Education

Reply: Where to start in the Games Industry?

I received another interesting email this week asking where to even start in the games industry. I thought this would be interesting to share since it starts by asking what qualifications or roles there might be, not focusing on a specific discipline.

Here’s the original mail

Dear Mr Winder,

My name is […] and I have been interested in games and gaming for around 4 years.
I’m struggling to think on what do with my future. I started streaming on the twitch platform around a month ago and gained around 400+ followers and 1700+ views and I’ve been donated to by various people to support the stream and myself.

I want to get some sort of qualification in the gaming world or some sort of job involving the aspect of gaming.

I’ve also talked to my careers advisers at school and I was passed this email to ask you for some advice on the next step to take, As my advisers didn’t know much about this kind of topic

Yours Truly
[…]

And here’s what I sent back.

Hi […],

I don’t know what your current situation is, but since you mention your school careers advisor, I’m assuming you’re around 13 to 16 years old, which is a great place to start looking at this kind of thing.

The games industry is a big place, with a lot of different opportunities for people like you. I think the first thing to do would be to have a look at the different job roles that tend to exist in the industry, and the Game Career Guide is a good place to start. This will give you a quick overview, and should give you a good idea of what might be the best fit for you if you want to focus your qualifications in a specific direction.

http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/746/the_.php?print=1

For example, as I entered the industry as a programmer, I had a good Math GCSE (these days a Computing qualification would be excellent as well) followed by a couple of A-Levels in Math and Computing before ending with a degree in Software Engineering. For other areas of game development, those qualifications will be different. For example, an artist will have good art GCSEs, maybe focus on fine art or a technical art degree, where-as a musician would follow a different path.

One thing to note is that designers tend to have a harder time here, there’s rarely (if any) direct qualifications for that role, people tend to show experience in other ways, and their education may be focused more towards culture and media (literature, media critiquing etc.).

But since you mentioned your Twitch stream, maybe game journalism is a more suitable path for you. In that case, I’ll be less help because it’s not an area I particularly focus on. One thing to note here is that if you are looking for information in this field, make sure the information you’re reading is recent. Games journalism is a very dynamic and fast changing area, and is very different today from what it was just a couple of years ago.

But one thing to stress above all of this, is that even with the qualifications it’s experience that matters. And luckily this isn’t a catch-22 situation anymore.

If you’re interested in developing games themselves, start making them now – there is nothing stopping you.

Download Unity (http://unity3d.com/) and start working through the tutorials, start making little games and maybe even get them released on the various app stores out there. If you struggle with one aspect of development (for example, if you can’t draw like me) find a friend who can and get them involved.

If you’re interested in the media side of things, carry on with what you’re doing with your Twitch channel. Start a blog to write about games and start a YouTube channel to discuss them. Self publishing your opinions and thoughts not only gets them out there, but allows you to improve and focus them, building on peoples feedback to make what you create even better.

Doing this alongside any qualifications will significantly improve your chances of being part of the games industry in the future. Hopefully there is something there that fits what you’re looking for. But the biggest takeaway should be – just start creating and take it from there. But even if you don’t have a strong idea about where you want to be now, that’s no big deal. You’ve plenty of time to make up your mind!

Feel free to send this mail onto your Careers Advisors incase they have other people in your situation and are not sure on what advice to give.

Good luck with what you decide to do next

Reply: What do you look for in a Junior Programmer?

Quite often we get messages asking what kinds of skills or content is required when someone wants to apply for a Junior Programming position we have at Hardlight (we have a variety of openings now if you’re interested…). I often reply to these personally, so I thought I’d stick the last one I sent up here, in-case anyone looking for information on the Internet happens to stumble across it.

It’s quite UK-centric in regards to the education, but it’s easy enough to figure out the relevant qualifications in another country.

Hi […], my name’s Lee Winder, I’m the Technical Team Lead here at SEGA Hardlight. Thanks for getting in touch.

I don’t know much about your current situation such as your age, where you are education wise etc. so some of this information might not apply but take what you need.

Teaching yourself C# and Unity is a great start. This will give you a great grounding in programming, and how games can come together. If you continue doing this, you’ll be able to start making a few small games and maybe start to put together a portfolio of your work (or maybe even selling them on an app store somewhere!).

