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Built on a Foundation of Code – Game Edu Rant

March 1, 2011

Brenda Brathwaite
COO & Game Designer, Loot Drop
GDC Game Education Rant 2011

[This talk speaks to the educators of entry-level game designers looking for a gig in the industry, not to experienced designers who already have their foot in the door.]

2009 was an interesting year for me. I left my job as the chair of a game design and game art program and returned to the game industry that I’d worked in since 1981.  It was an interesting and eye-opening transition for me.

During this time, game design programs popped up all over the place. Last time I bothered to look for the number, there were over 400 such programs across the world offering some type of degree or certificate in game design. I was, in fact, chairing one of them.

Since that time, and having watched a flotilla of resumes fall off my desk unqualified, I’ve come to an understanding I wish I’d had then. That understanding is this: Game design programs must be firmly rooted in a foundation of code. And when I say “foundation of code,” I do not mean a program which includes a few coding courses to give students merely a taste, like Intro to C++ or Beginning Flash or Java 101. What I mean is that students – prior to their entry into the program or as a condition of their graduation from it – are proficient coders who can make and have made their own games.

Consider:

  • Game art programs facilitate proficiency in the tools of the trade – 3DS Max, Photoshop, Maya or ZBrush
  • Level design programs facilitate proficiency in Unreal
  • Animation students work in Flash, After Effects or Maya

So, why then do we consider it acceptable to send game design students out into the wild without the tools of their trade? The tool of our trade, the tool that makes things realized, is code. We would not send art students out with pencils or level design students out with graph paper renderings of unrealized levels, but somehow, we find it acceptable – even common – to send game design students out with board games and design docs. This has to stop. We owe the students more.

The absolute best programs, I believe, put students through the same level of coding as a comp science degree or expect that they have that knowledge beforehand. This is, I know, a tall order, but such a program is a dream, and I would actually be interested in hiring its students.

Unfortunately, many programs – if not the great majority of game design programs – mislead their students into believing they will get game design jobs when they graduate, and that is simply not true. Handed a skillset of theory and bolstered with a pile of design docs and non-digital games, these students head out into the world and, with rare exception, are cast out into two separate entry-level piles – those who can code and those who cannot. The only saving grace are those with internships. There is a separate pile for them.

At this point, many of you are thinking that you do not need code to design games. That is, in fact, true.

You do not need code to design games.

There are many jobs in game design – from system design to narrative design to puzzle design – which don’t actually require coding. In fact, I am just learning how to code. But, wow, how times have changed. With 30 games behind me, I can get away with this. Were I fresh out of school? I’d have a shockingly hard time getting hired. Without code, without games, students are effectively saying,  “I’ve not actually made a game digitally, but I am asking you to trust that I can.” Why would I when there are 10 students here who know how to code and can illustrate their passion with proof? Look, their resumes are right here!

Naturally, some students point to design docs or non-digital games to prove their prowess. This will no longer do – a design doc shows one thing only – that you can write a design document. There are countless ways for a game design to go wrong, and what matters is not your ability to think of an idea, but your ability to execute on that idea and bring it to life. Code is how a digital game is realized. Without it – and no matter how you represent it – you have only an idea for a game and 100 possible ways it can go wrong. The true art of game design is not in the idea, but in its implementation and the ability, dedication and determination to carry it through to the end while finding that nugget of fun. I have seen – and ignored – countless resumes with bulky design documents in favor of those who have actual running games.

What about board games, then? These games show a completed design, and as some of you may know, I have designed a good number of them. However, board game knowledge doesn’t show ability to design anything but board games. I wouldn’t presume my work on hard core RPGs makes me a fit for the FPS space, and I have watched a good many traditional game designers struggle with their new digs in the social space. Game design for a medium or a platform is a specialization like any other. While I certainly think making games and prototypes non-digitally is an excellent idea, for those hoping to enter the video game industry, it cannot be a substitute for code. It cannot be all you do.

There is an obvious hole here, perhaps several. What of the student who works with a coder? He or she is a lucky student indeed, and having finished a game, she is ahead of most, with or without code. However, if I could get her to my desk, I’d point at the folders I have set up for game design applicants and show her the competition. I have a pile of resumes from students who are solid designers and coders, and other things being equal, a solid designer who is just a solid designer is going to lose, because the field is that competitive and because there are that many talented students out there. From a purely practical standpoint, students need something extra to be competitive. The students who can code will more easily adapt to scripting, to UI work, to XML tables and other small tasks I need them to do.

