As a student looking at going into the games industry, I expect the course I am on to get me the job at the end of the road. Otherwise why bother. I realise that job is not going to just be served up to me on a plate, but as long as I follow the curriculum put before me that should lead me in the right direction towards the end goal. But what exactly should that curriculum involve. If all I am going to get out of it is a series of lectures telling me ‘this is how you make this do this’… I can learn that for free by watching video tutorials on the internet. Alternatively it could be 3 years on writing the perfect CV and how to plan your work. Great, they are fundamental life skills but I’m going to be a bit stuck when it actually comes to creating 3D assets, which is what I went on the course to do.
I believe that a good degree course is one that not only facilitates your learning of specific technical skills but also compliments that with the teaching of ‘soft skills’. As a graduate you are not necessarily going to be going directly into your dream role in the games industry, so having that variety in skills means you should be able to fit into any job vacancy with in a similar field. Being able to understand humans as well as computers is vital to all job roles and with the application of humanities in the curriculum this isn’t an issue. 
Some game companies want highly trained graduate artists and programmers. Some claim they really prefer creative individuals with a good Liberal Arts background. Surely these both contradict themselves and if you’re on a course where you might be applying for 2 separate jobs at the end, both asking for different things, how do you what you are learning is the right thing to get you there. The truth is there currently isn’t an answer. The games industry, compared to most others, is still extremely young and the idea of studying a specific course to get into it is even more so. The majority of people teaching these courses now haven’t had the same education you will have coming out of the them, but instead have most likely studied the Arts, English, History etc. Only difference being they’ve probably got some experience in the industry and a lot more in life.
Like I mentioned previously you no longer need lecture or seminar style situations to learn a specific technical skills, but one thing University does have in hand over learning from online resources is that you are learning in an environment that is close to that of an actual studio. Learning as a group and working around others is something that highly benefits everyone involved as you are just as likely to learn new things from each other as you are from a lecturer and it gives you an instant source to help with problem solving as well as getting working critique.
Working in a studio environment also helps in keeping on track with work. Teaching scoping and iteration is also something that is key. With the pressure as well as security of that style of working environment; being around your peers and tutors, you move away from slacking at work and rushing it all last minute and learn to organise and optimise your workflow better and thus take those skills into the workplace as well.
Although it’s difficult to say how education can meet these opposing views and yet provide a valid and fulfilling experience to students. With a well thought out program that incorporates as much Art and Humanities as it does Technical Skills, keeping it in a studio style environment you should, as a student, be able to take as much out of that as you need to get you the job you want in the industry.
I have always considered myself a creative person. From a very early age I have been told I was talented and my journey up to now has been an ever evolving road to develop my craft. But is it all a lie; a myth, forced into existence purely because we truly don’t understand where creativity comes from.
For the majority of people creativity is linked to the arts; the ability to produce something new and valuable whether that is a painting, a musical composition, a dramatized interpretation, a literary work. The ability to create is often seen as being creative. It is whether that ability derives from an inherited talent, is something that is learnt or in fact just exists. This is what makes the subject so vastly popular and as equally complicated.
“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso
In this TED talk, Ken Robinson, brings up a point that I feel is extremely significant when it comes to creativity and where it derives from. He brings up a quote from Pablo Picasso that really makes you think about the origin of creativity. All children are creative, they play, they invent, and they take chances and somewhere down the line that is lost. Where that be by the education system, by parenting or purely by the environment they are growing up in there is a point in which the creativity in said person diminishes. I, myself, have always been encouraged to be creative. So maybe that’s why now I can call myself a creative person; I haven’t been educated out of it. But this doesn’t mean I am necessary talented, more a reflection of my upbringing.
Looking into other concepts behind creativity I found an article by Dr Larry Dossey, a Physician of internal medicine, whereby he talks about the idea that creativity comes from the ability to put together information to create new ideas etc. but the source of that information being from the “One Mind”. The Source, the Absolute, God, Goddess, Allah, Universe, the One Mind is seen a domain of consciousness that is nonlocal or infinite in space and time, in which all information resides. This theory means that everybody is linked and to be creative is the ability to link and create new information, not just from personal experience but from the experience of everybody.
