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 canâ€™t give you a concrete answer, but, after speaking with several of employees, I can offer up these suggestions:
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 (http://developer.valvesoftware.com). 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 DONâ€™T game â€“ watch what they like about it â€“ 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 youâ€™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 â€“ any school â€“ not necessarily just places like DigiPen (although itâ€™s a GREAT one). Learn how to work with OTHER PEOPLE. This is key â€“ A LOT of different factors, ideas, talent, etc go in to making even the smallest part of a game. Being able to accept otherâ€™s ideas and champion your own, AND do it all with tact, is absolutely essential. There is no â€œIâ€ in TEAM â€“ but there is an â€œMâ€ and an â€œEâ€ â€“ hmmmm â€“ kidding of course.
7. Get your name on a shipped product â€“ 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 â€“ and commit to a workout regimen â€“ youâ€™ll need them both.
Keep building, keep learning and most importantly, keep playing.
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 www.bethsoft.com http://www.bethsoft.com I hope that helps.
I think that most of your questions can be answered here: Infinity Ward® - Unexpected Error Itâ€™s an article that one of our Lead Designers wrote about â€œhow to become a designer at IW.â€
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 donâ€™t have a specific requirement that design candidates need degrees. Many of our current designers actually came from mod communities. Hereâ€™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 isnâ€™t anything stopping anyone from learning how to design games on their own, regardless of his/her background or education.
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
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?