Toward a Better Curriculum

Game design is the low-hanging fruit on an otherwise tech-heavy tree and thousands of students want in. It requires no specific software be installed and no academic body requires its professor have specialized training. I think we can do better by our students, and this is the kind of program I whole-heartedly support:

  • A solid and substantial foundation of code upon which the students build throughout their career.
  • Regular practice of design, iteration and execution
  • An appreciation of game design history

Code is the tool of our trade, and we owe it to students to teach them. The programs that do not do this are lost.

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45 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2011 5:50 pm

    I needed to hear that, here in Florida Full Sail acadamy wants you to pay 400$ plus per credit hour. Without stressing a code foundation.
    I will make sure to build a firm foundation in code.

    Because I like to say “All roads lead to code”

    Thanks; Steven

    • March 2, 2011 8:41 pm

      That’s actually not true at all. Full Sail’s game production degree is about 95% coding.

    • March 3, 2011 12:57 pm

      That’s only partially true. There is the game design department, the place with the arcade units in the front that play the games that have been coded by the students and the computer animation in the building next to the old Alberston’s and the game art major that’s in the building next to the other side of the Albertson’s.

      So you might have picked up the Game Art degree where YES, they don’t do a lot of coding or the Computer Animation degree where you learn python for shaders. You want the Game Production degree for straight up coding.

  2. March 1, 2011 6:51 pm

    Would you agree that someone with a background in non-games programming would be considered valuable to the games industry? I’m thinking things like business or web/server programming. Granted they are quite different skillsets but from what I have read, and what you may have alluded to, the games industry needs people with established programming skills; like a knowledge of patterns, object oriented design, code aesthetics and agile development processes. These are things that seem to be increasingly important for game development.

    At the very least, in terms of a game design course, getting creative people who already have experience building software projects would allow you to focus more on teaching design and execution rather than teaching the fundamentals of programming. Is there a role for games design as a post-graduate course that requires a Computer Science or equivalent degree? Would that better serve the students?

    Of course, I’m entirely self interested here since my background is business and system programming but I’m working towards a career in game development. I’m just hoping the skills and experience I have, along with the game programming I’m learning, are valuable and marketable to the industry. :)

    • March 2, 2011 9:24 pm

      Sean, putting on my game programmer hat for a moment, what I’d say is that programming is a skill, game programming is a superset of that skill. (Same with network programming, database programming, business programming, etc.) So to transition from business programming to game programming, start with your programming foundation (totally useful!) and learn the game-specific stuff to build on top of that — realtime input, graphics, and so on. Start with simple clones of games that have already been designed: Tetris, Breakout, Mario. Learn the differences yourself, the basics don’t really take that long… though of course it’s still a lifetime to master :)

      • March 2, 2011 9:30 pm

        Thanks Ian, that’s pretty much exactly my plan. I’m starting with a Breakout clone and documenting the whole process in a journal on my blog. Good to know I’m on a reasonable track.

  3. March 2, 2011 12:19 am

    In my campus (MMU) we have two game design and development program, in which one is called “Software Engineering and Game Design” for the IT students, while the other one (the one which I’m at) is called “Virtual Reality” for multimedia student…

    While the IT students who’re taking the game design course complain about the class being boring when all they did is learning about the principle of game design, and nothing about game programming in the 1st year (until they reach the 2nd year); we (the Virtual Reality dept.) had been doing game development (without learning the principle of game design but some architecture stuff instead) since the 1st year… The VR dept. are filled with more students who are interested in game graphic design than those who are in game development, due to the fact that the lecturer refuse to admit that we were making “games”, but instead “VR apps with A LITTLE BIT OF game element” (it’s the same wasn’t it?), and we were mistaken for a “game art design degree”… Most of the of the IT students doesn’t even know that the VR dept. did game development all these times… haha…

    The difference between our course is that, the IT students learn more on coding, and less visual and design (turns out their game design class were craps), and the game they made were too, craps; the multimedia student learn more on the art part, and less on coding, primarily because there’s not enough skilled lecturer in our dept. to start with, and they expect the student to go learn coding themselves… and the game we made were mostly… not-that-crap, but with really messy and extremely simple codes (might causes lag in games due to the number of lines).

