Diecast #24: The Mailbag

 By Shamus Aug 7, 2013 106 comments


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Special episode this week. There’s no news we care to talk about, so we’re answering mailbag questions. Note that I’ve paraphrased the questions in the show notes because I don’t want to transcribe the originals.

Hosts: Chris, Josh, Rutskarn and Shamus.

Show notes:

1:00 What’s everyone playing?

Chris is playing Rogue Legacy, Animal Crossing, and Civilization V: Brave New World.

Rutskarn is writing for Unrest and playing Sleeping Dogs. He’s also looking for a job making words for a living.

Shamus has been playing Titan Attacks and Ultratron from indie developer Puppygames. Also programming.

Josh is playing Metro: Last Light.

20:00 What is you opinion of game design colleges?

38:00 Why are games so obsessed with using “ruins” as gameplay space?

There was a sub-question directed at me, which we forgot about. So I’ll answer it here in the show notes. The question was, “Why do you like Spiderman?”

I fell in love with Spiderman because he was the first superhero that felt real or relatable to me. Batman was a millionaire playboy. Superman was a handsome invincible saint from another planet. Wonder Woman was a warrior princess of the Amazons. Thor was a Norse God.

But Spiderman was a “regular” guy and when he took off the mask he had regular guy problems. He wasn’t rich, or famous, or popular. He had to buy his groceries and take out the garbage just like everyone else.

47:00 What do you think about “benign deaths” in videogames like BioShock, Prey, RAGE, and Borderlands?

A Hundred!6106 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


  1. CTrees says:

    Spider-man, not Spiderman.

    If it’s any consolation, I also hate me a little bit for that bit of pedantry.

  2. Cuthalion says:

    That picture of Mumbles in the banner is terrifying, by the way.

    As it should be.

    (Too bad she wasn’t able to make this episode now that she’s finally in the image. :P)

    Edit: Kinda thought she’d look more like Batman though…

  3. Ben Hilton says:

    Who actually does the cover art..Rutskarn right?

  4. I’ve been doing exactly what Shamus recommends in the game school section; sitting at home, learning everything I can, and making lots of games. Compared to my friends who are going to school for game design, I’ve learned far more in the same amount of time and have many times more finished games to my name, and I haven’t spent a penny on my education in that time. I absolutely agree with his advice.

    Portfolio! http://jacobalbano.com/games-ive-made/

    • Lord Nyax says:

      I tried out Hypothermia and No Other Home.

      Hypothermia was fun, but I never managed to get past lighting the fire and finding the blanket. I found it pretty frustrating from that point. I wanted to wear the blanket, but couldn’t figure out how to “use” it on myself. Then I saw the bed and thought “I’ll just cuddle up in bed with the blanket” but I couldn’t do that either. Of course, I’m not very good at point and click adventures so the fact that I got stuck on it doesn’t say much.

      No Other Home was fun. I really enjoyed the first few planets, but then I felt that it became too easy. The aliens all attack in exactly the same way, so it becomes too easy to defeat them. Then when you hit the boss, the difficulty spikes immensely. I was unable to beat the boss, to my frustration. A health bar for the boss would have been nice. I honestly couldn’t tell I was doing anything to him at all. So overall, fun, too easy, and then suddenly too hard.

  5. Corpital says:

    How would you place Planescape: Torment on the “benign death” scale? If you are killed you won’t die, but will respawn at the entry of the current area or in the graveyardcavernmonasterything from the very beginning of the game, if I remember correctly, depending were it happened. No penalty and functionally identical to the loading of an autosave, made whenever you enter a new area.

    Before the beginning of the story, of course, the PC lost his memory most of the times he got killed, but that seemed to have stopped completely.

    • Disc says:

      Major spoilers ahead:

      There is a penalty to pay near the very end of the game. The nature of your immortality is such that every time you die i.e go briefly braindead, a random mortal somewhere in the multiverse dies and their soul is trapped in the Negative Material Plane inside the Fortress of Regrets, becoming one of the very shadows that have been coming after you during the game, but allowing you to raise from the dead. When you first reach the fortress, you’re stuck in an area filled with continuously respawning high level shadows equal to the amount of times you’ve died. Due to the nature of the plane, you’re effectively cut off from your ability to rise from the dead, except for any party members you brought along, which gives you only a few extra lives for the cost of theirs. If you die without any of them alive, it’s game over. The area is possible to solve without dying, but it can be very difficult if you died a lot during the game.

    • Deadpool says:

      As I recall it, by the time the game started, TNO is now an empty vessel. He revives with ZERO personality, reads his journal, and regains his personality that way.

      Not the best excuse, but meh…

      • Disc says:

        That’s a somewhat common misconception. Probably fault of the game not explaining it well enough in the start, but the whole losing your memory is only what used to happen. Ever since waking up he keeps remembering. The game is a bit hazy though if the amnesia happened every time he died or if it was because dying in a specific way thanks to a few plotholes. But as far as the game and the plot are concerned, it treats you as if you never forget again.

