By:Alan Bell Published: Thursday 19 Jul 2012 4:15 PM
So you want to make games, eh? What now?
Last week, we published an article about Game Development. Titled So You Want to Make Games for a Living, the goal of that piece was to demystify the actual process of game development and give you a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes at your average game developer.
Very shortly after we posted it, Pascarni posted an excellent question in the comment section: "What places in NZ are good to go to in order to gain qualifications or experience to work in this kind of area?" Much in the same way NZ is becoming an excellent place to work in the industry, it's also becoming a great place to study the craft as well, with several marquee learning institutions now running full-time courses that are dedicated to teaching people how to make games.
To answer Pascarni's question, and address several followup comments, we thought we'd take a look at Media Design School, which offers New Zealand's only game art and programming degrees. In addition to being a well regarded place to learn about this stuff by international organizations, they're also well regarded by local employers, giving you a leg up when it comes time to apply for jobs in the industry.
Based in Auckland, Media Design School provides a number of different qualifications based around various digital and creative pursuits. It's not just videogames (although that's the focus of this article), with courses on Media Design and Creative Advertising, among others, on offer.
The Media Design School, as seen on Google Street View
The Courses: Art
If you were enamoured by the "Art" section in our previous feature, Media Design School offers a Bachelor Degree of Creative Technology. A three year, full-time course, the description on their website suggests that it "prepares students for the games industry with in-depth knowledge of game art as well as the principles of art and design."
To enable that lofty goal, the structure of the course ensures that students have not only the skills required but also the experience, as both this course and the programming-centric one (which we'll discuss next) are tightly integrated in a real-world reflective manner. This gives students of both courses a chance to make a game together much as they might do when they get a job at a studio down the line.
The Courses: Programming
If numbers and arrays are more your thing than, say, throwing cans of paint at a wall to shine a light on the human condition, fret not: Media Design School have you covered, too. That's not to say you can't still chuck paint around, of course; just that, chances are, you'll be more interested in mentally calculating the optimal coverage method of said wall, than making a statement about man's inherent inability to impact the world in a positive manner (or something).
The Bachelor of Software Engineering degree, according to the website, "gives graduates a highly developed technical knowledge base and skill set, and the experience to confidently enter the industry as game developers and software engineers."
Halo 3 was awesome. Wouldn't it be cool if you could tell people you made it, or something like it, without having to lie?
In practice, what this means is that graduates with this degree will not only have the knowledge of the various languages used in game programming, but also the specific skills to utilize that knowledge in a way that is explicitly required in game development. Building game systems, iterative development, working with artists; as well as utilizing things like physics, middleware, and artificial intelligence.
Entry requirements are detailed on the Media Design School website but, generally speaking, if you have knowledge of relevant software and enough NCEA credits in the right subjects, you're good to apply.
For high school students, these subjects are English, maths, physics, computers / digital technology, and so forth. For Game Art, you’ll need a portfolio of relevant painting, drawing, and such but the school can provide the guidelines for that.
The Media Design School faculty include a host of industry luminaries with considerable real-world experience under their belts. Take Druhin Mukherjee, for example. One of the game programming lecturers, Druhin has worked at places like Rockstar and EA, and he (along with his teammates at Team Tickle) recently won a BAFTA (!) for the iPad game "Sculpty".
David March, meanwhile, is not only a game art lecturer at MDS, he's also ex-Crytek, and has a stint at 2K games in Australia under his belt. He started his career 15 years ago, working for 3D Realms in Texas, and more recently he helped ship Homefront for THQ, where he was the Lead Cinematics Animator. Chances are good, then, that if he gives you some advice as to what you need to work on to improve your chances in the industry, it's advice you're going to want to take.
Mike Porter (Programme Leader Game Art) has 15 years of extensive international experience, across multiple game platforms. Enjoy playing Halo 3? He enjoyed making it.
The team also includes Stephen McIntyre who is working towards his masters in defence and strategic studies, Steffan Hooper who led the team on the award-winning Shear Factor, Aslihan Tece Bayrak who has developed applications for the command and control systems of navy ships, and newest recruit James Manning, fresh from the UK and brandishing 15 years of experience as an educator on game design and animation techniques.
New Zealand, while geographically fairly spread out, is both sparsely populated and a long way from, well, anywhere else. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the industry in this country is often closely associated with the training organizations that spring up around it. That is especially true of Media Design School, who actively seek out not only experienced staff members to have on their teams, but also the direct input of Kiwi game development studios.
Made in New Zealand, Sidhe's Rugby Challenge was worked on by a number of Media Design School graduates
The longest-running and most successful studio in New Zealand, and also the one with the most shipped titles across the most gaming platforms, is Wellington-based Sidhe. Auckland and Wellington might not be close, but the same cannot be said of these two organizations; Sidhe frequently hire from the Media Design School graduate pool, and they are also actively engaged in the courses themselves. Sidhe also provide an annual scholarship to a student (or two) that involves a financial component as well as an internship.
If you're serious about working on games, and have no industry experience, Media Design School is definitely worth a look. Their detailed, multi-year, industry-vetted curriculum will give you not only the tools and experience you'll need to hit the ground running, but the fact that they're well regarded will also give you a leg up when competing for those hard-to-get positions come interview time.
If you have any further questions about how you might go about getting into game development (or even a related topic), let us know! We've got good relationships with industry in New Zealand ourselves, and we're more than happy to help you find the answers you're looking for.