    We might have some really talented game development student (skilled in both art and code, who appears once in a blue moon in our dept.)… but that wasn’t really enough, cuz he’s the only one in the dept. whose project wasn’t crap, but something that makes you think “AAA”… XD… Not to say my own works were craps, but the balance between my game art and the mechanic was a bit inconsistent, some times my mechanic was good but art’s bad, sometimes it’s the other way round…

    It does seems like they were just abusing the phrase “game design” just to attract more students in. And we really need some experts out there to give our VR dept. the advice we needed to be better… :)

  4. Phil permalink
    March 2, 2011 1:52 am

    I whole heartedly agree with you.

    I think for most Universities in the UK they see ‘Games design’ courses as easy money and they are.

    They take very little to setup, very little investment is needed and people are chomping at the bit to be on them. No realising they will come out with a useless qualification.

    It would be great if games design courses were more like computer science degrees but this would take a lot of investment and networking with the industry. Far to much effort for a quick buck.

  5. March 2, 2011 2:53 am

    At Brunel University(UK) we teach design and theory without code on an MA programme. We have a 60% industry employment rate(approximately). Of course, the students that come in with tech skills are better equipped for work…but many of our students don’t have the tech skills and still get employed.

    The reason? Because we teach design and theory hand in hand and that turns out people who really understand what makes games tick. Teaching design takes time though: the idea that solid design skills can be taught on a UG programme (one of which we started a couple of years back) as well as solid programming skills is just fantasy: there just would not be time to teach both.

    Of course, being able to bring a game to life is a big part of the skillset needed: we use high end authoring tools to do this, but students will never use those tools in the industry: they can merely use them to prove they can do the job.

    I think that the trick here is that, if you are going to teach designers, you need do all you can to make them damn good ones. That does not mean teaching them how to code. You are dead right about the ‘low hanging fruit’ though, and many a course pretending to be a design course is in fact rebranded media studies.

    Thoughtful article. I know exactly where you are coming from, but I am sure I could convince you that code free design can be taught in a worthwhile way -perhaps not in as short a missive as this:). Design teaching is certainly in a woeful state in general.

  6. Carlos Fraga permalink
    March 2, 2011 4:42 am

    Thank you for sharing your view! As an aspiring future game designer/developer i have been often puzzled by the concept of one being able to be a game designer without strong skills in another area (such as coding or artwork), because there is no way someone just starting would have how to prove its worth. Your article showed me that my line of thinking was not that far off =)
    My only choice was to enroll in a computer science degree. As i get closer to my masters thesis, i had the chance to choose classes in multimedia, artificial intelligence and, lastly but not least, game design. However, from my experience with several colleagues, technical skills will only take you so far, since you must truly have a passion for the medium and also some knowledge of it to be able to come up with a design that works (ideas must to be materialized into game mechanics, and this is where i see most people fall short)

    All in all, thanks for the read. It gave me hope and added incentive to pursue my dream

  7. March 2, 2011 7:53 am

    I’d add that this is a wake up call for students aiming to be really competitive on the industry. For large studios, they can get to be picky and maybe hire designers that are just designers, but those positions are filled by experienced ones. In the other hand, more entry level positions are available at small studios, but these can’t afford to have someone who’d like to be a small cog: they need more.

    Alea jacta est: for students, it’s their choice to learn more stuff and be competitive or to be left behind (and blame their school for it).

  8. March 2, 2011 10:14 am

    This reminds me of how it used to be that companies would take a great artist over someone who knew Maya but was mediocre, because “it was easier to teach the program than to teach you to be an artist.” But now this is no longer relevant, simply because there are so many artists who know Maya AND are also great artists! I had to crush the hopes and dreams of a young friend who was clinging to the first point with this recently.

  9. March 2, 2011 2:21 pm

    I tend to disagree with this article. As a development manager at a company, I see both jobs as totally separate. Trying to wear too many hats stretches your skills too thin, and in my experience creates “so-so” across the board. I do agree that having some technical knowledge is extremely helpful in any digital design, but that really stems from knowing the limitations of the technology in order to make realistic recommendations.

