Game Design on Toronto I: So, you want to be a Game Designer  

Posted by Unai in

(Irakurri euskeraz) (Leer en español)

More than half the first semester on the Game Design program I'm doing on Toronto gone, I'm going to write about what has the experience been like so far. Partly because that's what my BITácora is for, to tell the geeky stuff that happens around me, but also because I want to make life a little bit easier to those who, like me some months ago, are looking for something among the little information there's sometimes regarding these topics. So I hope that a first-hand experience can be useful for some, and interesting for anothers.

As happens so many times, as soon as I've started to write, I've lost all control. Therefore, this isn't but the first part of many. Soon I'll write a second part describing the specific program I'm studying (which was actually my intention with this post), and further on I'll do more as the course advances; but for now, let's stick to the most basic stuff.

Even if Game Design isn't just what you're looking for, I hope you will find this post useful if you're looking for a way to enter any other job on the video game industry or if you have a computer-related graduated student who wants to come to study to Canada.





Game Design

First of all, I want to clear out what this "Game Design" means, because I've met so few people outside of the Digital Design programs who has been able to understand what the heck is Unai studying. It isn't easy to understand because even in the video game industry definitions can change depending on who you ask to. Many just think what I'm doing is designing characters such as Mario or Zelda Link, but it isn't that. Others relate it, logically, to my background as developer and software engineer, and it isn't that, either.

Recently I've found that the easier way for me to describe is that a game's designer is the same as a movie's director. The designer doesn't have to be the one to come up with the idea, the same way that the director doesn't have to prepare the movie's script himself. And the designer, of course, isn't the one doing the graphic design nor the one writting the code, in the same way as the director isn't usually nor the actors, nor the cameramen, nor nothing of the kind. No, the designer is the one who takes that idea and builds something real out of it, the responsible for the technical and artistic parts to come together into a single product, coherent and fun.

Er, something like this.


Therefore, to be a Game Designer you have to possess diverse skills and knowledge. You have to know the fundamentals of both the technical and the artistical parts of the games. And you might also need, obviously, abilities such as communicating clearly at various levels, writing and building stories, working in a team and leading it, etc. Due to the average student just out of high school usually still hasn't developed enough of those, Game Design is, here in George Brown College, a post-grade program. I don't think it's easy to find a —good— school with this speciality that will allow you to go directly to Game Design. But don't dispair if you think that your actual career isn't related with all this stuff, because anything can be useful. In my class we're programmers, very diverse artists (2D, 3D, animation, film, advertising...), writers, civil engineers, etc.

So, if you like to create worlds and characters, if you can't resist unraveling a game's mechanics, if you're proficient at directing roleplaying games, if you've thought about how new technologies can make new games... and if nothing pleases you more than having fun while looking for other people to have fun... Game Design is your career.

I suggest watching this Extra Credit video on the topic: So you want to be a game designer. Generally speaking, keep the Extra Credit videos close to you, they're a really useful tool.




Other ways to the Video Game Industry

Even if all this Game Design stuff doesn't fully attract you or if you're still not quite sure about what's your specialty going to be, don't worry, as there are many other doors to the Video Game Industry. Those include starting to learn video game development in a wider sense before specializing in something. But don't you just get into anything. Next, I'm linking some of the websites that I used before finally deciding to go for George Brown College's Game Design program, but they might also open your eyes to many other options.


  • GameCareerGuide.com, all of it (aquí). Its Digital Counselor is really interesting, as it helps you find an adequate school for you.
  • Information regarding what the different kind of jobs are in the Video Game Industry (aquí).
  • Information about what being a Designer entails, and some interesting links in turn, in A Digital Dreamer (aquí).
  • What's needed for each of the various ways in the industry, according to Blitz Game Studios (aquí).
  • Frequently asked questions (and insightful answers) about going into the industry, according to gamedev.net (aquí).

Well, as you see, merely deciding what video game related career to pursue is a whole adventure. You usually have a basic idea about what most other careers are about, but int he world of video games, you have to get as many information as you can about what there is and what you really want to do. And choosing a good place where to learn is crucial, because in many of them they might teach you nothing actually useful. Choose carefuly!

