Career Switch: become part of the fastest-growing creative mediums ever as a game developer
An interview with Jennifer Schneidereit, games developer
How did you get into games development?
I spent four years at an independent games developer in Tokyo, before coming to the UK to work for Rare, who are based in the Midlands and part of Microsoft Game Studios. Technically, this was a career step up because I went from a third-party developer that works through publishers, to first-party, which has bigger budgets and more people working on each project.
However, even though I liked working for the company and liked the games, I almost felt like it was a step down because, once you work on very high-pressure projects, what you do and your impact on the game is limited. I wanted a more creative role and to actually make the game, not just a tiny part of it, so I co-founded independent games developer Nyamyam.
How do you find a job?
Personally, I always work for companies where I feel a connection to the game that the company is making, and feel that I really understand what they are trying to achieve. I would, therefore, recommend that people apply to the companies that make their favourite games first.
Obviously, if that doesn’t work out, you’ll have to apply everywhere and go on the job boards, but I would always start from a personal perspective. Ask what kind of games you want to make and who you admire, then see if there’s a chance for you to work with them.
What skills do you need?
As a programmer, it’s very important that you know C++. If you do, I believe that you can work in any games-development company in the world. Nowadays, a lot of people also use the Unity engine, which works with C#.
About 95% of the code we used to write Tengami was in C++. That meant we could put it straight onto the Wii U and PC, and we added another 5% of code in Objective-C to hook into Apple technology.
Go to university and get a very strong foundation in software engineering, data algorithms and data structures. I’m really torn when it comes to specific games courses, though, because I don’t think they’re deep enough – a degree in information technology or computer science would be better.
What’s an average day like for someone just starting out?
Average earnings: £45K
When I started out as a programmer, I’d be assigned to a designer and they’d talk me through the part of the game they were working on. For example, I was the sound programmer for one game, so I was assigned to the sound designer who had a lot of ideas for environment sounds.
We talked about the tools we’d need to play the environmental sound in the world, and agreed that I also needed to develop a system that played adaptive music in the game, which reflected what the character was doing. After that, it was a case of working from the design document, and breaking it down into smaller parts to work on.
When you’re on a programming team, you need to make sure you’re communicating and not interfering with what someone else is working on. Our game Tengami is a good example of collaboration between different disciplines, as it’s a game where the artist and game designer had to work closely together to make that kind of game work. The artist created many of the graphics, but could only do that once the programmer had crafted the tools to work with.
The programmer needs to understand how animation and 3D graphics work, know how to use 3D modelling tools and have a knowledge beyond just programming.
Should you go it alone?
I would recommend to everybody to go and work for a big studio first, because when you’re straight out of university, you don’t know how to make games from end to end. In the studios, you’ll learn about all aspects of making a game. This means even if you don’t get to do everything yourself, you’ll know the processes.