    The reality is, if a designer is going to try and become a coder, they will probably be pretty novice at best, and rely on open source game engines pretty heavily. This has worked for some titles, however to be a “Designer” you shouldn’t feel limited by the technology and instead highlight your design strengths.

    Your point about a design doc not being as good as a real game is well taken, however why force a designer to be a better programmer, when instead we should be forcing them to be better designers..no? One option, which has been happening at NYU (disclaimer: I am a student there), is more collaboration between design departments and technical departments to create one common artifact. With this method you are not forced to dumb down your game to your coding proficiency, and have access to a programmer that has much more experience with coding.

    In my opinion, to say that a game designer should be coder, is almost like saying they should be illustrators as well? How great will a game be with a bunch of stick figures running around (there are some cool stick figure games, but you get the point)?

    My opinion is to focus on one thing and do it great, then find others that focus on the items you are missing, you could then collaborate as a team and build something that is representative of your design’s intent.

    • March 3, 2011 9:31 pm

      Saying a game designer must be a coder is different from saying they must be an illustrator. The designer’s job is to tell the coder what to code. Most designers do not tell the illustrator what to draw.

      As a designer who knows programming and uses it to inform his designs, I can save my programming team weeks or months of development work simply by creating a system that is easy to code rather than one that otherwise has the same dynamics but is harder to code. If you can’t code, how would you know the difference? I’ve found it to be a huge advantage.

      • Doug permalink
        March 3, 2011 10:02 pm

        Well, that’s my disagreement with this article. You can know what would be easier and harder to code without having to take 400 level coding classes if you want to go into designTo me, Literature, Screen Writing, Social Sciences and Coding are all important parts of a designer.

        A designer would tell an illustrator what he is looking for, the mood etc. Its very similar for coding in my view. You tell them what you want, and communication is easy to let each other know what is doable and what isn’t.

      • Claudia permalink
        May 6, 2011 6:27 am

        From my perspective, the coding is a very important skill set for a developer in the commercial industry; Connection between the back end database and front end web pages used by Webservice to pull out the content information, to ensure all applications to be implemented successfully, we need coding skill to understand how the application working.Recently, the mobile game applications are more popular than virtual games, such as card games or board games; 5 out of 10 people play mobile or iphone games, when they are waiting for train or bus. All these games are developed by C++ or JAVA language; in the feature, people just carry a notebook or mobile still can play a game with others, whenever they have access to the internet. To develop a game, the designer head first of coding or programming skills will be let processing more logically. We can say, the coding not compulsory, but it still a necessary component a part of game design. If anyone wishes to become a successful game designer as a career, you still need to understand overall of knowledge of the game design.

  10. William H permalink
    March 3, 2011 8:51 am

    I can’t help but feel that calling for a level of proficiency appropriate for a computer scientist as the basis for a game design / interactive entertainment degree will make an already-not-very-diverse field even less diverse. I agree that some familiarity with code and an ability to both express oneself with code and to understand the basic frameworks of software engineering will be a useful skill. But what this recommendation does is to oblige game design students to compete in computer science classes against other computer scientists. The students I know – who are good, creative game designers – would probably fail in a basic compiler class. I don’t think Brenda understands just how demanding a true computer science education can be.

    Getting women, in particular, into this industry, and keeping them there, remains a challenge. Consider that women make up about 18% of computer science majors. Calling for a CS-style background as a prerequisite is sure to lead to more discouragement of women.

    And, ultimately, I want more of the responsibility for training to be taken up by the industry. In Japan, this was historically the case: consider the long list of designers of very successful games who were hired into their companies with no real computer skills at all, yet learned how to code while on the job. Perhaps we can encourage some sectors of the industry to adopt this “long-term investment in your workers” approach.

    • March 5, 2011 1:23 pm

      Calling for a CS-style background as a prerequisite is sure to lead to more discouragement of women.

      However, calling for a basic familiarity with code, and courses that can TEACH a basic familiarity with code without going the full CS route, would not only impart useful skills to designers but possibly serve as a gateway to more programming courses for those who develop an interest.

      A lot of people are so intimidated by the concept of “programming” that they won’t even try.

      Give them a simple and exciting way to see how their commands can change what happens on the screen in front of them, and ‘programming’ becomes a lot less scary.

