If you’re anything like me and you are a programmer, as well as having a flair for designing computer graphics, then you will, like me, come to a point in your gaming career where you need to make a serious decision.
Do I become a games programmer?
Do I become a games designer?
It is a very hard decision to make for someone who enjoys both. Personally, if I went down the purely design route, I’d feel like it was too simple and not enough of a challenge. However, after choosing games programming, I realise that this subject is a challenge and sometimes just a little bit too challenging! What with the vast amount of languages to learn; the different syntax, properties and functionality that comes with each one. Additionally, all the external libraries you must learn and how to implement them. You learn all of this only to find a few years down the line that a new library came out or a new language, undoing all your hard work.
Coming to this realisation made me think, “Can I really do this for the rest of my life?!”. Obviously, the answer was no. I have had many jobs that revolve around repetition and quite frankly, it bores the shit out of me. I like a challenge, don’t get me wrong, but as long as that challenge keeps my mind engaged and keeps my interest, rather than giving me a headache! As much as I love programming (and I really do – more than anything else!), I want an easy life and I want a really fun job. My idea of fun is not maths and physics and formulas (let’s be honest) – but rather building things. When I was a kid I loved building things! Playing in the mud all day long and building a little house out of tree branches and twigs was my idea of a good time (I was a strange child)! That passion for building things has followed me throughout my life and anything from re-arranging my furniture to spending countless hours on The Sims building houses, really gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. LOL. I don’t actually play the game, I just build loads of houses!
I mean, there are tons of other avenues you can go down should you wish to, such as: 3D modelling, animation, audio, QA testing, etc., but that would seem such a waste of all of your skills.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could merge the skills you have in to one job? Like a “designer+programmer” person?
Well, it’s taken me many hours and lots of research, but I’ve finally found a path in the games industry that allows you to do both!
Level Design is a great way to incorporate both your passion for programming and design. It gives you free reign to build your own levels within a game. Using your design skills, you can come up with some really cool, unique and ambitious new layouts for new games. Additionally, your programming skills will aid you when it comes to writing the scripts for those levels. Scripts such as spawn locations, trigger events, re-spawn locations, checkpoints etc. In other words, very little repetition involved, as every level in the game and every game you build will be different. Imagine creating all the different levels in Skyrim – the cities, the wilderness, the caves! Or GTA – the highway, ocean, strip-club! You can already see how your imagination could run wild in this kind of field.
I don’t know about you, but that does sound a lot more fun to me! So if you are having a hard time deciding what route to take in your gaming career, research level design and try your hand at building a few levels yourself (bear in mind, it is not your responsibility to create the artwork that will be placed on the prefabs, that’s the artists job! So don’t spend hours trying to draw a derelict house in Photoshop. You are solely responsible for the layout and design of the overall level).
So, I have decided to pursue a second qualification in games design once I finish university. That way, I will be in an extremely design-driven and creative job, but at the same time still be able to use my logical thinking and problem solving skills to create really advanced and awesome looking levels! Obviously, having a qualification in both is not necessary, but that’s just how things worked out in my personal case. If you want to be a Level Designer, ideally you want to do a games design degree and study scripting on the side. Don’t do what I done, unless you really don’t know what route you want to take and want to do both to be sure!