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 email@example.com.
This is the fourth of a six-part series on breaking into the games industry.
Part VI: Think Big, Dream Small
I recently did a documentary piece on what it’s like to work in the game industry, and of the many great things I learned, I think that there is one that stands high above the rest.
The easiest way to get into the game industry is to make a great demo.
Nothing short of published titles can do as much as a quality demo to showcase your game development skills. A demo gives you the opportunity to display your talent, your ingenuity, and most importantly your passion. The fact that you are able to conceive, design, and implement a game will show prospective employers that you are serious about game development and that you have the drive required to succeed.
Those I talked to in charge of hiring said that an impressive demo will make your resume stand head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. One executive producer said, “If anyone walks in here with a great demo, we will hire them on the spot.” And they weren’t empty words. Later that day, I talked to someone on his team who got hired exactly for that reason.
Narrow and Deep
When making a demo, the prevailing advice is to go narrow and deep. Don’t try and make some massively multiplayer online game that you and a group of friends can never finish on a budget that’s barely above zero.
Instead, make a small game that’s really, really good. Your focus should be on fun and ingenuity. Remember, the people who will be hiring you grew up on a diet of games like Pac-Man, Asteroids and Joust. These are games that are remarkably simple, and if you go back and play them — which I highly suggest — you’ll see that they are still loads of fun. All it takes is one interesting and well executed game play concept, and you can make a game that will land you a job.
Think as big as you can — come up with a concept that you wish to see on a big PS3 launch title. But dream small. Figure out how to boil that incredible concept of yours into the smallest, most compact, deepest experience that you can feasibly deliver given you budget and skill level. Think about how you would deliver that game on a NES or Atari. This sort of intense concentration of game play will help you build a demo that delivers an impressive amount of fun.
To really get the most out of the demo building experience, I highly recommend emulating the professional game design process as best you can. That means starting with a design document. Don’t just jump right in and say, “I’m going to make a game.”
The reason I advocate this is because it’s impressive as hell to walk into an interview with not only a great demo, but holding a design doc under your arm. It will give the interviewer something concrete to talk upon which to gauge your skill, will provide an example of your writing abilities, and will really showcase your passion for game development.
This document doesn’t need to be the three to five hundred page tome which passes for a design document for most major developers these days. Just like the demo itself, scale the design doc down to your project’s size. Make it a living document; change it as things change within your game, so that the final document reflects the final product. This process will not only impress potential employers, it will give the fledgling game developer a realistic look at what it’s really like to make a game from conception to finished product.