      I’m years out of date, but at least when I was at university, my computer programming classes were 99.9% command-line unix stuff focusing on theory and beautiful code and blah blah blah. No graphics, no interactivity, and definitely no Windows. Unless you were already interested in being a programmer, it must have been deathly boring – and I’ve since forgotten the vast majority of the details because it’s so far removed from the coding I do now.

    • March 7, 2011 1:49 pm

      Calling for designers to have a wider skill set equates to keeping women out of the industry? Seriously?

      I mean, I understand what you’re saying, but the fact that CS majors tend to be male-dominated is a problem (as those departments will readily admit), and saying “well, they don’t have enough women so let’s not teach something that needs to be taught” seems to be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. How about: figure out the skills an entry-level designer needs, and then teach those, so that you’ve got a curriculum that’s actually useful? And then deal with the gender issue (if it exists at your school) through direct attempts to recruit a diverse faculty and student body and foster an inclusive campus culture, without trying to dumb down the major for the sake of getting more butts in seats?

  11. Steve Graham permalink
    March 3, 2011 10:38 am

    I was all set to disagree with Brenda because I had misinterpreted the post’s title. Instead, I find myself largely agreeing with her. But I will offer a personal perspective on *why* coding is so vital to designing digital games.

    Software development has been mistaken for many things and finds itself housed in various schools and departments. It gets treated (almost always) as part of mathematical theory, engineering, or business. Traditionally it has been “Computer Science”, but departments and names have changed based on the their home and focus.

    Unfortunately, these are all largely mistaken and none get at the heart of software development. Creating software is a design activity. In fact, it is design “all the way down”.

    Despite the history and development that’s left software creation associated with business, engineering or theory, the core activity is inescapably design.

    While essentially design, software differs dramatically in one key respect from other media. Software must run, and run correctly. Software *is* an executable design.

    Coding, programming, software design — regardless of the label — amounts exactly to creating executable designs.

    Digital game design — regardless of the tools used — requires exactly that: creating executable designs.

    cheers,
    skg

  12. March 3, 2011 1:01 pm

    This is the story of my life, after SCAD dumped me out in the wilds I have only some basic Flash under my belt and an intro C++ course. I couldn’t even code up my thesis project so I’m, looking at MORE money to go back and finish my degree after teaching myself some coding.

  13. March 4, 2011 8:21 am

    A couple of thoughts on this, as a grad student designer with a coding and art production background:

    First, I don’t disagree with those that are saying it’s also important to know how to talk to artists and writers and the like. But I think most design students assume that already, and tend to focus on it. Code is something less-obvious and frequently considered scary and to be avoided. I’d also say it’s far more important to a game (not level or UI or visual) designer’s day-to-day, quite frankly. We deal in systems and mechanics. Where do those systems and mechanics end up expressed? Code.

    Second… our department has a fair number of designers in it. There are three of us besides myself that really understand how to write code. I’m willing to lay money all four of us will have industry jobs. This is a completely stacked bet, because one of us already has one (before graduating, even!), another has at least one confirmed offer (and should be getting one or two more any day now), another already does freelance work and will probably get picked up, and I’ve got one standing offer plus several leads in discussion that probably aren’t very far off from offers. And all of these offers are for actual design positions. By comparison, our other designers are great designers and know their art and what all else, but I don’t know of any solid leads on their plates.

    Code is just a good idea. I can code, so I can get projects up and running that prove my designs aren’t *completely* terrible. It has let me experiment with new areas– my thesis work is about designing for touchscreens, and largely possible because I can write the code. I’ve been able to experiment with my code-savvy friends on things like homebrew Kinect game design and mobile and some really strange topics purely because we’re comfortable with writing *just* enough code to make it work. And invariably, that work has been what opens doors.

    So yeah. It’s certainly not necessary for experienced designers, and students *can* do well without it, and you certainly don’t need it if you get into board games or tabletop so much (which is great if that’s what you want to do, mind!). But for video game designers? Being comfortable enough to script game logic paves ways to jobs, in my experience. It just does.

  14. Dr. Mike Reddy permalink
    March 5, 2011 10:13 pm

    I have a lot of time for Brenda, but her “People who can code” and Trash Folders sorting policy for resumes – not mentioned here but widely reported from the presentation itself – reminds me of the ridiculousness of (the fictional head of “The Office”) David Brent’s strategy for avoiding employing unlucky people by randomly throwing half of job applications in the bin. Both have an apparent, but non-sensible logic!