Your portfolio is the most important part of how you’ll get a job in the games industry. Your portfolio is how you will show prospective employers that you can do the job you’re applying for. Qualifications are important, but your portfolio is much more relevant for the job you’re applying for.

C# and Unity are good tools to work in in the mobile games industry (Hardlight itself uses Unity on most of it’s projects) but if you want to work in the high end console market then you’d need to start looking at C\C++. But for now I’d concentrate on C# before moving onto anything more complicated if it’s your first experience of programming.

Talking about portfolios.

I put up a couple of articles a few years back about what we tend to look for. Since it was written quite some time ago, the links might be dead-ends but it gives you an idea of what people are looking for.
https://engineering-game-dev.com/category/education/the-elusive-demo-portfolio/

Now regarding qualifications, programmers tend to be proficient in maths and problem solving as well as having high levels of computer science experience. Depending on where you are in your education, we’d expect programmers to have good grades in Maths, Computer Science (if available) and usually followed by good A-Level grades in Maths (and often Further Maths), Computer Science or other similar subjects.

Degree’s are not usually required (though some studios still need them) but a degree in Software Engineering or Computer Science can give you a real insight into the development of computer programs, but degrees like Maths or Physics are just as valuable if you wanted to work in a more specific area (like simulations, rendering or physics).

Hopefully some of this will help you have an idea of what we tend to look for when we get applications for Junior Developers. And good luck in the future.

Lee

Why Accreditation Matters

I originally posted this to #AltDevBlogADay on Saturday February 25, 2012.


Choice is a wonderful thing. Blind choice isn’t and when it comes to degrees listing themselves as a great place to do a ‘Technical Games Degree’ there’s a lot of choice and not a lot of information available to sort the good from the bad.

It’s this abundance of choice and the issues resulting from making the wrong choice that drives my involvement with SkillSet. Good courses need as many opportunities as possible to stand out from the crowd especially when prospective students may have to narrow down the Universities they’ll investigate let alone apply too.
 
 

What Is The Accreditation Process?

I’ve been a lead evaluator for the SkillSet accreditation process for quite a few years now. The process (I’ll keep it short) involves an application by the University to SkillSet, a paper based investigation into the University covering the skills taught, the attainment and employability of students (amongst other things) followed by an on-site visit by an evaluation team. This visit involves interviews with staff and students, examination of the work done and the facilities available with a recommendation to accredit based on their findings.

This evaluation team is always made up of active game developers working in the discipline the course focuses on.

Courses have and will continue to be rejected at various stages of the process if they are not up to scratch and the criteria used is often very strict with a high barrier for entry. Courses have to be producing quality graduates with the skills suitable for the industry before they can even start to think about applying for accreditation. Cross skill courses (those teaching programming, art and design in a single degree) have never been accredited and never will.

The process and documentation is publicly available so you can have a more detailed look here.
 
 

Student Choice

There are a lot of Universities in the UK and a large number of them provide a some kind of game related technical course. Unfortunately a lot of them don’t provide a high enough level of education to warrant the time and money students spend on them. Accreditation awards allows students to quickly narrow down the kinds of Universities they should be looking at and to spend the time they have investigating the best rather than trying to simply find the ones worthy of their time.

Word of mouth and past experience all goes into this but it still takes time that could be better spent especially when students will be applying to Universities at the same time as working towards their A-Levels, a period of time which may well be the most stressful time they’ve had in their academic career so far.

An accredited University at least gives them the knowledge that they’ll get the right kind of education allowing them to focus on finding one that best suits them rather than anything else.
 
 

Industry Involvement

A lot of developers want to get involved with the education of future game makers and University partnerships such as guest lectures and industry panels are one of the best ways to do that. Universities like industry involvement and some developers can end up being overwhelmed with requests especially if they are already working with other courses and word starts to spread. And because a developers time is so valuable, it helps to be able to target the Universities that we know are already providing the kinds of skills students will need in the future.

Building on a quality foundation allows much more scope for growth than having to start from the bottom and working upwards.

But you might think this is a path to ruin. If the industry only helps accredited courses surely none can become accredited because no-ones willing to work with them to get there!