        • Anorak says:

          One of his previous incarnations (the practical one, I think) found out from a seer that his Amnesia would cease after only 3 more deaths. He killed the seer because the information was useless to him. I assume that the third death that triggers this change in your amnesia was the one that got you into the morgue at the start of the game.

          • Disc says:

            It was the Paranoid one actually. The plotholes still make it kind of vague whether it happened at every possible death. What I’m referring to is the design of the tomb the Practical Incarnation had built. If it always involved repeatedly killing yourself in order to explore it (“Practical” mentions that it was meant to be an inescapable trap), then one could easily assume that suffering the amnesia would require a specific type of death. While the Paranoid mentions ‘improving’ on the design, the game fails to explain whatever his improvements were. Only things directly attributable to him are some of the engravings on the walls inside the central chamber.

  6. nerdpride says:

    When I was slightly younger, I read this guide: http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html

    It looks a bit different now, perhaps I didn’t get the same thing. Still same kind of feel, a really neat guide, I recommend it. I remember it advising me to go to college pursuing a more general-purpose degree, perhaps even liberal arts.

    I chose Electrical Engineering. It seemed challenging and practical at the time. It wasn’t the greatest experience in school with lots of work, some thousands in money, not enough prestige to get the best job, and the school end being cheap. I’m still working on paying for this past year and a little more, and I was one of the lucky ones–most of the students in that department left us before graduation.

    Anyway, the hacker guide advice was good and bad. I have a nifty interest in physics and math now, although it was really expensive and I could’ve done it without a school. Plus, most of my high school ideas were terrible.

    The bit of advice I’d give to videogame people is this: first do something else, become some other kind of expert. I read on an artist blog (Three Jaguars) that the day-job can be inspiring and I agree. I think the main reason why I don’t like many videogames is because the developers mostly look at other videogames. Or they still talk about a few ideas from literature. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is really interesting!

    • Corpital says:

      I agree with your personal advice as hard as I possibly can.

      I, too, suggest to generally experience as many things as possible. Read books, watch movies, listen to music, go hiking and, above all, talk so some people. Getting different opinions and perspectives on some details in a story, picture or game has often helped me improve the whole thing.

      So basically put everything you can find into your subconsciousness, shake it and whatever you pour out will, if not delicious, at least be quite interesting.

  7. Destrustor says:

    On the subject of the borderlands respawn system, there’s one question that’s been bugging me for a while.
    Are the New-U stations in-universe or are they just a gameplay abstraction?
    On the one hand, having them being a gameplay abstraction means a lot of characters are breaking the fourth wall in a few conversations (mainly Claptrap since he’s the one to introduce the player to the mechanic in both games), but it also breaks some segments. The B2 mission “kill yourself” is the best example of this, as it rewards you, in-universe, with cash and loot for jumping to your death from a cliff, meaning that the game basically acknowledges that your character has literally been cloned in real time.
    However, accepting that the stations are a real thing in the borderlands universe creates huge plotholes in the second game. The main one being that we can kill Handsome Jack at all in the first place, and that we only have to do it once to be rid of him.
    He’s the megalomaniac tyrant who owns the company that made the damn stations! If there’s one guy in the universe who should have permanent, easy access to resurrection machines, it’s him.
    Okay, maybe he just decided he was opposed to the idea of cloning himself to stay alive for personal or theological reasons (that the game, or his dialogue, never hints at), but in that case, how did he kill Roland?
    The first game has shown us that Roland is definitely registered in the system, so why did he not respawn when Jack shot him? It can’t be the room where this happens having some special anti-spawning powers, since the players can die without consequence in that very same room all they want. It can’t be a special power of Jack’s handgun, since he would basically be stuck either exclusively using that gun against the vault hunters, or being a huge idiot. If it’s a power that can be applied to a gun, why doesn’t he make more? if it’s simply possible to revoke someone’s registration in the system, why doesn’t he do it to all his enemies(all the new vault hunters)?
    For the common NPCs, I can accept that they wouldn’t be registered in the system, or that they don’t use it for some reason. Maybe the “adjusting costs to your current fortune” thing is itself a gameplay abstraction, and that the actual in-universe cost is a fixed 500 grand or something, making it well beyond the reach of common citizens. But the thing is, Either Handsome Jack has no excuse, or those excuses are never revealed to the player. He owns the machines, he owns the system running the machines, and he has literally all the money in the world to afford doing whatever he wants with it. So why would he let himself be killed like that?
    The game can’t seem to decide if it wants the New-U stations to exist within the universe of the game or not, and it leads to huge plot holes regarding the mortality of at least three of the most important characters.
    Hasn’t this bugged anyone else?

    • Just Passing Through says:

      You are giving Borderlands WAY to much credit by putting this amount of thought into it.

    • krellen says:

      The way I justify it is that there’s something about being a “Vault Hunter” that makes you compatible with New-U stations that normal people aren’t. Some people are just bandits or adventurers or mercenaries, but “Vault Hunters” are held in awe because their genes allow them to be effectively immortal.