    However, I used to teach Multi-media and web design in a Computing Department many years ago, and Director and Flash once as part of Hypermedia course. All now firmly embedded in “tool-use” programmes in Art Schools. Graphics can still be taught as Computer Science, but Maya users don’t have to contend with why Z is in not up, or where the Utah Teapot exists. Programming in many engines is similarly starting to be accessible in Design awards. So, Brenda is not being unreasonable in starting to expect, if not demand, the tools of making games in resumes.

  15. Adam Moore permalink
    March 7, 2011 3:29 pm

    Brenda, I sat in on the rant and wanted to comment on one brief tangent that wasn’t in your written rant. One of the things you mentioned is that a game designer expecting other people to do all the development is like an artist that expects other people to drag his brush across the canvas for him (or something to that effect).

    I was reminded of the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop and recommend watching it. It’s a documentary in which a talentless hack decides he wants to be a famous artist and hires people to make his art for him.

  16. Adrian Lopez permalink
    March 8, 2011 11:28 am

    “The absolute best programs, I believe, put students through the same level of coding as a comp science degree or expect that they have that knowledge beforehand.”

    Video game designers should certainly know enough about coding to understand things like memory, I/O, primitive operations and control flow, but a CS-level degree (which is more mathematics than coding) or an intimate knowledge of hardware platforms and APIs are overkill.

    Programming modern games from scratch is hard enough that one shouldn’t expect game designers to understand the various algorithmic and platform-specific complexities involved. It’s like expecting an architect to understand engineering on the same level as a civil engineer.

  17. Trey permalink
    March 10, 2011 4:53 pm

    See also- FILM SCHOOLS.

  18. March 24, 2011 1:48 pm

    Hello, I just wanted to say this is a great article and I have personally seen both sides of the coin as I have an engineering background and an art background. Now I’m doing design.

    I just really wanted to comment here and say that yes the more designers have in their tool set makes them more useful and interesting for employers. At the same time expecting them to sit with CS majors (like I did for many years) and getting a degree in CS to be a good designer, this I don’t think is a requirement. If a designer has it, great. No way I would ever let them do the job of what the actual programmers on the team are doing. Why? Cause the designers are probably mediocre programmers at best. It takes years to be an excellent programmer, did they spend their years programming or designing? These are two different things.

    Just like I would never require the programmers to have art degrees. I know you addressed this earlier somewhat later in the comments, but programmers being able to visually communicate things to the rest of the team is also important. I would say that instead of this approach, I think everyone on a successful team should have a little knowledge of what others are doing. So yes, basic programming, data flow, and debugging, great. But beyond that is spending too much time becoming a programmer and not a designer. I’m not saying programmers aren’t creative or can’t “think out of the box.” But there are just some ways of thinking that they can’t do cause everything has to follow logic and be in a certain place. If I became that logical, I lose a lot of my creativity through illogical risk taking.

    So again I agree it is great to know a lot and wear many hats, but in the end you gotta spend your time on one thing if you want to be any good at one thing.

    What is more important in my opinion is team building. Like in real life, you find the best people to do what they do best and then you find compliments for their weaknesses. I would much rather have a team with people that are masters in their own fields and can work together than people that can do a little of everything.

    Finally I would like to add, you are making is sound impossible for designers to make games. Ignoring the fact that there are so many existing game engines out there that do almost all of the things that a designer would need without coding or barely using any code whatsoever. Also what of the various, clubs, competitions, that allows people to get together to make games? IGDA, Global Game Jams, and game clubs. Trust me there are many outlets that one could go to to find someone that is willing to work in a team to build a prototype or game.

    In the end it all comes down to your CV and portfolio and I don’t know about you but if you can make up for your lack of programming with 5-10 playable prototypes, versus a guy that is a designer and can program but without that portfolio, I’d pick the first guy. Now if someone comes in with all of these, I’m lucky as hell or he comes with a very huge salary requirement.

    Cheers.