But that’s not the case. Bigger companies such as Sony, MS, Blitz, Codemasters and others work with those up and coming courses, allowing them to get the point where they can apply for or work towards accreditation. Once that happens, it becomes a positive feedback loop, as the course gets better and gets accredited it leads to more industry involvement which leads to a better course…
 
 

It’s The Skills Stupid

The argument between game focused and traditional Computer Science courses is always the same and is usually spot on. Take a CS course over a game course because in a few years you may not want to work in the industry and the skills you learn on a CS could will put you in a stronger position should you want to do something else.

Without a doubt this is a good argument to make but one that I hope accreditation can resolve. In every evaluation I’ve taken part in the skills we look for and the modules on display show that the course could quite easily be rebranded as ‘Computer Science with a games slant’ rather than ‘Games Technology with a little bit of Computer Science thrown in’. As a result the skills taught will still put the student in a good position should they decided the industry is not for them and while a ‘Games Technology’ degree won’t look as good as a ‘Computer Science’ degree on a CV, accreditation should allow it to grow in stature depending on which University awarded the degree.

Computing in Schools – Lets Not Rush Things

I originally posted this to #AltDevBlogADay on Friday February 10, 2012.

There has been a significant amount of press in the UK about the quality of computer related education at Key Stage 3 and 4 (Secondary School level with pupils ages 11-16 years old) and to a much lesser extent Key Stage 5 (college or 6th form students aged 17-18 years old).

As someone who used to teach ICT at these level I have first hand experience of the kind of topics, software and skills taught to children in classes across the UK, and agree 100% that, as a subject, ICT should be kicked to the kerb and approached from a completely different angle.

And we’re certainly heading in the right direction.

The Next Gen. report by Livingstone and Hope details how we can provide the skills our children require to take our industries to the next level and beyond and even the current Education Secretary Michael Gove is making moves in the right direction. Change is coming and it’s change for the better.

But we must be careful not to rush these changes and to make sure the structure and content is right, that suitable facilities are available and we have the right people in place before we start this process otherwise we’ll be back to square one within a couple of years.
 
 

You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know

The largest problem facing the introduction of a new, highly scientific and difficult subject is getting the right people in place to teach. And the most important word in that sentence is ‘right’.

Sure we can use existing ICT teachers but it’s clear that the skills required to teach ICT are not the same skills required to teach a Computing GCSE. Also, don’t get me started on the number of ICT teachers who don’t actually know how to use a computer…

We can draft in science and maths teachers to teach elements of the course others are unable to but those teachers already have working place directives in place limiting how many hours they can teach and those hours will already be more than accounted for.

If we really want to create a next generation of developers is passionate and knowledgeable educators pushing that passion onto the open minds in front of them. Sure, anyone can learn enough to teach a subject, but it wont be exciting, it won’t be boundary defining and it won’t make those pupils crave more. Sure, some teachers will really take to this, will develop that passion along with their students, but the majority won’t and as a result the subject could easily be seen as stale, boring and dull.

So the ideal solution is to hire for the shortfall but with approximately 3,900 state run secondary schools in the UK and with many schools having the need for more than one or two teachers per subject that’s a big recruitment drive.
 
 

Custom Content Is Risky But Rewarding

One of the most interesting aspects of this push towards a more computing focused subject is the idea of having a more flexible curriculum. Now this could mean a myriad of things though I’m taking it to mean schools being given the ability to cherry pick the elements they want to teach and to ignore elements they don’t.

This is extremely useful especially with a lack of specialist teachers and it also tackles one of the main criticisms of the National Curriculum, that it creates boilerplate content and restricts creativity and freedom in the classroom.

So by allowing schools to be flexible with what they teach we allow our teachers to experiment and push the boundaries of our children’s imaginations, if they have the knowledge to do that.

But it also opens up the possibility of a (and I hate myself for using this awful and overused phrase) postcode lottery where some schools are teaching more valuable skills than others. It complicates the act of awarding consistent and meaningful grades across the country and it could lead to stagnation as some schools resist pressure to improve as technology moves on.

Though you could make that argument for the education system as a whole due to the varying levels of skills between teachers of all subjects in all schools.
 
 

We’re A Fickle Bunch

With the issues highlighted above there is every chance that if we rush headlong into these changes we risk the first years being less than stellar as people find their feet, new teachers are recruited and less talented teachers are let go.

And this one worries me the most.