      As for why Jack doesn’t just shut off the machines for his enemies, clearly they are too vital to Hyperion’s finances, and the shareholders would never allow such a policy. But he must have convinced them that Roland was enough of a troublemaker to get blacklisted.

      • Nidokoenig says:

        Alternatively, the people who are both rich enough to use it and get killed for real are highly allergic to a substance used in the cloning process, meaning they don’t survive it. This raises the rather gruesome possibility of them getting stuck in a resurrection/death loop until the machine notices something’s up or someone overrides it.

        • Humanoid says:

          Is that like when you dream about waking up, getting out of bed, then suddenly waking up again still in bed, and getting out of bed, repeat?

          ‘Cos that sucks.

          • Nidokoenig says:

            I was thinking more along the lines of waking up in the middle of dying from a severe allergic reaction, dying and then repeating it over and over, hence the word “gruesome”.

    • anaphysik says:

      They’re a gameplay abstraction that gets talked about because doing so is funny.

  8. SyrusRayne says:

    Branching off from the Game College thing, and Shamus’s advice specifically; I’ve been thinking I’d be interested in teaching myself programming – and Mr. Young’s own writings on the subject pique my interest. So I have a question for Shamus, or anyone else with an interest or experience in programming:

    What sort of resources would you recommend for someone interested in learning? There’s a lot of info out there, and it’s hard for a layman to tell what’s useful and what’s not. Any advice?

    • Dave B. says:

      The answer will vary a lot based on your choice of programming language, but I’ve found great resources at places like Learn Code the Hard Way or programming ebooks sold by O’Reilly Media.

      My personal advice is to start with a language like VB.net, C#.net, or Python, which you can quickly learn enough of to start doing interesting things. Books with titles like “Learn [programming language] in [arbitrary amount of time]” are usually OK for beginners, though finding intermediate-level resources can be much more difficult.

      • Wedge says:

        I don’t recommend the “Learn Whatever in 24 Hours” books. They generally don’t do an amazing job of teaching you about programming in general, even though they’re usually written with a beginner in mind, instead they mostly tell you the basics of the specific language. You can find as good or better tutorials online for no money.
        Two suggestions are How to Think Like a Computer Scientist and Learn Python the Hard Way. Both of them are in Python, which is both a good intro language for novice programmers and a powerful, general purpose language that can be used for serious application development. However, whatever you do, don’t get married to one language. Remember that a programming language is a tool–a good programmer will know several languages well, understands the strengths and weaknesses of each, and can pick up new languages easily.

        • Dave B. says:

          Some books are better than others, but you’re right. A lot of them are based around the shortcut philosophy that prompted Zed Shaw to write Learn Python the Hard Way.

          Again, Python is a great language to get started with, but it can’t do everything. None of them can. So, don’t get caught in the trap of holding out for the “best” or “ultimate” language. If you learn to program well first, you can learn any language you will need later.

    • Ranneko says:

      A friend of mine is one of the people behind https://groklearning.com/, currently it only offers a beginner python course and a python programming competition.

      I really recommend checking out the free 2 modules of the beginner course the interface they have put together is really slick and it is great at teaching you basic concepts.

    • nerdpride says:

      Download a compiler and start writing programs! I don’t understand why people want to write code but then sit on their thumbs forever. Even if you copy something out of a tutorial, you did it! It’s yours now, and you can change it too.

      I learned most of the things I know about it from getting in there, making changes to things, and trying to fix error messages like “pointer null address invalid” or something. If you’re like I was then you won’t understand the details from the code you’re copying, get confused by the book, and give up for a year or so. But the books both try to explain things and give you example code–both are useful.

      For intermediate stuff, I recommend cruising around sites where people post code with problems and other people try to fix it. Another handy thing is you’ll know what to expect when you have a problem and hope to have someone on the internet help you out. You’ll be in the habit of looking for a solution to something before asking for it on a site and you’ll be confident about asking someone to make it make more sense.

      Also I thought it was really helpful or at least nifty to understand a few things about computer architecture and machine code. Maybe some gurus wouldn’t think it necessary? I dunno. More essential for tiny embedded microcontroller stuff.

      I use Code::Blocks as an IDE and GCC/G++ as a compiler for occasional PC projects and MPLAB X for my PIC microcontrollers. I think I messed with python once but I forget.

    • anon says:

      I would say there two approaches to learning how to program:

      You can start with a really high level language (Java, Python, C#, most things with a virtual machine).

      This has the advantage of being able to “do things” faster (and thus getting a higher motivation). It also makes sure you make a lot less mistakes, and you spend a lot less time banging your head on the wall.

      The disadvantage is that a lot of what is happening is kept behind the scenes. You will have less understanding of what is happening. This can make some errors difficult to find. It will also leave you with a lot of vices, and make some advanced programming concepts harder to understand.

      The other route is to start with a language a bit closer to the hardware (C, maybe C++)*.

