From a Concerned Brother: Game Schools?

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HumanLanguage

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Hey all, I've been following the site for years but haven't actually interacted with the community until now. Recently I've had a growing concern for my little brother that you guys might be able to help me out with, I'd really appreciate the advice.

He wants to be a game designer, which is awesome and I'm all for it. However, he is so set on going to gaming school and thinks our family can pay for an expensive college like Digipen or NYU. My family lives in Middle Tennessee, so an out-of-state school so far away with those price tags probably won't happen. He's really smart (30 on the ACT, he'll probably wind up two or three points higher) but doesn't apply himself in school, so he doesn't have the grades to even get into NYU or some similar school.

So what I'm trying to ask is what is a good option for him? Are there any gaming schools/communities in the South that he can study/intern in? Should he get his undergrad in computer science or programming at a state school and look into specialized masters programs later?

He's applying for colleges next year, so whatever advice any of you have will be much appreciated. Thanks!

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mike

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#2  Edited By mike

@humanlanguage said:

Should he get his undergrad in computer science or programming at a state school and look into specialized masters programs later?

He's applying for colleges next year, so whatever advice any of you have will be much appreciated. Thanks!

I would say yes to this - absolutely - but since you said he doesn't apply himself in school, unless that changes, a STEM program probably isn't going to work out very well. Computer Science isn't like a liberal arts degree where one can just skip classes and BS their way through exams and still graduate with flying colors. The coursework is very difficult, and unless he keeps up with his studies and applies what he is learning, he's going to fail. Around here, many Computer Science students fail out of the program their first time through because they simply aren't prepared for what it actually takes to succeed.

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fisk0

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#3  Edited By fisk0  Moderator

I think someone asked Dave Lang something along these lines during his BLLSL show, and to me it sounded like he didn't think too highly of the game design schools, and rather recommended more general computer science?

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grapesoda

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#4  Edited By grapesoda

I'd recommend trying to get him to take a few computer sciences classes at a community college first. If he's successful he might be able to enter a better school as a transfer student and his high school grades won't be as important, and if hes still not applying himself it will be a whole lot cheaper than paying for the same classes at a four year university.

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#5  Edited By joshwent

@grapesoda said:

I'd recommend trying to get him to take a few computer sciences classes at a community college first. If he's successful he might be able to enter a better school as a transfer student and his high school grades won't be as important, and if hes still not applying himself it will be a whole lot cheaper than paying for the same classes at a four year university.

A million times, this.

I'm of the (unfortunately unpopular) idea that 4-year courses are only truly useful if the course work leads directly into a specific job (med school, engineering, etc.), and for more abstract professions it's a dangerously expensive waste of time. Especially considering "game designer" isn't really a job that one can just apply for right out of college with no other games experience.

Community college, on the other hand, is a very low risk, inexpensive way to dabble in any field, and then use those credits to make a 4-year degree that much easier/cheaper, if that's the route he chooses to follow.

I'm an animator, who went to film/animation school, and I can tell you from personal experience that in a creative field, a degree is worthless without a reel of your actual work. And with a good reel, a degree is almost entirely unnecessary. All of the animation work I've ever had was based on the previous personal projects I've done and shown to clients, and not once did they ask where I went to school.

So yeah, I'd urge him to consider community college courses, and to try just making something on his own with Game Maker, Unity, UE4, or any of the myriad free options out there. That could also leave him with some free time to try and intern with an actual dev. Tennessee isn't necessarily a hotbed of game developers, but if you're in the middle of the state you aren't too far from Nashville, and there are a lot of smaller devs in Atlanta, which I don't think is too crazy far away. There are also great recourses like meetup.com that have game dev groups all over the place that he could join for networking (and fun!).

Missing out on the social experience of a 4-year college is a bummer, but paying off a student loan for 15-30 or more years just isn't worth the hypothetical degree that wouldn't even lead him into the job he wants.

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AlKusanagi

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The local community college here in North Carolina just added a game design program, so maybe there's a similar option near you, but it might be because we have Epic, an Ubisoft branch, and a handful of other game companies in the area.

PS. My friend works at Epic and he said Fortnight is totally a game, Jeff!

