Higher Education

A Jack Of All Trades…

Following on from my previous post on the state of Education and Game Development (Are Universities Teaching The Wrong Things?), I wanted to look at what I see is the other main problem with most Game Degree courses… That you come out at the end with experience in game programming, design, animation, modelling and probably many others, but still don’t have the skills necessary to do one of them at a professional level.

To start, let’s get a few things straight. As a game programmer, I will not:

  • Write the design document for our next title
  • Create the models that are described in the design document
  • Texture those models, or create the textures for someone else to use
  • Animate the model for the various situations it will find itself in
  • Create the music and sound effects that will populate the world

Take any other profession in the games industry, and the sentiment will be the same.

As a hobbyist, then this list is exactly what you would do, but people do not go to University to study for their hobby, they go to learn the skills necessary to follow the career they are interested in (well, most do anyway!).

So what is the problem with a course that covers all the various roles available to someone when they start out? Isn’t it good to have an appreciation for the roles your fellow team members are carrying out, and what about those who don’t yet know where their strengths lie?

The first point, an appreciation for your fellow workers is a valid point, but as a junior in the games industry, that appreciation will be thought of for you. The tasks you will be given to complete will have been thought out and will have all the facts already mapped out (or at least they should have been!). You will obviously still have a lot of work ahead of you, but you shouldn’t be making decisions that greatly affect other people on the team. As your experience grows and your responsibility increases, your appreciation for the work other people do will grow along side it, meaning you will have that knowledge through experience, not academia, which is worth a lot more.

As for the people who don’t really know where they want to go, then it’s a hard lesson to learn. Most people either lean towards an artistic temperament or in the totally opposite direction. There are those lucky few who have a talent for both, but for most people to excel in one area they have had a tendency for that since childhood. Most of the time it’s a clearer choice than they realise.

But why isn’t it enough to study the different disciplines, and why don’t students come out at the other end with the relevant skills? It’s all down to time spent working with the tools you intend to use when you graduate. Today’s games are deeper and more complex than ever before. They require a quality of in-game assets an order of magnitude larger than any previous generation. Unless a (lot) of time is spent honing those skills, then they simply will not be good enough when compared to another applicant who has, and at the end of the day that is where the competition for junior positions comes from.

Fortunately, there is a trend towards discipline specific degrees being provided, such as Computer Games Programming (BSc) and Computer Games Art (BA), which obviously focus more on the specifics rather than the whole, which is an excellent start. As these start to take on elements of the more traditional courses (Computer Science or Graphic Arts for example) they start to become the courses that will produce graduates that are perfect for the Games Industry and still attractive to the undergraduates looking to participate in them.

2 thoughts on “A Jack Of All Trades…”

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