      This has the advantage of exposing a bit of what is really happening inside the processing chip. You will learn a lot more, and you will easily spot bad practices and inefficiencies in those other higher level languages. You will also start appreciating them more for all the work they do behind the scenes. From my (limited) experience, it is easier to transition to the higher level abstractions and concepts after mastering the lower level ones, than to do the opposite.

      The downside is that these languages are harder to learn, the bugs more difficult to find (but you will learn more when you find them), and it just takes more time and work to “do things”.

      However, the most important thing in learning how to program is not your first language choice, but motivation. Learning how to program involves many hours spent around the debugger trying to figure out why the program isn’t doing what it was supposed to. At that stage, it is very easy to give up. Programming takes a lot of time and work. There are no shortcuts around it.

      P.S: I took the second route and first learned C. Then transitioned to the higher level ones. I’m quite happy with that path, however, I come from an academic background, I’m not self-taught.

      *For heaven’s sake do not start at assembly level.

      • nerdpride says:

        > *For heaven’s sake do not start at assembly level.

        I dunno where one should start but I have to agree with that “at least not there”. I know some older people who were frustrated with higher level languages for being so much different or something along those lines.

        But it does have some neat niches. The smart old embedded gurus would keep large, heavily optimized functions around and “assemble” their programs out of them.

  9. Otters34 says:

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my question! Very interesting explanation, I’d never thought of the whole levels of history thing as a partial reason. Reminds me of those huge walls in Mycenae that the old Greeks said were built by cyclopses.

    The ease of using ruins did occur to me, but didn’t seem quite so important as it turns out it is. In hindsight they are amazingly cheap and useful, makes sense to use them instead of laboriously building a whole working city.

    Still, it seems like a lost opportunity when everything is in an age of decline looking back at a lost wonder.

    And Mr. Young, thank you so much for the words on Spider-Man, I really love reading your words about things you like, and it was quite informative.

  10. Wow, Chris’ summary at 0:33:00 is so good! Someone get that guy on a podcast!

    However, all of what is said about “game colleges” applies to normal colleges as well. And everything that is said about the “games industry” applies to a ton of other industries as well. Real life is real life. It’s hard, and often not particularly romantic. Or, conversely, you have to find romance where you are, instead of chasing it all over the place.

    Love the comments on the pragmatic meta-advantages of ruins. Unfamiliar, no NPCs, etc. Neat.

    • Naota says:

      In light of this, is game development really so much worse than the alternatives? It seems prohibitively difficult to make games for a living, though I’m hoping that Shamus has simply understated how much a good indie title can make for its creators.

      The problem I see is:
      -Triple-A games companies offer developers little to no creative agency. They can’t make the games they like even in a general sense, so they leave the industry or at least don’t put passion into their work.

      -Indie games have such limited resources that they often can’t even afford to make the transition from 2D to 3D, let alone. This also puts limitations on what sorts of games indies can make. More importantly, many indies and small companies aren’t looking for a person with my skillset in 3D art. I’d have to be a designer or writer of some description… which the founder almost always is himself, and is not looking for outside help.

      So what’s an aspiring 3D artist and mod developer to do? Keep throwing my resume at local companies like Ubisoft and Eidos for years hoping to get lucky? Start another indie project and hope to make a sustainable living? Go back to school and chase a different career path?

      Hard and not particularly romantic indeed.

    • topazwolf says:

      Unless of course you are going to a nationally certified college to become licensed for a job that can well cause the deaths of hundreds of people if not handled correctly. The rigorous selection of students for full licensing does make sense in such a scenario.

      Though I am a full believer in not getting a degree for fields that are fundamental artistic in nature. Classes are less expensive and generally provide a more convenient and equally beneficial experience.

  11. Hitchmeister says:

    There was an article on the Escapist a few years ago that dealt with the question of “Why ruins?” http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_258/7683-D-D-Is-the-Apocalypse Most of it is basically an expansion of what Josh said, but I figured I’d link it for further reading if anyone was interested.

  12. Aldowyn says:

    Question 1: I’ve spend a lot of time researching and thinking about this topic, considering I’m another person who would like to become a game designer. There ARE colleges that will give you a Bachelor’s in game design or game programming or whatever with proper accreditations and whatever, although certificates are common too.

    Personally, my current plan is to get a bachelor’s in a more typical field (Physics, in my case…) and then go get a Master’s degree at a school called the Guildhall at SMU (Southern Methodist University). It’s pretty well established and such.. here’s an article from 1up about it.

    Going for a design career is a bit different than programming, I think. It’s a lot easier for a programmer to make a game from the ground up, although there are tools out there that require little to no programming knowledge, and I could always make a board game or tabletop. Or find a team or a programmer to work with.

    Question 3: Didn’t you get penalized a fairly decent amount of cash in the original Bioshock? I think it was less significant of an amount in Infinite (not to mention money wasn’t as big a deal), but you got docked there too.

    • Astor says:

      Question3: Didn’t cost anything in Bioshock the First, while Bioshock the Infinite took your dollars. I think it’s important to note that in the first game it made sense regarding gameplay vs. story… while not so much in Infinite.