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mike

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#7  Edited By mike

A Game Design program at a Community College seems like more of a waste of time than anything else, unless it actually gives a bunch of transferrable credits. I think a game design degree in general is more towards the useless end of degrees than useful, though. Unless the program is actually teaching programming or 3D design and animation (a real marketable skill, in other words), they just don't sound like that great of an idea. One should really think about that kind of degree and what they might be able to do with it if they aren't able to get a job in game design once they get out of school. A STEM degree is going to be much more marketable - someone with a degree in Engineering or Computer Science is going to have much better career prospects than someone with a degree in Game Design.

I'm not saying someone with a degree in Game Design is never going to be able to get a job in the industry, but if I was hiring for an entry level job and I was deciding between two recent college graduates, one with a Computer Science degree and one with a Game Design degree...my decision would be heavily weighted towards the former. Not just because I think it is a more useful program and the person probably would have learned more technical skills and most likely knows how to code, but because I know how difficult Computer Science is, and it really shows a degree of dedication and knowledge if someone is able to complete a program like that.

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joshwent

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#9  Edited By joshwent

@mb: I agree, but as the OP said, their brother has a hard time applying himself at school already, so signing up for an intensive course in CS is a pretty big risk. Even if you flunk out, you still have to pay that loan back. Community, on the other hand, is a relatively very cheap way to see if those kind of classes are something he could excel in.

Though your main point is a good one. A "game design" degree from anywhere is worth far less than any degree in a specific vein of game making. But I'd reiterate what I said above. For a "creative" profession, a degree is a very minor part of what gets you a job, and it's much more about what practical work you have to show, than what deploma you received. And there are tons of options that folks have to acquire skills and make a substantial portfolio of work without traditional college courses.

Hell, our own Drew earned a degree in multimedia (or something similarly vague) but he got jobs in video production from things like his sweet cuts of Jedi Academy multiplayer and stuff he made in his free time.

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#10  Edited By mike

@joshwent: Yeah, I addressed his brother's problem with applying himself in an earlier post already. But I think getting "in" to an industry based on a portfolio is like winning the lottery. It's great when people are able to do that, but for the rest of us, the way in (or the way to a good career related to games) is a technical degree.

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bushpusherr

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First things first, personally I think going to an expensive school for game design is going to be far less useful than something like computer science. Straight up game design jobs are going to be way harder to come by compared to engineering gigs, which are no walk in the park either. Also, someone interested in game design could fair far easier researching on their own compared to something technically demanding like comp sci (even though that's totally possible too). Also, even if games doesn't work out, you could always use the programming background to find other work.

I got my undergraduate at a typical university, then went to DigiPen for my masters in computer science. I can only speak to DigiPen as far as their engineering department is concerned considering that's all I had contact with, but I was definitely satisfied with my time there. It is definitely pricey, but they really know what they are doing. I learned a ton.

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amafi

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I don't get the idea behind game design university courses. Sounds a bit like having a master's in "Ideas Guy".

Do you actually learn any worthwhile skills in a course like that?
Personally, I'd echo what everyone else said, do a CS course for programming. Domain specific skills you can pick up later, and the field evolves so quickly you'll need to constantly learn new things anyways. Which will be easier with a good understanding of programming in general. And if the dream fails you can always get a soulcrushing job writing banking software for 10x the pay.

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Quid_Pro_Bono

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I'm still in college, for CS in fact, and I can say that even if he's bright he won't get far without really working hard. I always had an easy time in school leading up to college and for the first few prerequisites. Straight A's up until I started bashing my brain against the real meat of the CS curriculum. It's hard, complex material, so if he's going into it he'll need to study a lot. I study with a group of fellow STEM students and we're pulling high B's and low A's after putting in 20 to 30 hours of study and homework outside classes. This is at a community college, so when I transfer to a 4-year early next year I assume this will become tougher. Don't let him waste his time in a STEM program if he's not ready to work his ass off. There's a reason these jobs are paid highly.

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#15  Edited By bacongames

I think the first discussion to have is whether said little brother is conflating "game designer" with someone who makes video games which isn't necessarily the same thing. A lot of people in more casual language might use game designer when they really mean a more vague sense of being a game developer. I mention this because in my personal exposure to people who are out and out game designers, you have to have the right mind for it. The tendency to break design down, understand how the shape of the game in all aspects translates into player experience and so on.

