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  • Book Review: Video Game Careers

    [06.10.08]
    - Jill Duffy
  •  Video Game Careers ($19.95) is meant to be a one-stop overview of different careers in the video game industry. An updated edition of the book, by David S.J. Hodgson, Bryan, Stratton, and Alice Rush, was released this year.

    The book's strong point is the breadth of game-related jobs it covers. All the major disciplines have dedicated sections -- design, art, programming, quality assurance, audio, business (production is counted as a facet of business here) -- and the authors cast their net a little wider to include journalism, public relations, strategy guide writing, and even working in a retail game store. Those last two indicate just how comprehensive the book tries to be, though I saw them as superfluous.

    Job Descriptions
    Hodgson, Stratton, and Rush dedicate the bulk of their book to "Chapter 3: Game Jobs," the only chapter thoroughly subdivided into easy-to-navigate sections. Each section deals with a particular job, sometimes referred to by its discipline or department: design, technical jobs, programming, quality assurance, visual art, audio artistry, management, and a few others.

    The authors provide information on the overall general job description, typical duties performed, average salaries according to an anonymous survey conducted by the authors, and skills needed to pursue the work. Most of the information is on target, though I chuckled at the oft-repeated fallback advice for students deciding what to study: "If all else fails, you could always major in psychology!" -- as though it would somehow be more useful than, say, a degree in history, philosophy, classics, literature, sociology, or biology. It never hurts to have a four-year degree in any of the humanities fields, hard sciences, or social sciences.

    The section on quality assurance is one of the clearest descriptions of testing that I've encountered. It delivers an unambiguous account of who does what with whom, how, when, and with what tools:

    "You'll spend days or weeks investigating every nook and cranny of a small portion of the game to ensure nothing weird is happening -- for example, if the save points are too far away, beasts keep resurrecting themselves, and your hero keeps glitching in the crouched position instead of firing his bow, then you make a note of when, where, and how this happened. Usually you take note of these sorts of things on a bug-testing form that's part of the company's intranet or wiki (an internal intranet, with game information on it, accessible to the team.

    "These bugs are tagged with an explanation, such as ‘magical sword of Sharoo turns bright purple and loses all textures when hitting an orc.' Bugs are also flagged based on their severity. Then the programmers, producers, designers, and artists attempt to solve them."

    Another section I found helpful was writing for games because it parsed the category into three major jobs functions: game scriptwriter, who might also be a game designer; support writer, or a technical writer who drafts game manuals and other reference materials; and strategy guide writer, a job title that I thought went too far in its specificity but that I'm guessing was included due to the authors' own experiences. Journalism is handled separately, and rightly so, though many freelance writers dabble across these lines, which the book acknowledges.

    Not all the job descriptions are written with as much clarity as the QA and writers sections. Althought several game designers were interviewed and quoted for the design section, the final chapter still might elude readers who aren't familiar with game development. This problem -- experts being so close to their material that they are unable to explain it clearly to someone who does not yet share the same lexicon -- is a hazard to newcomers. Luckily, after reading most or all of the book, fledgling game developers should be able to assimilate enough information to help them see the big picture, even if they are still fuzzy on some of the details.

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