    • Supahewok says:

      As someone who went to SMU for a year and had a roommate who was trying to get into the Guildhall, allow me to say: it is incredibly competitive to get in. First, at least for the programming path, you need to graduate from SMU in 3 years. Even then, they only take a hundred applicants a year, spread out over their 4 areas. (Level Design I think is one, and Artist, etc.) Don’t put all of your eggs in that basket. Upside is that if you did get in and graduate, everybody in the industry loves the Guildhall. Its a big boost to your career. You’ll need it, too, to pay off the loans.

      If you come back and see this, if you wanna I can get specific info out of the book undergraduates get that lists all of the graduation requirements for all degrees, along with course descriptions. I’ll check back here for a few days to see if you’re interested.

      • Aldowyn says:

        Sure, that could be a big help. I’ve looked around the site a bit but anything extra would be nice, thanks!

        • Supahewok says:

          Being busy at work with a terribad internet connection almost made a liar out of me, but I’m glad I checked back. This is a little embarrassing, but I checked the undergrad degree book, and it mentions a CompSci degree at SMU with a video game development track, and not much else. I can’t even find descriptions of the classes it lists. What it looks like is that if you go to SMU, you can speed through the rest of the CompSci degree in three years, then spend your senior year taking classes at the Guildhall, for a 4 year degree, which isn’t quite what I had had in mind when I first commented. And of course that’s dependent on your attending SMU, and I don’t know if you’re in college, about to start, or if you have another year or two to apply to places. (not to mention SMU is VERY expensive unless you get some academic scholarships).

          What I can do, if you’re willing, is put you in touch with my roommate. I think he’ll help- he’s a nice guy- but I don’t wanna put words in his mouth. Do you have an email he can talk to you with if he’s willing? It would be less clumsy than using Shamus’ blog here. (he could probably also do Steam chat, but he’s a little busy on his internship and coding a game)

          Edit: He got back to me and says he doesn’t actually know anything much beyond the website, since it’s a couple of years down the road for him he figures he has time. Sorry.

          Regardless of that, I can tell you that Eeyore below me is right: every single one of the 4 areas the Guildhall makes your Master’s Degree specialize in involves lots of coding and programming. Even if you want to be a designer. A minor in computer science is probably the minimum they want to see. But honestly, if you’re majoring in Physics, you do have enough time to grab a minor in Comp Sci. (I say this as a until recently Civil Engineering major, where the Degree called for around 105 hours, and a Physics degree calls for 55. Both on top of University Curriculum of course, so add around 24 hours to each.)

          I think what another friend of mine who wants to be a designer is doing is getting a Major in Architecture and a Minor in Comp Sci before going to Guildhall.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Yeah, I’m going for a minor in comp sci already as I figured that would help (At TU, which happens to be one of SMU’s main competitors, actually). Thanks for the info and advice (that goes for everyone)

    • Eeyore says:

      I can’t really say how competitive getting into Guildhall is. Will be starting my first year there in a couple of weeks. I took five years to get my Bachelors over in UNT (Computer Science). While getting my Bachelors, I took the available game programming classes available there (you can get a game programming certificate there) to kinda get familiar with something beyond Command Prompt outputs and Hello World.

      But when I checked out Guildhall’s Open House, they expect applicants to know how to program (well at least in the field I was going in which was program) but not necessarily have any experience making games. Of course they said that the experience was still good (they know the professor who teaches over in UNT).

      Having applied to Guildhall, the test programs you are expected to do show that you need to know about pointers, data structures, and essentially all the basics of programming.

      I do feel that if game programming is not my thing, I will still have experience in programming to actually work on other things if necessary thanks to my broader Bachelors degree.

    • Wedge says:

      The real issue is this: programming games (or anything else for that matter) is HARD. You are not going to gain the experience and knowledge necessary to do it in a two-year certificate program.

      I also have to point out, since they mentioned Full Sail specifically, that Full Sail is an actual four-year university that give accredited Bachelor’s and higher degrees. I don’t know how competitive it is or how well regarded they are in the industry, but they’re certainly a cut above the average 2-year trade school game programs.

      The real issue, though, is like Shamus said: everyone has a degree these days, so having a degree is worth approximately as much as the paper it’s printed on. People hiring programmers (in ANY field) need to know that you’re capable of programming, and having a degree does not tell a prospective employer ANYTHING about your programming capabilities. Shamus gives the best advice: what you need to do is make things, because those are things you can show off to prospective employers that says “see! I know how to do this thing!” and that’s actually valuable information for a hiring manager.

      • Epopisces says:

        As someone who graduated from Full Sail (in 2006 back when they only offered Associate’s Degrees, for the record) I can tell you that it is very dependent on your own skills. That is not a knock against Full Sail, or any other such school. But as was said in the Die Cast, for the most part a degree isn’t worth the paper it is printed on in the industry (video games, film, TV/advertising–take your pick).

