DISCLAIMER: I have the Black Death, and have just downed a flagon of NyQuil. Wrapped up in a blanket, donning my amazingly hideous warm track pants and alliance hoodie – I WRITE!!!
Here on AltDev, a number of scholarly topics are covered. From RayTracing, to greater diversity in the industry, a lot of professional level thoughts are broached.
This is my fourth post, and although a few have been from a Student perspective, I’d like to go there one more time – because there’s something I’m just itching to talk about. This isn’t directed at anyone in the industry, but to those hoping to join the ranks. This is a post that I hope, for years to come, will be passed on to every aspiring Game Designer. This is where I try for once and all to answer one burning question with an extremely blunt and long winded answer.
Here we go.
Future Designer: Will I have to learn how to program?
Me: OMG YES!!!!!111!!!!!1999911111
Future Designer: But I’m not good at –
Future Designer: But what if I just –
Me: YOU WILL SIT DOWN AND L2 CODE SOME OF THE THINGS AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!
Ok seriously, maybe that’s a bit jarring, so let’s break it down a bit. As designers, we have to wear many hats – and to be perfectly honest, high level programmer probably isn’t going to be one of them unless that’s the background we come from. But let’s face it….games are built on code. Code is the magical thing that makes your totally awesome flying squirrel mechanic work. Code is the thing that pushes the boundaries of how many flying squirrels we can render in an update. Code is the thing that tells the AI of said flying squirrels to path correctly.
Long story short – No code, no flying squirrels…wait, where was I?
Programming! Here’s the thing, chaps. You gotta know how your games are built – even if it’s a meager, remedial, embarrassing, pitiful bit of knowledge. When you go to the
programmers with your daily offering of Tab sodas and Cool Ranch Doritos, and they pause their Zunes to see what you have to say, you want to be able to communicate effectively. Nobody is going to ask you to build an engine, but what they may ask you to do is tweak a variable or two yourself, because it’s easy and the programmers are busy doing more technically demanding stuff, like making your flying squirrel mechanic work properly!
You may be wondering why I am so passionate about spreading this message, so let me tell you a little story. Jameson Durall frequently comes to our school and does a lot of groovy talks and Q and A’s. For the few that don’t know who he is, he’s the lead design director at Volition – and he also graduated from our school as a game developer! He’s kind of like our Eagle Scout, and before you’re all like “lol boy scouts”, let me remind you that Bear Grylls is an eagle scout, and he has eaten the still beating heart of a reindeer in the Russian tundra. So yeah, Jameson Durall == Bear Grylls.
Anyways, one day a few months ago he decided to grace us lowly design students with a Q and A, and the turnout was huge. Everyone got to ask questions, which was also very cool. I had a stack of very scintillating and thought-provoking questions for him that would inspire him to sweep me off my feet and squire me off to Volition while Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong played in the background like in An Officer and a Gentleman,
but I only got to ask one question because the rest of my classmates decided they needed to each ask him a different iteration of the same question – “Do I need to program?” (Well, one guy asked if he would tell us about his secret project, which was pretty funny and worth the price of admission right there!) I swear to god, the man has the patience of a Saint(s Row: The Third, lol…).
Anyways, can you guess what the answer was? The answer was yes! If you can’t program, how can you script levels in UDK to show your potential employer how boss you are? How can you change bullet damage on the fly during a late-night crunch and all the programmers are home because they started compiling stuff at 3pm? How can you fully realize your totally amazing flying squirrel mechanic?
Long story short – because so many people were wondering/scared about programming, I only got to ask one question. That’s not going to make that Officer and a Gentleman scene
happen for me anytime soon, now is it? Now, go learn js or something – heck, why not learn a man’s language like C#? The dirty secret about programmers is that they want you to be a better programmer. If you actually try to communicate with them on their level, you will benefit and learn. A few days ago a few programmers taught me how to write a ternary operator. Why did they teach me? Because I wanted to learn how to write something more efficiently – and they were happy to teach me, because more code-savvy designers mean everyone’s life will be much easier.
Finally, as a designer, I view programming as a mystical art form. A teammate just recently told me that he “got render targets working in xna – I might as well just have invented fire”, and I was like…yeah…maybe you have. Who am I to argue?
But let’s not forget that we are, at our hearts, designers. Don’t feel like you need to measure up to the programmers, because frankly – you probably won’t, and probably shouldn’t. Revel in what we can do! We can make amazing friggin’ flowcharts that will bring tears of joy! GUI flowchart? Check. Menu flowchart? Check. Xp flowchart? BIG CHECK.
We deftly weave factorials into manly and imposing spreadsheets, and we tweak and balance
every single detail until the producer forces us to go gold. We do it because we are designers – designers that can also code on occasion!
*puts on cape and zooms off*