I'd say the chief point for someone who wants to make games is to just start doing what it is they might want to be doing. If it's design, go ahead and start designing tabletop games where the programming side is cut out and focus on the design. What are the rules, how might you make this interesting, and then through that practice build some experience. From there you might find some general books on design as well as on game design and just start taking on projects. If it's programming, then there's no shortage of engines, programs, tutorials, and the like to get started. Practice art for art or animation, audio for audio, writing for writing etc. There's really no part of the business, even production, that you can't get your own start in someway or another.

Especially since a lot of programs don't offer game design, it's more advisable to approach design on your own and make sure than take the risk on a degree program for it. Programming, while it's different aspects CS are not for everyone, can make you a better designer by understanding the more technical side of things. Who knows about a major but I'd say if your brother gets into a college program, start off with some introductory programming courses.. From there he can continue along with programming if he likes it and use that for personal game design projects or realize programming is the pits and knows to pivot early toward something else.

The other thing to consider is that if your brother remains indecisive to the end, and a number of college students do, it's not the worst thing to get out of college with a marketable technical degree. At the very least the CS degree can pay the bills while the figuring out process continues.

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chris24680

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As person about to start their masters in computer science I may be a little biased, but I would steer clear of any game courses and stick to general CompSci. Game schools tend to like to teach whatever technology is hip at the moment and gloss over the fundamental mathematical basis of computing. This means when those technologies become out of date, it is much harder to transition to the new big thing. Comp Sci gives you a foundation to pick up new technology as it comes along.

Another thing to consider is that a game school may not be the best idea if he ever decides to switch careers, ubisoft may give a applicant with a Game Design BA and Computer Science BSc the same attention, but Goldman Sachs probably wont.

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brandondryrock

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It probably wouldn't hurt for him to use some online resources to play around with like Unity or UE4 or something. It isn't the same as taking a CS course, but it sounds like your brother was in a similar situation I was in before going to school. I wanted to make games, went to school for a software engineering degree, and realized I was way in over my head. Ended up getting a liberal arts degree, which I sort of regret. I didn't apply myself at college, and I ended up with a degree that isn't very marketable. I was also in school for six years, mainly because that first year and a half I was in engineering, and hardly any of those courses transferred over to liberal arts.

I went into that program with no programming experience, and I wish I would have had a little bit of knowledge beforehand.

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While I agree with everyone that staying away from a Game Design course is solid advice, I can't help feeling that telling your brother to undertake a Comp Sci course won't help much if what he actually wants to do is design games. Unless he actually wants to do programming, doing a Comp Sci course isn't really going to help you, and there's no point suggesting that to him if he doesn't have any interest in coding games.

As someone who did a Computing degree here in the UK because I wanted to get into the games industry, I can 100% say that it's the correct choice over a games specific course when applying to be a programmer in the industry - but I actually wanted to do games programming in the first place.

When it comes to design, getting in seems to be some sort of arcane art. I would recommend he works on games projects in his spare time (some basis in coding knowledge is always beneficial, even if he doesn't want to persue it as a career) and that he should find a way in to the industry that initially isn't design. When I spent a day at Criterion we had a presentation from a Junior designer there who had spent a few years as an internal tester, to get his foot in the door. Getting in to design is rough - there's no set of easily definiable skills that make you a good designer and when anyone decides they want to make games the first thing they think is "Oh I could be a designer," but I wish your brother the best of luck.

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#19 thatpinguino  Staff

@humanlanguage: I'm someone who wants to get into game design and I went the Comp Sci first route and I really recommend it. Having a basis in general comp sci philosophies and best practices will give you he tools to pick up the coding and systems end of game design. It will also give you a basis for entering other industries that have actual job security, work/life balance, and regularly pay livable salaries. Its a lot easier to live and do game design as a side-project than it is to break into the industry with no other work experience.

I'll echo what other people have said, if your brother isn't a diligent worker, then a community college course or two in comp sci (for coding and design), creative writing/English (if your brother is interested in narrative), or art (if that is the end of the industry your brother prefers) will be a much cheaper way to find out what he likes. I have a friend who is at a game design masters program and he seems to be getting a lot out of the basic coding best-practices that he learned in comp sci.

@mb said:
@humanlanguage said:

Should he get his undergrad in computer science or programming at a state school and look into specialized masters programs later?

He's applying for colleges next year, so whatever advice any of you have will be much appreciated. Thanks!