I really like this concept, also described by Elizabeth Gilbert in her TED talk, as it looks at the origin of creativity at a different angle than most and although seems like a new idea, in fact, has been taught through religion and some sciences throughout history. It has not only made me question my belief on what creativity is but has opened my eyes to how vastly complex the question actually is. To ask the origin of creativity is almost as difficult as to ask the origin of the universe. We just don’t know. But I believe that as long as you stay open and fresh to new ideas and information and apply your understanding of this knowledge to your life, consciously or not, you are creative. Therefore it is no more myth, talent or craft than it is all three.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while” – Steve Jobs
The games industry has come a long way since its conception. Mostly starting out as the singular ‘bedroom coder’ it has moved into a multi-million dollar, development studio led industry which employs thousands in the UK alone. It has also grown to the point where most roles within these organisations are increasingly specialised.
This required people to try and be ‘the best’ in their respective fields, especially coming out of education you where resigned to slot within a company in which you sat. Due to the shire size of the larger studios having one person turn a single cog in the production line was efficient to getting the job done. But now we are seeing more of a shift. The industry is starting to split.
The large developer studios still exist and will continue to, as they are able to make world record sales every year, but the smaller companies do not follow in the same footsteps as their larger siblings. With the increase in Indie developers creating games from basically nothing we are seeing a movement back towards where the industry began. It takes a vast amount of knowledge and ability to start a development from scratch with only a small team, as such being a specialist in only one narrow field of the industry doesn’t suit this kind of development at all. Which puts us at a cross roads.
Which route do I take? I’m an undergraduate student looking as to where I want to go within the games industry. Do I: A. Specialise massively towards the role I am most passionate about and become ‘the best’, constantly in hope there is the dream job going at the end for someone with my exact expertise. Or B. Do I try and learn as much about everything there is possible to know in the games industry in the short time I have left in education, hoping that there’s a small developer somewhere that needs someone that is the Jack of all trades but the master of none.
The answer, as given in the ‘The Valve Handbook for New Employees’ is neither. The ‘T’ shaped employee has started to be the way people are hiring in the industry, and it’s what personally I’m aiming my studies at to become. This model means that employers are looking for people who are both generalists (highly skilled at a broad set of valuable things - the top of the T) and also experts (among the best in their field within a narrow discipline - the vertical leg of the T). Something that is becoming more asked for within the industry, as it was referenced by Richard Tawn (Art Director at Exient) at a recent talk he gave to our course at University. Showing how developers other than ‘Valve’ are looking for the same thing in employees.
So, this model not only, hopefully, gives you a chance at getting those previous jobs within the largest developer studios or the up and coming Indie development but also gives the spread to fit in across the whole board. The industry is one that for the most part runs on collaboration, working in teams within the larger business, often on different developments to other teams in the same studio. This requires someone that can deconstruct problems on the fly, and talk to others as they do so, simultaneously being inventive, iterative, creative, talkative, and reactive. Following the ‘T-shaped model’ you are suited to being the better candidate, as you’re not an expert who is too narrow and has difficulty collaborating or in fact a generalist who doesn’t go deep enough in a single area that ends up on the margins, not really contributing as an individual.
The games industry is ever evolving and as we see different job roles come and go the requirements to fill said role will change just as frequently. As of today, for the most part, ‘Valves’ idea of what they want from an employee seems to fit the best across the industry. This means not to be a generalist or a specialist but both.
In the early 1960's, the gaming industry was really more focused on general user interfaces that simply ‘did the job’. Over the years, console designers have increasing become more focused on the physical manifestations of the console as well as how the user is to interact with the console. With increasing technological complexity of the console, the interfaces run the risk of becoming increasingly complex without careful consideration.
The console controller really hasn’t changes at all from one of its early iterations for the ‘Nintendo Entertainment System’ to the next generation consoles we are seeing today. They still hold all the core functions but with added features to allow for the added functionality found in today’s games. With more movement controls to allow for the use of the 3rd dimension and more buttons and triggers to give more gameplay functions things really haven’t changed a lot. But, they have changed. More features have had to be added and with the future development in games this is only going to increase especially when having to cater one controller for a wide variety of game styles/ mechanics.