With every change of Government, or in many cases with every change in Education Secretary, schools are given newer mandates, newer targets and newer goals. And it’s always in response to a perceived failure by the last Government/Secretary.

If the introduction of a Computer focused subject is seen as a failure in any way then the next Education Secretary will trip over themselves to ‘fix’ the situation. Not by removing the subject but by constantly tweaking and ‘refocusing’, leading to a course that drives schools (and good teachers) away from the subject and turns it into something resembling what we already have.
 
 

ICT Isn’t All Bad

ICT isn’t just Word and Excel. There’s some really interesting content in there that shouldn’t just be discarded out of hand.

I’ve taught lessons in web design and planning using both graphical editors (Dreamweaver at the time) and text editors. We used some rudimentary programming tools in the early years (getting frogs safely across the road by managing traffic light systems) and video editing tools in later years. All of these were exciting, interesting and (usually) generated some pretty interesting results!

I’m confident that these elements will not be lost no matter what comes next, but we must be careful not to discard what we have and what actually works for want of a ‘better’ system.
 
 

Word Processing Skills Are Important

Something we need to acknowledge is that (this might nark some people) word processing and spreadsheet skills, and the ability to use MS products, are important skills that pupils need to have. Whether we like it or not the majority of the world uses MS Office and while this might change in the future having the ability to use these tools improves a child’s employability, their work rate at school and their computer literacy in general.

But the removal of these ‘skills’ from a specific subject is nothing but good news. By teaching these skills as part of other subjects will lead them to be seen as more natural tools that can be used in a wide range of situations rather than just in their ICT lesson.

But we need to make sure that time is available in all subjects to do this and acknowledge that it’ll take a whole school approach to achieve, something that will vary greatly on a school by school basis.

 
 
I’m certainly excited about how these changes will alter how our children see and use computers on a daily basis and how that can only improve the industry in general. But there are significant challenges that must be faced before we can move forward, confidently, and create a true next generation of developers.

Game Degrees, SkillSet and Accreditation

Everybody who has had even a cursory glance at game degrees, whether they are technical, artistic or design based, knows that they come in for some abuse. You hear what can only be described as horror stories, people who have spent 3 or 4 years of their lives, racked up a large amount of debt, only to come out at the end with a piece of paper that not only doesn’t give them the skills to get into the Games Industry, but doesn’t give them the skills to get into any other kind of industry either.

Fortunately, not all of them are of the same quality, but with the general attitude towards them, its very difficult and daunting to try and find one that is not only worthwhile, but one which will benefit you if you find out the games industry isn’t the right industry for you.

SkillSet (or the ‘Sector Skills Council for Creative Media’) is a body that (amongst other things) works with Universities to monitor, recommend and guide course content, pushing it in a direction (if it isn’t there already!) that will provide students with the right skills, and experience, to enter the games industry and provide them with the talents to move into other industries if that’s where life takes them.

And it doesn’t work alone.  Working with companies and individuals from the games industry and Universities it can constantly check and discuss what is being suggested, what is needed and how best to get the required skills to those that want them.

Accreditation is one of the main ways in which SkillSet is able to easily and clearly indicate that a University course is, for want of a better phrase, ‘fit for purpose’ and while it can be a hard process to get through it is something that really benefits the Universities in the short and long term.

Accreditation is a process in which Universities apply to SkillSet with a set of documentation that covers, amongst other things, the following.

  • Course Content – Are they teaching what the industry wants.  Advanced C++ and math, team work and development (source control tools, cross discipline development, leadership and teamwork skills) and console development spring to mind
  • Equipment – When joining an industry that uses technology not available in any other industry, it helps if you have already experienced what it’s like developing for them.  Platform holders are happy to work with Universities to provide equipment for their students to use, and they should have good exposure to it.
  • Industry Involvement – Do they have guest speakers or work with companies to form their course content?
  • Outcomes – How many of their students get roles in the industry when they graduate and what roles are they filling?  Are they able to get jobs in other industries if they want to?

The documents that applicants complete are freely available here if you want to have a more detailed look.

Representatives from the Games Industry then take part in the accreditation process, reviewing the application content, and feeding back to SkillSet and the University before, if successful, moving onto a more detailed phase of presentations, visits and interviews.

And it should be stressed that it is these industry representatives, always from a development background, that have the final say.

