Gaming: Console yourself

If you’ve played video games all your life, why not turn it into a career by creating them?

Only those of you who have been living under a rock for the past year will have been blind to the recent developments in video game consoles.

What with Nintendo’s exercise-friendly, wireless Wii and PlayStation’s multi-purpose mega-machine PS3, the video game industry appears to be expanding at lightening-quick speed. This is not surprising: it’s a hugely lucrative industry, where every year the cult online game World of Warcraft makes twice as much as all the original Star Wars movies put together!

With game technology improving at an incredible rate, video game companies are crying out for talented engineers and designers who are able to make the best of the latest technologies. The truth is that nobody knows what’s possible, even with the current generation of new technology that is coming into view.

Photorealistic games – where the images on screen are almost as true to life as a photograph would be – are no longer a dream, and holographic 3D projections, in which video game characters could appear as 3D holograms beside you, may be right around the corner.

For many people a career in video game manufacture sounds like a dream come true. Video game production provides an opportunity to take advantage of your skills in a well-paid and artistically expressive environment. No single person makes a video game; rather it is the work of a large team of specialists, each contributing their own talent to the final product.

Skills required

There are a wide variety of skills required to work in the video game industry, which range from technical and engineering skills such as programming, to artistic skills such as concept art.

A major factor in the pleasure of being on a game design team is that it provides you with the opportunity to work with other highly skilled and like-minded individuals in a creative environment. As with any high-skilled sector, getting into the video game industry is no easy ride.

Competition is tough so it takes dedication, commitment and passion to get your voice heard above the crowd. Being well organised and clear about your existing skills and the direction you are heading will give you an advantage.

For those interested in game development as a prospective career, the first step is to acquaint yourself with the various skill sets that are needed. At the technical end of the spectrum there is a great demand for skilled programmers who work at developing the underlying technology of a particular game. The job of a programmer is to take the ideas of the game designers and work with the rest of the team to make them into a (virtual) reality.

For those with a more artistic orientation, there are various opportunities for both 2D and 3D artists. Artists who work in 2D can engage in concept art – where they work with designers to give ideas visual form – and texture art, where they create 2D images that are wrapped around 3D forms to give them colour and texture. Artists with 3D design skills are engaged in character, object and environment level production.

There are many more opportunities for animators, sound engineers, voice artists and composers. The best way to maximise your chance of success in the industry is to train yourself in several of the above skills. A 3D-environment builder is OK, but a 3D-environment builder who can also make models and textures and do their own concept art is on to a winner.

Winning portfolio

Whatever specialisation you choose, the next step is to begin work on a portfolio. In the UK there are courses available in computer science and game design at various levels, from NVQ to degree. Getting on to a course will help you structure your work.

Aim to produce at least one high-quality piece of work a month and you will quickly build up an impressive portfolio. Many jobs in the video game industry require you to have years of experience, but it’s important to remember that it is your portfolio that will get you a job.

Start as a "modder"

Another good way to develop your skills and gain experience is to get involved with the “modding” community. This is the name given to the thousands of people engaged in modifying existing games in order to create new gaming experiences – a great way to test out your ideas. Software companies are increasingly aware of this activity and are beginning to develop games that have the ability to modify them at their core.

Applying for jobs

Your portfolio will evolve throughout your career, but once it’s at a stage where you feel ready to show it off, it’s time to start sending it to video game companies. Look around for lists of game developers and monitor their websites’ recruitment pages.

When applying for jobs, don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm and passion for games as this is a major selling point. The video game industry is crying out for talent and every time the technology is upgraded it creates an opening for new engineers and designers who can make better use of the new technology than the previous generation.

In the next few years the whole face of digital video games is going to change, so this is the perfect time to get into the industry.

Victor Krengel is the lead level designer at the up-and-coming videogame design company www.surrogateinteractive.