To help with this increase in functionally needed and keeping with the demand for a versatile controller we are starting to see more peripherals that are using non analogue forms of collecting feedback. Motion tracking is something that has been attempted in the industry for a while but was never really pulled off till the release of the Nintendo Wii. It brought a whole new way for you to interact with the game without adding a new bunch on buttons, triggers or joysticks. These functions where still there but the motion tracking of the controllers allowed for this expanse of functionality without the large multiplication of the number of input types.
We have seen since then an increase in the number of peripherals that do the same thing (e.g. PlayStation Move, Razer Hydra) but moving on we’ve seen a shift into how we can get his interaction without having a physical object in hand at all. The introduction of the Xbox Kinect really pushed the boundaries of what was capable as a way of controlling games with as little of a peripheral as possible. It is able to do so much more than just movement and rudimentary Boolean inputs. With the newest iteration released for the Xbox One the Kinect sensor can read facial expressions, heart rate, as well as force feedback and more, allowing for much more versatile interaction with the games.
This technology has also been brought to the desktop with the use of a ‘Leap motion Controller’ which effectively does the same thing but tracks your hands and fingers to do the controls. As well as being used for software and game controls it has often been pared with upcoming ‘Virtual reality’ devices to add to the immersion.
With the addition of VR to the market it is adding a new way to both visualise and interact with the medium. The Oculus Rift allows for head motion and tilt tracking and companies are trying to find ways to increase the amount body reaction and movement tracking with new peripherals, like the Leap Motion. A great example of another devise would be the ‘Virtuix Omni’ treadmill which is the first virtual reality interface for moving freely and naturally in a game environment.
Devices like these are all well and good but we are moving away from a world where we are just adding more and more buttons to our controllers to one which you have to fully kit yourself out in a variety of peripherals to get the “full” VR experience. That’s not to say that this is right or wrong but we are yet to find the ideal controller, and who’s to say that such an item can ever exist. With the ever expanding games industry more new and exciting gameplay is being created that needs more new and exciting ways to interact with it, thus making it increasing difficult to produce the perfect interaction design.
"Sound still seems to be the underdog, even though it is one third of the overall immersion and feel of the game." - Joonas Turner
Sound is as much of a key element to game design as the visuals and mechanics are. Without one or the other, yes a game could still work but, the immersion and sensual link towards the game is broken. For me, good sound design is when I don’t notice the sound directly but when it heightens the experience without taking away from it.
This is a great example of how sound just adds to gameplay. Try watching this gameplay muted and then with sound. Although the sound is being done on the fly verbally it instantly adds to the immersion of the gameplay; bringing it to life.
It’s not just adding sound that is important; it’s how you use it. The building of tension, dramatisation of events, etc. are all climaxed by the use of sound and it’s the change in audio that builds to events and differentiates them from what was previous. For example the use of a full orchestra for the battle music gives the sense of grandeur that isn’t felt compared to the other game audio.
Even though sound in games is somewhat still seen as not as important, it is being more and more recognised by the industry and its wider audience. Program developers are starting to introduce more audio editing capabilities in to their software packages. For example the new Unity 5 has a full audio suite built right into the engine. This brings an entirely new audio pipeline that is more flexible and efficient, as well as a new Audio Mixer providing the power to create highly complex and dynamic soundscapes in game.” Going forward, this should allow for more in-depth and interesting sound design; making it easier to compose and implement sound for games.
Personally I find that good music and sound design resonates outside of its original boundaries just as much as it does when in the game. One of my favourite albums is that of the ‘London Philharmonic Orchestra’ playing music from video games. Even though the music wasn’t intended to be heard in this way then it was written it shows how well it was designed by the fact it still works as music on its own when played by the orchestra. I don’t know whether it’s the nostalgia from some of the tracks but I think it’s just the simplicity of the music that echo’s and really makes it work when played at such a large scale. For many of the pieces it was down to the limitations of the original platform that brought this, but hopefully with the new technology coming and the increase in recognition sound is getting as its importance to games we will start to see more great music and sound coming out of the industry.
I am Elliott Pacel, a Technical Artist at Reflections, Ubisoft.