There are currently courses that are accredited (and I stress courses, as a University who’s Art track is accredited may not have it’s Tech track accredited) and you can easily find out the content of their courses to see why these have been given a big thumbs up from the Industry.  Obviously as the process continues, gets more streamlined and improves, more courses will be added to this list, hopefully sometime this year and on a yearly basis after that…

I was originally going to end this post with a ‘what to look for’ and a ‘what to avoid’ paragraph for future students, but I want this to be about the work that SkillSet is doing, and how their process is not only useful, but is driven by the industry that is being fed into.  There will always be discussions as to how to improve the process and it’s encouraging to see how many companies and individuals take part in these talks (on both the University and Industry side).

So if you are looking at going on a ‘Game Degree’ in the near future, make sure you check out the current list of accredited courses, and if you can’t get to one of those, examine the course content in detail to see how it compares or to see if they are in the process of being accredited.  If you still can’t find the information you need, request more information from the University.  They benefit from you being there to, so it needs to be a two way street before you even think of enrolling.

Thoughts?

Elusive Demo Portfolio – Posted On Game Career Guide

The Game Career Guide has posted an abridged version of The Elusive Demo Portfolio posts (parts 1 and 2) (edited by the editors of the the Game Career Guides website) – titled How To Make A Game Programming Demo Portfolio.  

Hopefully it will reach another audience who will find it pretty useful and the original has already been linked to a couple of times on the forums and has gone down well already (usually thanks to Steven Yau).

Give it a read and let me know what you think.

The Elusive Demo Portfolio – Part 3

In the previous parts of this series, I covered what is generally regarded as good content for an entry level portfolio and then followed it up with suggestions and ideas on how your portfolio could be presented.  In this part I am going to take a look at some real world portfolio’s that have been created by people looking to enter the games industry as entry level programmers.  As you would expect the easiest way to do this is to use online portfolio’s that are publicly available so while this part does have a skew towards the online, the content will be just a relevant to a demo CD or any other presentation method.

For the sake of consistency I have included screen shots along with a web link to the real thing as portfolios tend to change as careers develop and people’s skills improve and grow.  I should also point out that these critiques are in no way meant to be in depth reviews of the portfolios.  Ideally you should make up your own mind as to how good you think they are and how they could help you develop your portfolio in the future.

Sean Carrica – http://seancarrica.com

Sean’s website is very clear and well presented.  Every page has a clear (very clear) link to each part of the portfolio which means you can easily dart around the site without having to move back to the home page once you have finished reading the current section.  The way the games are linked works quite well, especially as there are only a few and in this case you don’t need to really categorize them in any way.  If this was required, having smaller, easier to group images under a relevant banner would work quite well.

The CV is presented in multiple formats which always gives the reviewer the option as to how they want to view it.  As a user of OpenOffice I am often wary about opening Word documents so a .pdf file makes this much easier to manage.  Along with the CV is Sean’s brief bio, which really gives an impression of who he is and what he is looking for.  While this is easy to access, it would probably be more appropriate on the main page since it covers exactly who he is and would give a reviewer more information without having to look for it.

As for the projects themselves, there is a nice variety of skills on show and it also makes clear where Sean wants to work (game programming rather than tools or engine level you would assume) and the sizes of the projects are appropriate for the roles he would probably apply for.  Ideally the C++ projects would be completed (rather than On Hold) since this is the language he will most likely end up working with but the screen shots and code samples give you an idea of the projects and their scope.  If Apache was written and completed in C++ then the range of projects would be ideal.

I would also question the inclusion of the Code Snippets section, which by Sean’s own admission contains code that was designed for a specific purpose but then not actually used.  You would start to wonder why, what were the reasons for not using it yet still including it on the portfolio?

It’s a shame that not all the projects (even the on hold ones) have screen shots or demos.  Because there are no executables available I would really expect to see this for each one, giving the reviewer the ability to judge the games and assess what Sean could do.  Are the projects that do not have video or screen shots available simply not good enough for a portfolio – while I personally doubt this it will cross some peoples minds and reduce the impact of his work.