So I'll link you to more Extra Credit videos with information regarding other careers: So you want to be a producerSo you want to be a developer (part1) and So you want to be a developer (part 2).



Self-learning

More than one of you, upon reaching this point, might wonder if it is really necessary to study in a game related course or program to gain entry to the industry. It's a totally valid point and it has an encouraging answer: of course not.

As many of you may already know, having a title bears little significance in the Video Game Industry. Experience is what matters. If you want to be a Game Developer, learn and master a handful of engines and try them out as much as you can. If you want to be a Game Graphic Designer, a good portfolio is worth more than a title. And if you want to be a Game Designer, nobody cares about your awesomes ideas, but rather about your ability to pick one and get everything out of it, to complete the whole process, to be able to make an entire game.

Logically, an academic learning has many advantages. Being taught in a structured way, getting feedback and assessment for your work, meeting people from the Industry, having an environment in which to test your ideas... and, most importantly for me, establishing a good relationship with classmates aspirations as you do. When several creative, enthusiastic minds join together, the best projects come out of them.

But self-learning isn't lacking in advantages either. For example, having your own pace, developing the skill of looking for and doing things for yourself, not being subject to the quality of professors and classmates, and a much more economic price. It goes without saying that this path demands most conviction and discipline not to deviate from your goal.

I'm not going to put more links to whomever following this path. Internet is full of interesting sites, and looking for some good ones for self-learning will help you start to develop some of the skills you'll need. Good luck!



Come to Canada

To begin with, I'll answer the question of why did I choose Canada. I had no scholarships, no family and no acquantainces here, so that's a question they've asked me often. The first reason is, plainly, that after studying on Donostia for all my life, I wanted to get out of there and spend at least a year as far of it as possible. And Donostia is still the best city on the world, but one has to visit more places as well. The second reason is that among the countries with languages I speak, Canada fit with what I was looking for, it has several video game related programs and was easy to get entrance. The third reason is that thanks to the grants the government gives to video game creators, Canada is cleverly incentivating an important part of the Video Game Industry to settle there. Toronto is, therefore, one of the cities at the head of the Industry, with a great indie scene.


Without getting into too many details, for me all the paperwork stuff, looking for a place to stay, getting it all prepared, etc. happened easily for me. Relatively easily, at least. Because most of it is a bore anyways, but Canada's processes seem to be more straightforward. Even taking into account the problems I myself run into, such as starting al the process later than I wanted, the immigration workers's strike during summer, and even sending wrong one of the documents I needed to send, I arrived at Toronto when planned and without further problems. The process of applying to the College was also mostly free of problems.

Nevertheless, you can't afford being overconfident. Try to start the process as soon as possible and to foresee what delays you might have. Maybe the country you come from has a lengthier procedure or its paperwork may be long and tiresome. And, honestly, living here isn't cheap, specially if you come with no one to share expenses with.

And I can't but emphasize on how important it is to speak English fluently. Even if just for basic communication with people around you. You don't want to have misunderstandings with your tenant or the customs officers. If you hope to get a job, be it facing the public or one where you keed to have a good communication with your co-workers (and both are necessary in Game Design), your English level must be even higher. And what to say about studying in English on a university. I assure you the level you need is really high, moreso in a post-grad!





Well, I could get this longer and longer, but I guess this will do for now. Soon I'll publish another post explaining how the post-grad program I'm in works and what we do. It'll be really interesting, so be sure to check it when the time comes.

Finally, I'll love to help about absolutely any doubt you might have about these topics. E-mail me to unai@leitzaran.net or leave a comment here, in the blog, and I'll try to give you an answer as soon as I can.

This entry was posted on jueves, noviembre 14, 2013 at 3:03 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

6 comentarios

It looks like you're having a great time with your program!

21 de noviembre de 2013, 21:41

Thanks for sharing such a nice article. Gaming needs a lot of work from graphic designto programming to testing and implementing.

27 de diciembre de 2013, 16:08

Its very easy to play the games but difficult to design one!!

16 de junio de 2014, 10:04

I am happy that I found your post while searching for informative posts about graphic designing. It is really informative and quality of the content is extraordinary.
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