Interaction Design/ Game Design

I recently graduated from the University of Illinois with a BFA in ID and I am thinking I want a career in game design/ interaction design. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to get involved in that ? What skill sets are really important? What people want to see at an interview/portfolio (all I have is product design work)? Any other advice you can think of…

Any help would be great! Thanks.

My gut feeling tells me that the most transferable skills would be 2D and 3D ideation. Very strong drawing and modeling skills. Have you ever made a game mod or used a level editor?

It depends greatly on what you want to do. Character concept art? Environment? Texture artist? Animation? All would require a unique portfolio geared toward that position.

If you’re talking game theory- mechanics, playstyle, general user experience stuff, I’m not sure what they look for. I think it is usually a position you are promoted into. Chris Metzen, for example, was an animator before he became a creative director at Blizzard. Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, had his origins in programming.

edit: And so you aren’t feeling overwhelmed, Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of mario, zelda, donkey kong, star fox, F-zero, etc) studied product design in school.

Yeah - game design & interaction design are two very different fields. A company who wants a UI designer for a phone won’t want to see a portfolio of zombies.

There are a lot of different areas of game design - since ID is more of the art side, most game artists are fluent in a wide range of tools including 3D Studio Max, ZBrush, Maya, Mudbox, etc. Most digital game artists can sculpt detailed 3D forms, paint complex texture maps, animate things organically and naturally, and then compile it all into a set of game engine specific tools. There are also guys that are just doing inspirational artwork, level design, but almost all of this still requires a digital skillset to bring things to production.

Do a search of companies you’d think you’d want to work at and look at their hiring sections to see what skills they ask for.

I would echo everything mentioned by Cyberdemon and Jeffreycarver. The game industry is full of different disciplines, but what interests you in the industry? Are you a hardcore gamer that’s played tons of games and think you can contribute to mechanics, storyline, quest writing, etc., or are you more interested in the artistic aspects?

The role “game designer” usually involves more experience in writing, scripting, and sketching. You guide artists, level designers, programmers, etc to realize the vision of the title. There are lead game designers, staff, and junior, they usually contribute on a different scale designing chunks of a game to the lead/marketing’s vision.

Working on mods or with an indie game studio is a good way to learn the inner workings of games, but I would suggest the following website:

Jwesolo2, my daughter had a similar situation to you. She is currently majoring in digital arts,which is a design oriented field as is Industrial Design, although Digital Arts is a bit more akin to animation than ID>

That said, from our research in the field,animation / game design are VERY different fields from that if Industrial Design. Animaiton/game design are fine arts oriented areas unlike that of ID,which is design oriented. Thus, to succeed well, you need some very strong fine art skills of drawing live creatures and people.

Many schools even have different foundation programs for that of Animation vs. ID.

Going from ID to game design is like Michael Phelps, the swimmer, deciding to become a runner. I guess they are both athletic sports,but they require very different skills.

In addition, animation is a combination of art and computers. You really need to know some sophisticated software as noted above such as Zbrush and Maya among others unless you want to be solely a coder. If you want coding, a computer science background plus some art would be best.

In addition, animation and game design studios don’t want a portfolio,unlike that of ID firms. Animation and game design studios want a demo reel to preview.

If you want training in animation, consider going to a trade school such as Gnomon School of Special Effects and/or animation mentor. Also check out the computer graphics forums for colleges and school recommendations. If you want a new BFA, consider such places as Ringling School of art, and Laguna School of art, and, Calarts and Pratt, and RISD.

Canada has some strong programs too. Max the Mutt has a very strong three year, inexpensive 2D animation program that also incorporates traditional fine art skills… Sheridan Polytech has several one year 3D programs that are considered first rate but very expensive.

I should note that there are number of very good, online tutorials and videos that you can get in order to develop the skills that you need. You would need, however, to be a very driven, self-motivated person to utilize these skills vs attending a structured program at a college.

Check out the graduate programs at USC and CMU. They may be what you’re looking for.

In addition, if you own games made by Valve (Half Life, Counter Strike, Team Fortress, etc.) download the SDK (Source Developer’s Kit) and get to know those tools well. Hammer, a level design program, is probably the most useful.

(If you’re just buying a game now to experiment, I recommend Team Fortress 2. Great value.)

Basically, if you’re good enough (scratch that, amazing) at the programs they use, and at least have a degree in something, you’re got a decent chance of getting hired.

