[David Mullich, course director for The Los Angeles Film School's Game Production Program, offers advice specifically tailored for artists and writers entering the games industry.]
Last week game producer Jamison Selby invited me to speak to a group of high school students attending a "summer camp" he was leading at the New York Film Academy's campus in Los Angeles. This summer camp was for kids interested in game development, a discipline that film schools such as NYFA are increasingly incorporating into their curriculum.
After introducing myself, I asked the six students attending the camp what role in game development they would like to have. To my surprise, half of them wanted to be 3-D animators and the other half wanted to write the stories behind games - none of them expressed an interest in game programming or design.
However, I shouldn't have been surprised - this was a film school, after all. I had also told the students my own story of having gone to college back in the 1970's, back when the only videogames most people could play were Pong on their home Odyssey systems and Asteroids in the cards, I wanted to be either an artist, a writer, or filmmaker. However, when I saw the long line of people waiting in line to preregister for classes at the Radio-Television-Film Department, I realized that not all of these people were going to find the jobs they wanted, and I decided to just pursue General Education courses until I found a more practical major to study.
I took class in Introduction to Computing just to fulfill my liberal arts requirements, but as I sat in the computer lab waiting print out my homework assignment on the shared printer, I began to type out aStar Trek game. It suddenly occurred to me that a computer could be a creative medium just as is an easel, typewriter, or movie camera. Mathematics could be used to create graphics, logic diagrams were one way to tell a branching story, and coding was essentially directing the computer. The next day I changed my major from Undecided to Computer Science.
One of my college professors later took note of how I was using the college's mainframe to print out images of the Starship Enterprise, and he offered me a job as a clerk in an Apple Computer store he owned, the second computer store ever to open up in the Los Angeles area. There I met some of the people who started the some of the first game publishers, and after I graduated, I went to work for one of them. After a couple of years of doing game design and programming, I went on to becoming a producer, and I haven't written a line of code since. However, my basic knowledge of programming has been an invaluable asset to me throughout the rest of my career because it informs me on how games are put together and why all the roles on a game development team follow the practices that they do.
And so my first bit of advice to the aspiring game developers was to take a programming course, regardless of whether they planned to become artists or writers... or even going into game business development or marketing... because if you're going to be part of a game development team or company, you are going to have to talk to programmers. If you drive a car, it's a good idea to know what the carburetor and other parts of the engine do if for no other reason that you have some idea of what your mechanic is talking about. Some passing knowledge of code may not make you a coder, just like changing a sparkplug doesn't make you a mechanic. But it is helpful when you need to talk to one.