How did I become a Games Designer?

How did I become a Games Designer?

I wanted to write a post about some lessons and tips I learnt about getting into the games industry. But before I do, I thought it might be best to talk to you about how I got here, to give that associated blog some context.

This is a very long read, so you might want to get yourself a cuppa or a beer, and if you like listening to music, the pop some on in the background.

I have also omitted names of friends, colleagues, and establishments from this blog out of respect for their privacy . If anyone who is reading this recognises themselves in this blog and is happy to have their name added, then please do let me know.

I was about 15 or 16 years old when I decided that I wanted to make games, all thanks to one of my cousins who lent me and my brothers a copy of Final Fantasy VII.

For years before then I enjoyed playing games on the Commodore 64, Master System, Mega Drive, and subsequently the original PlayStation; playing games like Wizard of Wor, Alex the Kidd, Golden Axe, the Sonic Games, and so on.

But when we started playing FFVII, my views on games had changed completely – there were actually games out there which were more than just jumping from platform to platform, killing enemies along the way, or just racing against other players or AI-driven cars. This was a game with a story, and an amazing story at that!

At that point in my life, I started to love science fiction and fantasy stories and movies, and would often write little stories and fan-fiction of my own. So the idea of games that were story-driven fascinated me.

Then I had a revelation;

If I became a Games

I loved games, and stories, so if I became a games programmer then I could make my own games, and tell my own stories through these games.

At that point in my life I was still in secondary school, and was preparing for my GCSEs. We were also starting to look at colleges and sixth forms, and deciding what to do after we finished school. So I started looking at courses that focused purely on programming and computing; I remember thinking to myself ‘If I wanted to be a games programmer, then surely a programming course would be the best thing to do’.

Some of you are probably thinking “Hang on, you’re a Designer – not a Programmer!” I know, I know, but keep reading – it’ll all make sense later.

Whilst a lot of people I knew from school went on to do A-Levels, I opted to do a National Diploma in Software Development in my town’s local college. This was in 2000, and at that time there wasn’t any game development-related courses in colleges near me. But completing this course with mostly Merits and Distinctions would be enough to get into University that did do degrees and courses that were gaming-related.

I found parts of this course tough – really tough – but I managed it, and got the marks I needed to get into an University.

The University I chose to go to had a degree in Computer Games Technology, that covered a wide range of subjects including 2D games programming, 3D games programming, animation, graphics, plus more.

I instantly thought that this was the course for me, and that doing this course would get me my dream job of being a games programmer.

Four long and difficult years went

Four long and very difficult years went by, and I finally got my BSc (Hons) Computer Games Technology degree with a grade of 2:1.

Before I even finished the degree I started speaking to recruitment agencies, and as soon as I got my results I went to interview after interview, up and down the country to try and get my first dream job as a junior games programmer.

I must have went to at least 20 interviews, and applied for countless jobs, and I didn’t get considered for a single one. I started feeling disheartened, and at times extremely negative and angry – I spent the last six years of my life studying and working my ass off, and it starting feeling like it was all for nothing.

During that time, I was back at home at my mum’s whilst working at a local pub, but I still kept in touch with my University friends via the power of MSN Messenger and World of Warcraft. Some of them had gotten testing jobs for a studio in the city that we had studied our degrees in. And that got me thinking…

Maybe I should be a tester too like them? Then that’ll give me time to brush up on my skills, whilst getting some experience in the industry too.

So I applied for a role in their QA department, and was offered the job. And with that, I took my first steps into the games industry.

And it was great! The people I worked with were amazing, the hours were reasonable, and I ended up living and working alongside my really good university friends.

In that time, I thought I’d take a look at games design rather than games programming. I can’t remember what triggered that thought, but I guess my time spent doing the degree made me realised that there were other jobs out there other than games programmer.

So, I picked up some games design books, and got myself stuck into level editors that were often bundled with PC games, like the Aurora toolset that came with Neverwinter Nights and Valve’s Hammer editor.

And I loved it! Being a designer meant that I could still make creative games, even with my apparently dire programming skills. My dream of making games had been reignited, and so I started searching for junior designer jobs – for which there were very few of at the time.

Fortunately, the company that one of my University friends worked for (as a programmer) was hiring junior designers. So he helped me to get an interview with their Lead Designer, and bam! I got the job!

I got the job!

So after 6 years of studying, 6 months of failed job applications and interviews, and 1 year as a games tester whilst continuing to study in my spare time, I finally landed my dream job of making games.

Granted, it wasn’t as a programmer like I had originally planned, but as a designer…

…To which I still am, 10 years later.

Bloody hell I feel old now…

A lot of lessons were learnt in that time, which I will share with you in my next blog – as I think this post is long enough already!

Hope you enjoyed reading this, I’m sorry it dragged on for a bit. But I have lots of people to thank for getting me to this point in my life:

  • The cousin who lent me Final Fantasy VII, which inspired me into making games.
  • The family who traveled many miles and endured many years of my stress and turbulences.
  • The lecturers who taught me the foundations of what I needed to know to make games.
  • The friends who helped me get my foot into the door as a games tester.
  • The friend who helped me to get my first design job.
  • The Lead Designers who took a leaps of faith by hiring me to help them make their games.

And everyone else who I’ve crossed paths with on my journey of being a Games Designer, which is still going strong to this day.

If any of you are reading this, I hope you know how truly grateful I am to each and every one of you.

Thank You!

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