A year or two ago I emailed some big game companies and asked them similar questions. I’ll share what they wrote:

_Thanks for your interest and support of Valve. What does it take to get in to the gaming industry? I can’t give you a concrete answer, but, after speaking with several of employees, I can offer up these suggestions:

  1.   Hone your analytical skills.  As a mental exercise, break down anything around your in life into its base elements.  Try to figure out "If this were a game, what would the goal be?  What would be my resources?".  You can break anything down into meaningful quanta.  School, marriage, cars, getting a job...anything could be turned into a game.  It's very important for a game designer to know how and why.  You be the game designer, and you decide.\

2. Build a mod! The Source SDK gives you the tools that we use to make our games ( You can program new monsters, weapons, faces, or design your own levels. Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat started out using the original Half-Life SDK. They were both created by people just like you who wanted to show what they could do with cutting-edge technology. There’s no better way to learn how to do a job than by actually doing it, and a mod gives you exactly that opportunity.

3. Build. Tinker. Experiment. Get a set of creative tools in your hands and put your theories to practice. Make stuff. Save it. Be ready to tell people what you learned from making it.

4. Don’t ignore board games. Some video gamers don’t pay attention to the lessons they teach. Most if not all of the classic, archetypical game mechanisms can be found in games such as Monopoly, Life, Scrabble, etc. Not only that, but you can actually play these with your friends that DON’T game – watch what they like about it – observe what makes them want to play again.

5. Coming up with cool ideas is not the hard part. Everyone has them, they get you excited, but you’re not going to get rich or famous just because you have an idea for a game. People are going to listen to you and give you money only when you can actually make the game. So lower your head, keep those ideas alive, but work, work, work to prove you can make those pie-in-the-sky dreams actually happen. Remember that 99.9% of people who work in videogames are going to spend their whole career making someone else’s idea come to life. If you’re not going to be happy with that fact, you may not want to make games.

6. Go to school – any school – not necessarily just places like DigiPen (although it’s a GREAT one). Learn how to work with OTHER PEOPLE. This is key – A LOT of different factors, ideas, talent, etc go in to making even the smallest part of a game. Being able to accept other’s ideas and champion your own, AND do it all with tact, is absolutely essential. There is no “I” in TEAM – but there is an “M” and an “E” – hmmmm – kidding of course.

7. Get your name on a shipped product – it speaks volumes. If you can say “I crunched with a team in the zero hour to get this software out the door”, then you instantly have the base level of respect that game developers share with one another.

8. Invest in a good chair – and commit to a workout regimen – you’ll need them both.

Keep building, keep learning and most importantly, keep playing.

Hi Keifer,
Generally speaking, we look for people who are good at what they do (ie,
programming or art or design) and have some combination of educational
background and work experience, along with examples of work they’ve done in
gaming. So, not only do we want good programmers/artists/designers, but we
want programmers/artists/designers that have examples of mods or plugins or
game-related things they’ve done on their own that show us they “get” what it
is we do here.

There’s no magic degree, or school, or number of years of experience
that we’re necessarily looking for or need. The requirements for each job
we’re currently hiring for will give you an idea on a position-by-position
basis of what kinds of things we look for. They can be found in the Jobs
section of I hope that helps.

I think that most of your questions can be answered here: Infinity Ward® - Unexpected Error It’s an article that one of our Lead Designers wrote about “how to become a designer at IW.”

I can tell you that although I think education is very important (it helps you become a wiser and more well rounded person!), not all of our designers have design degrees. What we look for in designers is a strong portfolio of level design and/or scripting that shows detailed levels that are fun to play. We don’t have a specific requirement that design candidates need degrees. Many of our current designers actually came from mod communities. Here’s an article with one of our designers who was a modder before becoming a professional designer for us: Infinity Ward® - Unexpected Error

The major benefits of attending a game design school (besides the education) would be the networking opportunities and relationships you could build with other future game designers, as well as internship opportunities. The best design schools have relationships with developers and offer internship programs. Regardless, the bottom line is that in order to get hired at a reputable development studio you need to be able to show design work, and it needs to be good! Level design tools are readily available to download, so there really isn’t anything stopping anyone from learning how to design games on their own, regardless of his/her background or education.

Hi there,

The best piece of advice we can give is browse game developer websites and start looking at the
requirements for game designer positions. Several will be looking for the same kind of
experience, and look at what type of programs (like Maya, Photoshop) they like their applicants
to be proficient in. Knowing such programs (and gaining experience through internships) is the
most important.

Hope this helps._

Valve, Bethesda, Infinity Ward, and Insomniac, respectively. Pretty big name companies.

And here’s another topic that may be of interest:
ID to the Entertainment Industry?