As you can probably tell, Sean’s portfolio is a solid piece of work that contains a good range of projects and is presented very well.  The use of a simple, clean URL is a real bonus too.  If there were a few things that I would expect to be done slightly differently it would be the following

  • Allow me access to the executables so I can actually play the demos – this goes a long way to impressing a reviewer

  • While the YouTube links are useful include the source files for download too as this gives more people access to the material and download speeds are generally not an issue

  • More completed C++ projects would be a real bonus rather than some incomplete ones that may appear to be tacked on

Michael Stowell – http://stowelly.co.uk

Michael has a very nice range of demo’s available for download on his portfolio, some of which are on actual pieces of next generation hardware (obviously a benefit from attended University but one which should be highlighted).  Content covering 2D to 3D work using a wide range of C++ API’s show that he is capable of working with new technology and new tools without too much trouble, and is also willing to try working in different areas rather than concentrating on what he knows.  Each demo provides downloadable executables all of which worked out of the box on my basic run of the mill development PC.  This is a real bonus and either shows Michael spent the time thoroughly testing his demo’s or is capable of writing good solid code from the off – both are desirable traits for an entry level programmer.

The only downside of the projects that are available is that some of them seem incomplete and unfinished so it may have been beneficial for Michael to concentrate on a couple less and adding polish to the remaining ones.  This wouldn’t have gone against him as he would still have had a good range of projects on show.  I would be tempted to say that the main project is possibly too big for a demo portfolio, especially when there is such a range on show and it isn’t a finished piece of work.  A more focused and complete main project would probably go some way to making this portfolio complete.

Unfortunately, Michael has presented his work in a format that is less than suitable.  While blogs are good for simple one off comments or projects they can be very difficult to navigate, especially when there are a multitude of links to other areas of his blog that are not, in the fullest sense, related to his portfolio.  There are a lot of links to the right and top of the portfolio that simply clutter the page and make navigation difficult.  This is only made more problematic by every project being in the same entry, so the reviewer has to scroll through multiple projects to get where they need to go – add to that the slim line formatting of a blog and there is a lot of information in a very small space.  This proves to be a problem when adding images (which could be linked to rather then embedded) as there is so little space that some of the images are simply to hard to see clearly.  As an example of the lack of clear navigation, it took a while but I eventually found links to videos for the various projects, which would only help Michael and should have been linked to with each project and each section.

As a quick over-view, Michael’s portfolio contains some very good work and shows off his ability in the field of game development.  Unfortunately the presentation is less than ideal and can make a good portfolio seem less that it’s parts.  If I were to suggest some improvements they would be the following

  • If you want your blog to be part of your portfolio, have a link to it and keep the portfolio separate

  • Categorize the projects – one project per page with clearer information and links to videos, screenshots and executables

  • Links to required API’s (if available) otherwise will downloadable executables run on everyones machines?

  • Link videos and screenshots with the projects (again this comes down to format of presentation)

Steven Yau – http://yaustar.no-ip.org

 

Steven’s presentation is remarkably clear and well laid out.  There is no additional ‘fluff’ that can make a portfolio hard to read and navigate, but with the inclusion of both strong colours and images the site has a really clear personality.  As with the other portfolio’s he’s included different versions of his CV for easy access (even including a text file version) and his home page gives a short, but detailed enough over-view of where he is in his career.

His projects are of a suitable size of an entry level programmer with the Dance2X being something slightly different that the norm but interesting never-the-less, and along with the other, more game related C++ projects, his portfolio is diverse and can really showcase his talent.  I think it makes it quite clear that Steven is interested in the game play side of game development and suits it’s purpose well.  It’s also nice to see an explanation as to why content (executables, source code etc.) is not available publicly rather than simply not being there.  I would argue that the ‘A Story In The Like Of Mike’ is simply not needed, this is a programming portfolio after all and this just takes up someones time when it is most likely irrelevant for the kinds of roles Steven is going for.

It could also be made clearer which projects were done as University work and which ones were done as side projects.  While it is possible to figure this out, some explanation by simply grouping the projects could help and make the portfolio slightly easier to navigate.

Steven is actually active on various education sites in relation to games and wrote an article on how to break into the Games Industry.  Unfortunately you wouldn’t know this from looking at his portfolio.  While it’s not physical evidence of ability, being involved in these kinds of activities is a real bonus and should be advertised clearly alongside his other work.