        The two things that will get you a job are your network of contacts (whether fellow students, or industry event networking) and your demo reel. Your demo reel (video portfolio of the projects that you have created) is what an employer uses to determine if you have what it takes. A degree is easy–it means you spent X amount of time and got a minimum GPA or better. You probably learned something, but a game company won’t know if that something helps them unless your reel shows it.

        Really, all of what the Diecasters said was pretty dern accurate. If you are considering one of these schools, ask yourself this: how many hours do I spend pursuing related creative and technical tasks right now, before I’m in school? How many mods have I made? How many models in Blender? Textures in Photoshop? If you aren’t spending a significant amount of your free time doing this NOW, school won’t help you make it LATER–you don’t have the drive to make it.

        And being $48,000 in debt sucks (and that’s an Associates. Double it for a Bachelors). Don’t do it unless your own personal drive will carry you through an entire career. Loving video games isn’t enough. You have to love to MAKE video games.

    • topazwolf says:

      You can of course consider a different pathway. Some schools with computer science degrees allow for you to specialize in game design. The benefit of these schools being that when you graduate you will be more academically diverse. You will at least be familiar with multiple programming languages and the basics of software development. This will make you a better game designer in general and allow for you to change career paths if you so chose later on.

  13. Oddly enough, I just came across this article about the current job market: Arts majors jump ahead of tech grads in landing jobs.

    So if you’re into programming, make the zeroes and ones match the couch or something.

  14. Regarding Chris’ comment on death in Half-Life 2, how hilarious would it be if instead of “CRITICAL MISSION FAILURE” you saw “OOPSIE!”?

  15. Dave B. says:

    Re: Civilization scores

    I never understood how I could win the game in every conceivable way, and still get a horrible score. I also never felt like the game effectively told me how to improve my score.

  16. Alex says:

    As someone that works on the indie side of this industry and went to one of these colleges(Art Institute for a BA in “Media Arts and Animation”), I would really suggest getting a “real” degree. There are just too many damn people looking to get into this field. If you work as a freelancer you really have to undercut your prices, at least at first. Entry level in AAA, from what I hear, is super grind-y. Indies of an appropriate size are hard to find. You will always have to work at least 60 hours a week, even if it’s not directly at work(like learning new tech or techniques in your off hours). Most of the time you are working on projects that you might not be so interested in. This is really a LOSE-LOSE field in every way. I love my job but I do recognize these faults and accept them. If you do decide to get in… I would recommend a CS degree from a state college. It’s safer.
    Also don’t be a systems designer if you have no other skills. Systems designers that don’t understand code or art or narrative are useless in my experience. Level designers are a bit different, but they should still be at some level an artist/graphic designer or a scripter.

  17. MrGamer says:

    Along Shamus’s view of game design for newbies, using an amateur engine like the one I use, Engine 001. (From Engine001.com) can sort of scratch that itch. I started using it in 2008 and I have released quite a grouping of mostly ok games.

  18. Gilfareth says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this depiction of Mumbles looks a bit like Cruella De Ville?

  19. arron says:

    Why ruins? Because it’s easier to sell a game fighting through a post-apocalyptic world that has gone badly wrong in a game through demolished buildings, fires, overgrowth and decay. Compared to one that is working really well, and everyone is happy. Unless the objective of the game is to reverse that and turn it into a nightmare where everyone is dying.

    There’s nothing for superheroes to do in a utopia. It’s already perfect.

    • Otters34 says:

      Not quite what I meant. More that it seemed odd to have seemingly every fantasy world be set after all the really amazing stuff happened, with only the ruins of past civilizations remaining. The Diecast answered that pretty soundly, its easy, cheap, gives a strong mood and sense of place et cetera.

      I wasn’t asking “Why are we always playing in bad times?” because that one has similarly obvious answers. But the more that every journey to another world coincides with an era when most of the awesome stuff’s gone, the more every fantasy world feels like the exact same thing.

      Like how Dragon Age was originally going to be in an AGE OF DRAGONS, when they ruled the world! But that…wouldn’t sell, I guess?

      I’m not baffled we don’t get to play in utopias, though if somebody did that I’d play it.

  20. Deadpool says:

    Vita Chambers were kind of a story point. Your immortality is kind of the reason you are the PC…

  21. Wedge says:

    “What is Mumbles’ favorite color?”
    Her favorite color is bees. Obviously.

  22. Cradok says:

    Death does actually have consequences in Infinite. Enemies regenerate some health every time you die, and you lose some money. It’s usually not that much of an issue on medium or hard, but on 1999, because of the limited money and increased costs, it’s a serious kick, to the point where dying three or four times will make the whole thing much harder.

  23. Geoff says:

    I just wanted to chime in on the discussion on, somewhat in defense of, Video Game Colleges; as a graduate of one of those colleges and now professional developer.