Good luck.

I disagree. Having taken classes from people in the industry of concept art/entertainment design, I can say that you don’t have to have any knowledge of 3d programs. That is up to the 3d modeler/animator. The concept artist simply does the art. Photoshop (see Sparth)/strong marker rendering skills (see Doug Chiang) are the standars. Neither of these two tout 3d modeling skills, while they are both extremely famous (Doug having done most Star Wars mechs).

If you are really interested in concept art, check out Concept Design Academy in Pasadena. It’s a private, tiny school run by a few concept artists in the industry. Classes are cheap and it runs year long. I’m taking 4 classes ATM from there to learn what it’s like to work in the industry. Google them for hteir website.

You’re welcome to disagree, but how many concept artists do you think there are out there? Maybe a small handful at each company?

Which employee is more valuable - one that can draw well AND convert ideas into a production ready model, or one that can just draw well?

It’s no different than ID. If you only know CAD or can only sketch, it limits your skills. But if you can deliver kick ass concepts and bring them to life (this is where making a mod becomes valuable) then it shows a game developer you know the process. Just being able to draw super sweet drawings may make you a killer artist, but do you think thats enough to land your first gig when theres hundreds of starving artists already out there?

:confused: I’m just saying that’s what I’ve gathered from about a year of research, as well as talking to / taking classes with industry professionals.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t know both, I’m just saying it’s definitely not a requirement. I think they would be much more successful being really good at one or the other.

And I never said it was easy. “How many concept artists do I think are out there?” You’re right. There aren’t many. That’s why it’s such a competitive industry. I’ve looked at a couple job postings (only for internships) at EA and such companies, and the person who does 3d and the person who does the art are separate. They wanted someone who excels at one. Chances are, 3d modeler/animator will be doing that, and the concept artist will be doing the thumbnails, digital paintings, etc and pass them on to the 3d people.

"Most digital game artists can sculpt detailed 3D forms, paint complex texture maps, animate things organically and naturally, and then compile it all into a set of game engine specific tools. There are also guys that are just doing inspirational artwork, level design, but almost all of this still requires a digital skillset to bring things to production. "

That was the part that I disagreed with the most. Looking at the portfolios/listening to the pros talk, none of them showed any 3D modeling skills. These are the people who’ve worked on Transformers, Rachet+Clank, Resistance/2, etc. They are not “also” the guys who do the 3d, texture, animation, engine. They are simply the guys who do the concept art.

Anyway, to the thread starter: I don’t know what you want to do: concept art, 3d, or simply the interface of video games (since that’s what the topic implied). I’d email a crapload of game companies and maybe 1 of them might reply to you. Good luck on your research.

I’ve got a friend in dreamworks, he says that the guy who animates doesn’t edit a single polygon. And the guy who models doesn’t even open up photoshop. Texturers, modelers, and animators are distinct positions. Like in a real movie, you have actors (animators) wardrobe (textures) and modelers (casting/concept artists).

Keep in mind I was talking about games - not movies.

Also, the responsibilities of an employeed designer, and what you have in your portfolio aren’t always the same - maybe thats what I was getting at that you guys are conflicting with.

You’re right, a lot of the large studios and large projects will have people that are completely independant of each other. You’ll have a large team where everyone gets their chunk of the pie and no one crosses over. But I would be willing to bet if you speak to a chunk of those guys, especially at smaller companies you’ll find they’re multi-disciplined, even if they focus on 1 area.

I never supported the theory of “Be mediocre at everything and you’ll get a job”. I’m just not a supporter of “be good at 1 specific thing only”. If you look at these lines from Epic and Valve concept artist requirements:

“You must have a combination of skills in addition to concept art such as modeling, skinning, FX, etc. A diverse and polished portfolio is a must.

“The people who work at Valve are multi-talented, with expertise in one or two particular areas.” “Ability to take a piece from concept to final product”

Out of curiousity were the guys you spoke to talking about entry level positions? Or were they more senior guys who move around a lot?

Theres no absolutes in anything - and we’ve been commenting without having any idea what he wants to design. For all we know, he might want to do the HUD UI. I just speak from what I’ve seen in the past. There are thousands of really creative, really talented artists out there, and a lot of them sit unemployed. If you visit CG talk or any of those other art forums, some of the stuff is mindblowingly good.

But if you look at the guys who are working in the companies, a lot of them come from roots of the mod making community. It’s the game-design equivalent of an internship because it shows you know the whole process and were able to ship a product. I know thats always carried a lot of weight in the industry.

Regardless thats just my $.02