Let me first introduce myself; my name is Joe and I am a current game design student. The following advice is not just helpful for game design students in official university settings, but hopefully for anyone new to the world of game development serving in any role or function such as art, programming, production, etc. I hope you find the items below valuable and if there are any topics you would like to see discussed in future posts please let me know in the comments section.
1) Play all different kinds of games
You can finally argue with someone that playing games is career research for you now, so play as many different kinds of games as you can get your hands on. If you spend almost all of your gaming time playing the same MMO, FPS, or MOBA, you are limiting yourself as a designer. Play games in every genre, play indie games, play AAA games, play board games, play games you normally would not be interested in, even bad games. Sometimes you can learn just as much if not more from playing a bad game as you would playing a critically acclaimed game. The point here is that the more varied your gaming experiences are, the more knowledgeable you will be.
2) Get life experience outside of the gaming industry
Game designers can and should draw inspiration from every aspect of their life not just from the hours upon hours they have spent playing games. Usually in order to come up with an idea that is unique and innovative you need to draw inspiration from something that has nothing to do with games. To put yourself at an advantage here start gaining as much life experience as time and money allow. Start hiking, traveling, playing an instrument, going to museums, attending a book club or anything else you might enjoy. Every single adventure you have can be the inspiration for your next hit game so start building up that collection of life experiences.
3) Always carry a notebook
As was just discussed inspiration can come from anywhere so while you are enjoying all of these life experiences make sure you have a notebook on you. Smartphones are great and I keep a ton of notes on mine but it is really nice to have a small notebook and pencil so you can add sketches to your notes. I prefer the A5 size unruled notebooks. A quick internet search will reveal that you can pick some up at an inexpensive price. This comes down to preference and there is no right or wrong way just be sure to have some means of recording your ideas when inspiration strikes. Do not rely on memory! Our brains are weak and we will forget.
4) Start making games
Game design and development is like any other skill; we need a lot of practice. Do not feel intimidated to get started. Some popular advice I have been given several times is that our first 10 or so games might be terrible and that is absolutely fine as long as we learn from them. You just want to get them out of the way as soon as possible so start creating. Make board games at first if you have to. Everyone has the technical skills to make one and board games can offer valuable lessons in design.
5) Increase your technical skills
Early on in my game design studies I had a conversation with my school’s career advisor who is an industry veteran. I asked him what is the best possible way to spend my time outside of school work. He immediately advised me to spend it increasing my technical skills. He reminded me that after pre-production and planning the bulk of the work in the development process moves to artists and programmers. As a game designer we want to make sure our skillset remains useful throughout the entire production process. If you are a designer on a small team you will most likely be wearing many different hats so the more areas of expertise you have the better. You may be able to get away with only design knowledge in a AAA game designer position but even then you would be putting yourself at a disadvantage if you could not have an intelligent discussion with artists or programmers. Learn how to code, learn how to do some art, learn how to manage a development process and you will be much better off.
Depending on where you are in your journey this could be advice you have already heard a million times or have never heard before. In either case, however, I believe these are items always valuable to read through. I look forward to continuing to share advice that helps me in my studies and pursuit of this passion.
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