    I attended and graduated from one of the Art Institutes (AI), an art school that has degrees in a number of fields from Interior and Fashion Design to Graphic and Media Arts as well as a Game Art track. Understand this is my experience with that one school as an Artist. Obviously, I’m not as familiar with the Engineering and Designer schools out there and can only comment on what I’ve seen or heard. Outside of AI, I’ve heard good things and run into good people in the industry from Full Sail and the Guild Hall, though I am sure there are a number of “schools” out there which are less reputable that I don’t have experience with and cannot comment on. With those, all I can say is do your research and use some common sense; if a school promises you can, “get your phD in Game Making online in six weeks with a guaranteed job in the industry!” maybe you should question it a little bit before you hand them your credit card…

    When I graduated, I came out of the Art Institute with a BS in Game Art and Design (though, I believe this may have changed to a BFA since then). Many of the things that Shamus, Chris, Josh and Rustkarn mentioned in the podcast are absolutely true. School was expensive (I was lucky in that my parents had saved a considerable amount of money for my college over my lifetime and was able to clock in at only around $30k in loans. Additionally, I served in the Army Reserve which repaid much of those loans. Many people I know came out with double and even triple that, a few with even more if they had attended college elsewhere while trying to “find” themselves before going to AI and getting their degree). Many of the things we learned can be learned at home, on your own, using books or online resources. The specifics of video game creation are somewhat specific knowledge to the industry. There were a lot of students in the program with unreal expectations of what making games was like and were only there because they “liked playing games”. Many of the students I started school with never made it to graduation. Of the students who did stick it out, a number of them either found jobs in other related industries (film, graphic design, etc.) or never found jobs at all. It is an incredibly competitive market. Of those that did find jobs, we all started at the bottom of the pile, working crazy hours for pay that isn’t that great, etc., etc., etc…

    I can’t spin the cost of school in a positive light. Unfortunately, that’s a problem with a lot of degrees and fields. There are plenty of business management, history and English lit majors out there who are graduating into a world with a mountain of student debt, few if any jobs in their field and only slightly more jobs outside of their field they can fall back onto in a pinch. Even worse, even if they find a decent, reliable job in their field paying a competitive salary, often times the amount of debt they’ve accrued is disproportionate to their income. This is a problem for many Video Game College graduates. But it is also a problem in many specialized fields.

    But here’s the upside to attending a Video Game College:

    Yes, you can learn many of the tools we use in the industry at home, but nothing beats having someone to walk you through the process and provide guidance when you hit stumbling blocks. You will learn the tools and fundamentals faster and in a far more organized manner with the aid of an instructor than you will on your own. To the novice trying to figure out where to start, figuring out howto start is more difficult than deciding that you want to. At the very least, instruction will cover the basics and give you a jumping off point to tackle more advanced techniques and tech.

    Also, software is expensive (excluding pirating it, of course). Even at a discount, student rate, its still hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of software. The school will already have purchased licenses for the programs you will need to use as part of the curriculum. It is true that there are open source and free tools out there that be used, but also keep in mind what a potential employer is looking for. I cannot recall a single job posting that listed Blender or other open source tools as a requirement or desired skill in a potential applicant. If your work is good enough, you might be able to find a entry level position that will give you time to brush up on the “professional” software suite of choice at the company, but any company, given a choice between two artists with equivalently solid work, is going to choose the person that knows the tools they will be using and can slot into the company quickly rather than the one that has to be trained up.

    The knowledge required for Video Game development is fairly specific knowledge, but, if you attend a reputable school anyway, there’s more application than you might think. At AI, all artists were trained in fundamentals of drawing, human form, color theory, layout, etc. The fundamentals of modeling, animation and digital painting techniques, independent of their games application were also taught. Though specific tools and advanced techniques change over the years, the basics of 3D are largely the same now as they were ten years ago. Basic art and digital skills can be applied to a far wider range of industries. If you find out that games aren’t your thing, it is certainly possible to bounce into other fields like film, web and graphic design. These other industries have their own unique tools and techniques you will have to learn, but they are also starting to adopt more and more game industry techniques.

    Going through school also introduces you to a wide variety of people who will go in a lot of different directions and end up in a lot of different places, but are all generally aiming at the same interests and fields. This is your job network and they are invaluable. I owe at least 75% of the interviews and jobs I’ve had to my network of contacts. In this industry, who you know can often be as important as the work you can show. While you can certainly develop a list of contacts with a group of hobbyist developers online, in the end many of those people are just hobbyists. Students often have the luxury of going for the goal with 100% of their attention and drive and don’t have to split it with full time work weeks and family.

    You will have a portfolio of work when you graduate. If you didn’t know, your Portfolio is the magic key that convinces a company to actually call you and talk to you. If you’re an artist, then your portfolio is full of drawings, renders and animations and other examples of your artwork and projects you have worked on. As an engineer, your portfolio might include videos of projects and systems you’ve worked on as well as snippets of code. Because you’ll end up working with teams of individuals with a wide variety of skill sets, the projects you work on will have a much higher level of polish than you could give them on your own. If you’re just the animator on a project, showing video of a small game you and a team made that includes interesting characters from a skilled Character Artist, running around levels built by a skilled Environment Artist and hooked up to animation events and controls by an Engineer or Technical Artist is going to look far better on your portfolio than what you might produce on your own and represents a better example of how you will fit on a team than a solo project.