If I was to suggest anything that needed changing on a portfolio like this it would be the following

  • Direct video links along side the YouTube links

  • Categorizing of his demo projects into languages or type

  • Advertise the fact that Steven is active in the educational elements of the Games Industry

Jude Selvanayagam – http://www.jnselva.co.uk

 

From a quick glance at Jude’s portfolio you can tell he is primarily interested in technology based development rather than game side programming.  The demo projects included in his portfolio are all feature based and don’t include any games what so ever (well there is one…) but for Jude that does exactly what it needs to do.  Each project shows an aptitude for different techniques and areas of engine or tools development from physics to special effects and each one is finished to a good level showing the ability to follow through what he started.

Navigation around the site is very simple, though I would avoid calling something a ‘Code Dump’ or similar, as these are still valid projects and while not the flag ship ones for the portfolio are still present and should be highlighted in a positive manner.  It’s good to see each project, from the main ones to the lesser ones, being given a short description and screen shots, but the particle system and cloth simulation projects should really have a collection of videos, especially as there are multiple downloads to go through if the reviewer wants to look at everything – and to protect against the demo’s not running on the host PC.

It’s quite interesting to see a ‘Highlights’ section on the main page, which again pushes you in the direction Jude wants you to go, showing off the projects that are the stars of the set and the ones that will hopefully land a good position at a games company.

I’m obviously going to comment on the art work which while absolutely stunning really has no place on a programming portfolio.  Stress that you are interested in art and sketching on a CV and even provide a brief link to a showcase website but I would be tempted to remove it for the sake of this portfolio.

So if there were a couple of points I would probably recommend changing it would be the following

  • Could the projects be highlighted as University work and personal work to make the distinction clearer?

  • The tools used for each project should be clearer.  Language, API’s and methods used should be obvious and at the top – do we know what they were developed in without downloading the source?

Greg Santo – http://www.gregsanto.com/

Before I start I will admit that I think Greg’s portfolio is an excellent example of what a portfolio should be and how it should be presented.  The first thing that is obvious is how the site is laid out, with the main page giving a good description of who Greg is and what this site is for.  In a portfolio like this, which contains a lot of demo’s written in a variety of languages categorizing the titles by language is a real winner and allows people to go exactly where thy need to go, which means this could be used not only as a gaming portfolio but also one for a more traditional industry.  As for relevant projects, while there is only one project that would spark an interest (it’s the Go! Kart one by the way), it’s of such high quality that other ones are simply not needed.  All the required elements of a game are there from menu’s, music, level select screens and split screen multiplayer.  But, and this is a big but for anyone reading this, creating such a big project is a risk.  What if after a years development the project simply didn’t come together or was simply not of a good enough standard.  In this case that obviously didn’t happen but for people looking to create portfolio work this is a big consideration to take when embarking on a large project.

As for the layout and presentation of the project, the main project page has everything you would expect, from nicely laid out code samples, a large amount of screen shots (this almost makes a video redundant but I wouldn’t ever go that far!) and something that I think really stands out, which is the challenges faced throughout development.  Studios are always interested in people who can learn and tackle new problems, and this clearly shows that Greg has that ability.

Is there anything that could be improved?  On the main page the line “you like what you see, or even if you hate what you see” is not a good one.  You are selling yourself  to everyone who sees your work, so while it can be a throw away line, always assume your work is excellent and assume everyone else will think so.  Don’t go over-board, but never put yourself or your work down, no matter how tongue in cheek or light hearted it is.

So would there be anything I could possibly suggest should change?  If there was it would be the following

  • If the main C++ project was smaller, it would obviously be nice other game related projects were present, but in this case that is probably asking to much!
  • The current project (the Physics Playground) would definitely benefit from some screen shots of work in progress, if they are available

And Finally…

So that’s it.  I’ve finally finished what turned out to be a rather long look into what makes a programming demo portfolio, something which I originally thought about writing back in February.  Hopefully it has been worth it for people reading this and that it clears up some of the misinformation and crazy rumors that generally circulate about what is required when looking for an entry level programming position in the games industry.

I’d obviously like to thank the above people who gave me permission to critique their work and their portfolios – without these, this part of the series would be a bit of a dead fish and wouldn’t have been as useful as it could be.  And just to clarify what a good portfolio can do for you, here is a quick update as to what these people are doing right now (as of July 2008)

Again, thanks for taking the time to read this, hopefully the next few posts will be a lot smaller, if only for my sanity.