  19. April 18, 2011 5:20 pm

    Wow… Thank you so much for this. I’m a senior at the Art Institute of Atlanta, and my degree is in Game Art and Design. My last couple of years I’ve realized my interests are in game design, however I’m one of few and this degree, school, and teachers seem to push us students into the art track. I’ve notice and raised questions myself about what design is and how to obtain it, and a lot of my teachers seem to have a traditional perspective of it. Because I know what I want to call myself when I graduate, I’m on a path to learn, understand, and teach myself traits of a designer. This helps so much, and I can’t wait until I can pull my wait in this battle and get this problem fixed.
    Thx Ron

    • April 18, 2011 5:47 pm

      (This comment is just to state my opinion of designers being coders after reading other comments on this topic)

      I’ve seen the correlation between Coders and Designers and believe the individuals that can master both are definite forces in any industry. However there’s no way I can find enjoyment out of programming for the rest of my life.

      My first programing class was in ActionScript, and not everyone got it or appreciated it. When it clicked for me I became such a fan of programming because I respected it and realized the possibilities. With all that being said though, I still can’t be a programmer designer. I guess I’m too much of an artist to enjoy mastering 20+ languages and looking at code for hours at a time… BUT I understand code and LOVE implementing when simple. I also believe the little bit I know has and will help me in any niche of this industry I choose to be apart of. Thanks

  20. Josh permalink
    May 5, 2011 10:52 pm

    I agree, I believe game designers should have a programming background. The courses that teach game design should incorporate more programming than just the basics. A lot of people seem to assume that game design is about the art and the look of the game, but in reality it is much more. Game designers need to understand how information flows in a digital game, that way they can design effective artificial intelligence or physics engines and utilize this knowledge to make captivating games. The easiest way to learn this though, is through programming and to practicing coding games. The other reason I believe coding is important to a game designer, is so that they can prototype an idea, to demonstrate and sell it to their boss or financial investor. Being able to program also helps a game designer because, although he might have a team of programmers working for him, he can still jump in, and help out to meet dead lines, change or add ideas and test them, without the need for the help of a programmer, as well as being able to have a more in depth and educated opinion of how the project is going and how long it may take to complete.

  21. Y.Lin permalink
    May 6, 2011 4:32 am

    From my perspective, the coding is a very important skill set for a developer in the commercial industry; Connection between the back end database and front end web pages used by Webservice to pull out the content information, to ensure all applications to be implemented successfully, we need coding skill to understand how the application working.

    Recently, the mobile game applications are more popular than virtual games, such as card games or board games; 5 out of 10 people play mobile or iphone games, when they are waiting for train or bus. All these games are developed by C++ or JAVA language; in the feature, people just carry a notebook or mobile still can play a game with others, whenever they have access to the internet.

    To develop a game, the designer head first of coding or programming skills will be let processing more logically. We can say, the coding not compulsory, but it still a necessary component a part of game design. If anyone wishes to become a successful game designer as a career, you still need to understand overall of knowledge of the game design.

  22. HuQiang Xu permalink
    May 6, 2011 5:32 am

    I can not agree more with you regarding the point that you were making in this blog. You do not need a code to design games and the background degree is not that valuable after all. This industry is highly competitive and meanwhile, it grows rapidly. Moreover, it always requires the updated knowledge in every aspect. There is no doubt that no matter in what level you achieved academically, you always need to learn things from the beginning once you literally start working within the industry. And no matter how good you believe you are at your job, there will always have someone better than you. Reality is harsh and sadly, the employer always wants the best and only the best. But we have to admit that we can’t be the best all the time. Speak of this, having a code degree in game design is truly pathetic. While on the other hand, without the official certificate or the relative background, there is no chance to get into the industry at all. What we really have to think of here is the fundamental purpose of having a background code degree. Rather than teaching us the knowledge and skills, perhaps its more about training us the ability to format creative minds and deliberate them into desired versions. Once we have the ability, we can then demonstrate to our employer that we are capable of the job. As we are always willing to learn from the best and from the most recent updated technologies. We can complain about it, but there’s nothing else that we can do besides accepting the reality as long as we wanting get into the industry.

  23. mly permalink
    June 1, 2011 9:04 pm

    So, for someone who is looking into being a concept artist, what would one suggest?

  24. June 3, 2011 6:17 am

    Many people forget that they can just make a game. Scott MacMillian made a great point at PAX East: Not everyone has to start a company in order to create a game. Many people should actually bootstrap a game into existence from nothing instead of going 30 or 50k in debt. As long as you have seriously passionate people and are honest with them that you will most likely spend a lot of time and get no money in return. But if you blog about it, create a website about the experience, you can use that as proof that you did something.

