on the forums who are looking to hook up with other modders), or you can grab one of your buddies who’s still in university at let him or her benefit from an independent study based on the project as well. Share the wealth, right?
Once this mod is complete -- or again, it might just be a level or two that you complete -- you very well might start applying for a position as a level designer. You have a degree. You studied a range of subjects related to video games. You’ll have a demo reel of your completed mod to show your talents. And you’ll have organized and worked with a team of developers.
In the meantime, I wouldn’t rule out applying for jobs in quality assurance. Even a part-time testing job will give you more exposure to the game industry, and if you can land a position at a company that you like, you might be able to move up from there. Just be sure to express your desired career path to your supervisor and co-workers after you’ve been employed for a few weeks.
In a part of your letter that got cut (sorry, it was long), you mentioned you didn’t want to leave Tennessee, where you live now. Unfortunately, that might be something you’ll have to let go of in order to get your first job. Unless you want to start your own company, you should be willing to move to an area where your chances of getting a job are increased due to the number of game development studios in the area. You don’t need to pack your bags and head to California; there are regions closer to home that you can investigate. North Carolina, for example, has a thriving cluster of small cities where game makers have set up shop.
Good luck, JH! Hey, maybe you’ll want to submit your mod to some independent or student game competitions next year?
Jill Duffy is the editor of GameCareerGuide.com and formerly managing editor of
Game Developer magazine, where she’s now senior contributing editor. If you have a question you’d like to ask her and her panel of experts about the game industry, email it to theexperts(at)gamecareerguide.com.