Ethan Levy is currently a student at The University of Southern California, and holds an intern position at a game development studio which shall be known only as Super Duper Fun and Happy Game Co. for security reasons. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the second of a six-part series on breaking into the games industry.
Part II: Adding Bricks and Mortar
Now that you have built your foundation for success, it is time to start adding the bricks and mortar. In other words, it’s time to start developing the skills that will turn you from an idealistically hopeless dreamer to a sought after and valuable commodity. I myself thought that I had done of a pretty good job of learning a useful set of tools and applications previous to my employment at Super Duper Fun and Happy Game Co., but even with three years training in 3d animation, C++ programming, sound design, a wealth of technical experience and a high aptitude for learning new software, I was unprepared for my first day at the company. My very first task involved using Softimage XSI, a 3d animation package that I was unfamiliar with. Luckily, my experience modeling in 3D Studio Max paid off big time, because without that experience I could have been quickly relegated to scanning reference art for the rest of my life. Since then, I’ve had to learn a variety of new programs, such as Macromedia‘s Dreamweaver and ACD System‘s ACDSee.
Do Your Research
I like to think that every unfilled need that you encounter on the job is an opportunity for the young and hungry intern to prove themselves. The more skills that you are familiar with, the more opportunities you will have to show that you can step up and fulfill those needs. With that in mind, you want to develop a working knowledge of as many tools as possible prior to landing that first job. There is no way that you can ever learn all of the software applications you will encounter in this highly technical field before entering it, but you can certainly give yourself the best leg up possible by doing your homework.
The best way that I know to learn what skills you will need in the working world is to read job openings. First, take a look at your career roadmap so that you know what sort of job postings you should be reading. Since you are trying to create as strong of a resume as possible, feel free to look as far into the future as time permits. Then, go to the websites were these types of jobs will be posted. Hopefully, you’ve already joined Gamasutra, in which case you are receiving job postings in their weekly newsletter, as well as in the back of Game Developer magazine. Another important resource is Game Daily. Sign up with them, and not only will you receive important industry news on a regular basis, but also a daily listing of job openings. While you’re at it, register at Games-Match so that you can look at their jobs board whenever time permits. Add to that the fact that both these websites are free resources, and you should have no reason to shy away from them.
Start looking at job postings for anything that vaguely resembles a job on your career roadmap, as well as any postings that you find particularly interesting. Keep your objective in mind, and take a careful look at the skills that these companies are asking for. As you continue to read a pattern should begin to emerge, and you should soon have a very solid list of the skills that you can expect to use in the working environment.
Develop Your Skills
Now that you know what to learn, it’s time to develop those skills on a budget as close to zero as possible. This isn’t as hard as you might think, and can be accomplished without resorting to pirated software. For instance, it’s a good idea for anyone who wants to enter the game industry to have at least a working knowledge of a 3D animation package. Now, a commercial license for a top of the line product like Alias|wavefront’s Maya Unlimited can cost $6999, more than twice my food budget for the entire school year. Luckily, Alias|wavefront has performed an act of philanthropic sainthood: they have released Maya Personal Learning Edition. For absolutely no fee they provide a fully featured, noncommercial version of Maya 4.5 Complete, a $2000 value. This is an opportunity that you cannot afford to ignore.
Also, use your school as a resource. I know that at many universities, such as The University of Southern California and the University of Indiana, Microsoft offers students free access to a variety of fully featured developer tools, such as Microsoft Visual C++. If you do not have access to such a resource and need to learn some programming skills, you could purchase a version of the product for around $100, or obtain an introductory copy as part of a training package, such as Pearson Software’s Game Programming Starter Kit.
Find as many of these free to cheap solutions as you can. When purchasing software, look to buy educationally priced versions of these expensive applications. Download product demos and teach yourself by using any free tutorials that you can find. By using the internet productively, you can teach yourself a working knowledge of all the skills that you will need to succeed at little to no cost. With each successive skill you learn, you will be adding a brick that will bring you one step closer to your life of escapist fantasy.