Making games

I just stumbled on a book at the local bookstore by Andre LaMothe about programming in DarkBasic. While I was intrigued at the idea of a language designed explicitly for building games and quickly scanned the entire book, the fact that the language was modeled on qbasic really hurt my programming sensibilities.

Question one: If I wanted to learn about making games (not necessarily to score a 1337 job working under cliffyb or anything :wink: ), how would I go about learning the trade?

I am getting a degree in MIS in the next two weeks, and plan to have a master’s in CS in a couple of years. After that, my fiancee wants to move to Austin, TX to get her MFA. I know there are some game dev. houses in Austin; I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they already have all the employees they need.

Question two: Just out of curiosity, how much do entry-level game devs make? Do companies like Ion Storm (or whoever’s in Austin) need people who are skilled in business and programming applications in the front office? If I went after a job like that I’d expect a normal human’s salary, not $20M a year :P

For a general overview on the games industry (what the various roles are in a development studio, how they interact), the Prima Guide is actually a decent resource. There’s also the GameSpy Gaming University series of articles on getting into the game biz.

That isn’t necessarily true. Dev houses are routinely looking for new hires. Check the Gamasutra web-site from time to time. There’s always someone, although not always someone in Austin, looking for help.

Aside from the tried-and-true “get a test job, then work your way up path”, it’s not unheard of for people (particularly skilled people like artists and programmers) to get an entry-level job just out of college.

You’re going to make less in the game industry than you would doing similar work outside the industry, especially if you’re a programmer. You don’t get into the games industry for fame, glory, or money, not unless you’re crazy. Exact salary numbers are going to vary from position to position and studio to studio, and, of course, how well you can negotiate and what skills you have. The IGDA does a salary survey every year at GDC; that should be available somewhere on the web, but keep in mind that it’s not cost-of-living adjusted, which means that a lot of the “Silicon Valley” studios push the numbers up a bit.

Finally, any development house is going to need all the same business support people (accountants, receptionists, HR staff, etc.) that any other business would need. I wouldn’t think that any but the largest companies (EA, Nintendo) would need a full-time, dedicated business-software engineer, though, although having a business and programming background might be useful for a producer-type position.

Hope that helps.


Good stuff, Michael, I appreciate the information. I don’t believe I’d be willing to take a major pay cut or scrape my way up from a tester position just to get inside the game industry. I consider myself fairly employable given my peculiar combination of technical skills, business education, and young age. Right now I’m making $10 an hour doing network analyst work that should be paying closer to $20 (given the location, job requirements, and my skillset). The company can get away with that because I’m a part-time college student and have only been working here for two weeks. I will be re-negotiating in a week or two when I get my bachelor’s degree though.

Since I’m planning on continuing part-time employment with them through grad school, I’m hoping to get closer to $20. My plan for talking my way into this pay increase is to harp on the degree that I didn’t have when we picked out my starting pay rate and to point out to them the many things I’ve already been able to do for them. I feel like I will have to leave as a matter of pride and professionalism if I am unable to secure a raise, because I do not feel comfortable working for 50% of the realistic value of my work. To add to that, I have another, easier job that pays the same wages.

As for work in Austin, I was thinking to myself that if I had to work in Austin, I may as well look into doing something I enjoyed. I can handle doing IT solutions/management for any company in the end, I was just curious to see if the game industry was as hard to get into as I suspected.

Again, while I’d love to work in the industry, I can just as well work somewhere else. I’ll keep an eye out for industry jobs in the Austin area, but I don’t plan to bend over backwards for anyone.

I realize my posts tend to ramble, sorry about that. I’m a stream-of-consciousness forum whore.

If you haven’t read it yet, Tom Sloper has written up lots and lots of advice on his Sloperama website. Maybe not too relevant in your case since you’re already on your way to a CS degree but worth checking out anyway.

Well, if you’re looking at educating yourself about programming games, it’s basically a do-it-yourself affair, at least for game-specific things. DON’T IGNORE ALL THE REGULAR “BORING” COMPUTER SCIENCE STUFF, THOUGH. That’s all essential, too. :D (sorry, but it really annoys me when people talk about college in relation to gaming jobs and say it’s worthless…it’s definitely not!) There’s tons of reading material out there now on programming games (books, and free stuff on the Internet), it’s just a matter of sifting through the crap or outdated stuff.

Start simple, and focus on learning or doing one thing at a time. If you don’t know C++, learn it. If you haven’t really touched DirectX, start simple and gradually do something more complicated. (Actually, I’d almost recommend using C# with DX9 for learning, because you spend less time debugging pointless silly Windows programming bugs, and more time actually using the DX API.) If you’re looking at getting a programming job, your eventual goal should be a decent demo/demos that show off a broad base of game-related skills. Doesn’t have to be earthshattering, but it should demonstrate proficiency.

As far as finding industry jobs goes…it’s Gamasutra and “pounding the pavement”. I doubt that IS needs your traditional business applications programmers (more likely a publisher, but even then who knows), but something close to that would be tools programming, which is becoming more and more important. And yeah, it is certainly possible to enter into a programming role without prior industry experience (that’s why you have those demos!). It’s true that you will probably earn less than you could elsewhere, but personally speaking, working in games is definitely the most interesting work I’ve ever done…so it’s a trade-off.

(I see your stream of consciousness and raise you another. :) )

A good book that I’ve been plugging along with is Andre’s “Tricks Of The Windows Game Programming Gurus” (second edition). Very comprehensive book that guides you step by step from basic windows programming to hardcore game programming and covers all the general bases from what I can tell.

BTW you sound a lot like me although my gf wasn’t able to go to Austin for her MFA so she’s going to Columbia in NY and I’ll go next year when I’m done with my masters in CS.