I would say yes to this - absolutely - but since you said he doesn't apply himself in school, unless that changes, a STEM program probably isn't going to work out very well. Computer Science isn't like a liberal arts degree where one can just skip classes and BS their way through exams and still graduate with flying colors. The coursework is very difficult, and unless he keeps up with his studies and applies what he is learning, he's going to fail. Around here, many Computer Science students fail out of the program their first time through because they simply aren't prepared for what it actually takes to succeed.

As someone with a BS in Comp Sci and a BA in English, I'd like to throw in that skipping classes and BSing through exams doesn't fly in non-STEM either. It is very clear who is doing the work and who isn't and teachers grade accordingly.

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hippie_genocide

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@humanlanguage: I'm not going to pile on your brother's work ethic. He kind of sounds like me when I was in HS - so smart that the lowest common denominator HS classes present such a non-challenge that I can't be arsed to even care. It wasn't until I got to college that I had to study, and I did quite well. If money is tight, I would suggest doing all his general ed coursework at a community college then transferring for his core major classes. No reason to subsidize liberal arts programs at the university level. Take some beginning Comp Sci courses while he's at it to see if it's his bag or not.

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@humanlanguage: Hey I'm from Nashville and I can recommend Nashville State as a good community college (used to be Nashville Tech) and Tennessee Tech as a good four year university in state. I think there is free tuition or lottery scholarships for both those schools now.

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#22  Edited By amafi

@bollard: Yeah, design seems like such a nebulous thing I can't really see how any 4 year curriculum can give someone a set of skills that prepares them to get in there and design games. You can do a semester on optimum jump height and pros and cons of various kinds of inventory systems and modes of fast travel, or something, but it seems like a really weird thing.

If I were trying to get in I'd take some CS courses, I'd take some creative writing classes, and I'd spend all my free time in gamemaker or similar just banging out prototypes of stuff. And then try to move to montreal to get in as QA in one of the 5000 studios up there and hope to work my way up. Doing that sort of thing will at the very least get you exposed to how the sausage is made, give you an understanding of game design documents, get you a lot of contacts, all that sort of thing.

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Nime

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#23  Edited By Nime

@jaycrockett: Hey local friend, I'm studying at Vanderbilt.

On topic, as others have said his best bet is probably taking CS courses and working on game dev in his free time. I don't really think design courses are all that worthwhile. He will need first hand experience in making games for himself, which is going to require some amount of CS either way.

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monkeyking1969

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I think it has been said by MANY game developers that what is important is getting a college degree. Computer science is great, but not necessary any English, Math, or Art degree would be good too. The important thing is to make games on his own game. He could even do it with friends or join a club (start a club at college), and he can do that on his own using free software in many cases.

I would tell you brother to go to Middle Tennessee State University. They seem to have a lot of hands on programs, and a lot of lab and tech spaces. I'm not an expert, I wish I was, but I always hear from developers that what matters is "drive", "a portfolio of your own work" and a lot of persistence. If he went through a MTSU program and made some of his own games, put together a portfolio of how he planned that games he made that woudl be enough to get an entry level position.

For your brother, who is smart, but a poor student - he NEEDS to learn how to learn. MTSU would probably be good for that fresh start, because anywhere he goes he will have to be a very good student and for some of us that takes time. Digipen would chew him up and spit him out. At MTSU he can take some freshman classes and learn how to be a good college student FIRST. Meanwhile, in high school, if he wants to make games he should MAKES SOME GAMES....the software is free.

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amafi

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@monkeyking1969: True. No better way of learning to do stuff than to just do it.
Depending on what kind of thing someone wants to do, I still think the toolset for the first Neverwinter Nights is fantastic. Really easy to make maps, the community asset packs are INSANE, very good tools for doing things like making branching dialog trees etc, and minimal coding required. And you can get the game with all the addon stuff for damn near free these days and it runs on a toaster.

New gameplay features would be rough, but for designing a world and a narrative and things like that, it can produce some pretty spectacular results without a lot of learning required. Probably spent more time playing around with the toolset than I did playing the game and I probably played the game for something like 800 hours.

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deactivated-601df795ee52f

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I don't think I've ever heard anything positive about game design schools and degrees. I don't know what part of game development your brother wants to do, but if it's programming, there's lots of free and helpful internet sources he could try like CodeAcademy. He won't be making Gearsofhalotheftauto 12 but it might be a good starting to point to see if that's something he can apply himself to.

If he wants to be more on the design front, maybe try some art programs at a community college. Some English courses may be good as well.