    Most people savvy with the industry are aware of the downsides to the industry; long hours, crazy crunches, mediocre pay (by standards of similar industries with specialized skill sets), etc. These claims are all very certainly real, but they’re also not the only way. AAA studios are the most recognized and employ the most developers, but there are a lot of opportunities out there, even for a fresh out of school developer. Smaller studios do hire new guys and train them up. Those spots can be harder to come by and don’t offer the sex appeal of working on the next CoD, but they exist and are attainable. In fact, in some cases, they can be easier to get than positions at AAA studios since they don’t attract as much competition.

    I started my career working at an outsourcing house, working as a contract artist for a number of clients, including a number of big name developers as well as more obscure start ups. From there I’ve moved on to a larger developer, still outside of the AAA space. While our studio does run into some of the same problems as the AAA space in terms of crunch, there’s more room for individual control on the projects, opportunities to wear many hats on a project and realistic expectations of balancing work and family life.

    Finally, and consider this a very unscientific poll with lots of notable exceptions, when I look at the people I work with in the industry, I work with people who went to school to get their skills. Not all of them went to a Video Game College, many of them started out as Graphics Designers, Computer Science majors, etc. and later came to gaming either intentionally or otherwise. With the exception of the older generation of developers you run into with 20+ years, almost everyone I have worked with has a degree of some kind. While I am sure they exist and it is certainly possible to do so, with the exception of some older generation of developers and those in the QA department, I can’t say that I have ever worked professionally, that I am aware of, with a completely self taught artist or engineer.

    There are certainly legitimate critiques to the Video Game College programs that have become popular in the last decade and cautionary tales to be told to would-be developers to set their expectations. But the schools aren’t all bad and, if game development is really what you want and are prepared to do, they’re a legitimate way to go about getting there.

  24. Adam says:

    Sadly, the “five people who want to make games to one job making games” thing isn’t far off the mark. Right now the ratio between jobs IN GENERAL and people trying to fill them is almost three to one. (At least in America. It’s probably WORSE in other countries.)

    • Bubble181 says:

      Depends on, the type of jobs and the type of people. We have about 150,000 unfilled jobs in Belgium, and about 800,000 unemployed – but they don’t mesh for a variety of reasons (location, language barriers, pay too low in comparison to unemployment benefits, demands too high a degree, unrealistic demands from employers, unrealistic demands from employees, lack of work ethic in some groups of youth today,…)

  25. Steve C says:

    There’s a lot of people talking about programming schools. Here is what you do:

    Call up the HR dept of companies that you’d want to work for. Tell them you are a highschool student considering different schools. Ask them:
    - What schools do they hire from?
    - What what degrees/certifications they look for?
    - Are there any trends you should take advantage of or avoid?
    - Is there anything common that people think is important but really is a waste of time and should be avoided?
    - Tell them what you are already considering doing. Ask if they have any opinion on that.
    - Get the name of the person you spoke with. In a few years it may be very handy. If the same person is still working there you can ask for them by name and if they are working there or not, it’s a huge in.

    There’s probably a few other relevant questions I’m forgetting. But the big thing is to contact the sort of companies you want to work for and ask them what they are looking for. There’s no reason to guess what your education should be or have someone else tell you what employers want. Ask them direct.

    • Steve C says:

      For example:

      A guy I went to school with got a CS degree. Eventually he became a lead programmer for games you’ve heard about. However he also told me his CS degree was worthless and wished he’d learned specific things he could list off instead.

      A broader example- In Canada there are too many teachers and too many dental hygienists. Schools were pumping them out at such a rate that there’s no way there would ever be enough positions available. There are many industries like this. Don’t end up with a skillset that isn’t wanted. Asking the questions above can help avoid that minefield.

      Don’t ever think that if you get a degree in X that the skills you will want will automatically be part of that degree.

  26. The Rocketeer says:

    I’d have to disagree with Shamus at 47m; people definitely do revere and fetishize the past. Most people, in fact, and most cultures, have this built into their mindset.

    Count the intellectual properties- especially fantasy, since these often value their history- or real world mythologies and religions which posit a descent of the modern world from a more fantastic, happier, more divine or altogether more perfect form. Now count the ones where the reverse is true, and the world is a continual improvement, in which the world begins in misery and squalor and builds itself up continuously towards some sort of theoretical utopian ideal. It’s a lot harder, isn’t it?

    There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’m not writing a novel here. At least in some part, it’s a practical matter: most of the past is lost to us, and can never be recovered. Anything we can’t prove, we have to fill in with our imagination. We might not convince ourselves that knights ever fought dragons, but many will at least settle for a period where everyone wore gleaming plate armor and wooed maidens and spoke poetically about honor and duty atop white steeds. Even grounded or cynical types have to fill something in wherever they don’t have the facts, and regardless of what their ideals are, they still have them, and their unconscious bridges and justifications will still reflect those ideals more so than the plain reality.

    History is elegiac by design, and fiction is just unfettered history.

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