    It may even be easier to get noticed creative lead/project manager instead of a creative lead/coder. A large portion of the project management is done before the project starts. Even if the game fails and the coders don’t really produce something that functions the project manager will have done a ton of demonstrable work. Gantt Charts/Timelines, game design docs, marketing, website, facebook pages… Being able to manage a project might be a more important skill to a company.

    Does that hypothesis work in the real world? Any thoughts?

  25. July 1, 2011 2:29 am

    We can complain about it, but there’s nothing else that we can do besides accepting the reality as long as we wanting get into the industry.

  26. August 29, 2011 11:19 am

    Great article. Having finished video games made on your own after school is a must.

    I don’t think designers should focus on being the best coders out there (that’s why programmers exist) but instead focus on being good enough coders to be able to quickly bring something to life in the form of a prototype. This meets programmers, and the rest of the team, half way.

    Currently, I’m working as a game designer. I like to say that “I’m not a programmer, but I can program.” It won’t be the best code ever, but it will certainly get the point across. Programming has also saved me precious time by automating tedious tasks (generating 5,000 random names, extending Google Spreadsheets, etc.)

    Aza Raskin’s blog has a great post on 5 important skills for being an interface designer. Even though it focuses on Interface Design, I found all of those skills can apply to Game Design.

    http://www.azarask.in/blog/post/be-a-designer/

  27. October 17, 2011 3:29 pm

    Procedural rhetoric. If you want to design something that is executed by a computer, and you want the edifice to interact with a human being, then the code is your foundation. If you do not know that foundation, you will be ineffective – inspired, maybe, imaginative, sure, but ineffective.

  28. Arielle Shander permalink
    November 17, 2011 8:56 pm

    I’m currently a game design student studying at The University of Baltimore. I really appreciate you taking the time to write this. :)

    My major, which is called “Simulation and Digital Entertainment,” is heavily geared towards game *design,* and not so much on coding (though we are expected to take certain programming courses, such as C#). In fact, one of my professors recently said that game programmers in the SDE section should get a computer science degree. I’m definitely going for game *design,* so I feel like I’ve made the right choice in terms of my school and major.

    I’m certainly no expert on the industry yet, seeing as how I’ve only had one internship, but I’d like to share my thoughts with you on some of your commentary:

    >”put students through the same level of coding as a comp science degree or expect that they have that knowledge beforehand.”

    Unfortunately, this would take more than 4 years to complete, seeing as how we’re expected to take everything from math to science to general electives and more. I’m already a semester behind since I needed extra time to catch up on the math requirements. If we had to learn coding on top of all that, we’d probably be there 5+ years. That’s a lot of time and money for people who are going to be doing little to no programming once they enter the industry (though please correct me if I’m wrong).

    >”design doc shows one thing only – that you can write a design document.”

    I can totally see where you’re coming from here. Fortunately, I do have some actual games I can show off — not a whole lot, but at least two or three that I’d consider complete (plus, my internship work). The quality of the GDD seems pretty important, though; written communication, in my experience (so far) has been an invaluable skill.

    >”what matters is not your ability to think of an idea, but your ability to execute on that idea and bring it to life.”

    That’s my motto/philosophy, too! :P I think it’s a good idea to have students analyze and weigh the pros, cons, and risks when it comes to creating a concept. That’s what I try to do.

    >”The true art of game design is not in the idea, but in its implementation and the ability, dedication and determination to carry it through to the end while finding that nugget of fun.”

    Agreed.

    Fortunately, my experience at UB (and Montgomery College before it) has been quite positive. I feel like I’ve learned a lot, even though I’m certainly no expert coder. I’ve learned to lead (and follow) in teams, and I’ve honed my writing and planning skills. I’ve even done a lot of QA testing at this point (from my internship, as well as in my current “Designing for Humans” class).

    Like I said, I really do appreciate you taking the time to write this. You’ve reminded me how lucky I was to be able to snag that elusive internship! Also, I’m definitely going to be adding more playable games to my portfolio, as well as other relevant projects.

  29. November 30, 2011 9:06 am

    So you mean that the only way to get involved is that to acquire a solid coding knowledge, there’s no place for me, simply lazy creative.

Trackbacks

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