Dev Life

Advice on Getting Started in the Games Industry

One of the most common questions we get is what advice we have for people who are thinking about getting into the games industry.

Here's what I usually tell people:

1. That thing about parachutes and colors

First, realize that there are lots of different types of career paths into and through the games business.  There's game design, programming, art, animation, audio, marketing, advertising, testing (QA), project management, etc.   Even on small teams like ours games are usually made by multiple people, each contributing something unique.

Identify your area of interest:  What skills do you already have?  What are you passionate about?  What do you think you could be good at?  If you feel like you have options, you might also want to consider how hireable/desirable different professions are.  Programmers have an easier time getting hired and typically get paid more than, say, game designers.  But of course it takes more time to train up your skills in programming.

2. Edumacation

It's not a bad idea to get a college degree.  I know you hear stories all the time about people getting into the tech business without a degree, but trust me, it's easier if you have one.  Recruiters and interviewers will just take you more seriously, and in a competitive industry like ours every little bit helps.  It doesn't have to be from Harvard or anything -- there are a lot of vocational schools these days that have great game design departments.

Your degree doesn't have to be game-specific. I have found my B.A. in English to be extremely useful to me throughout my career; it helped me move from production artist to lead artist and creative director.  I would not be where I am right now without it.

3. Show your skills

Equally as important as a college degree (maybe more important) is your portfolio of work.  Of course that makes sense if you're an artist, but it applies if you're in other disciplines as well.  Looking to get into programming?  Roll your own rendering engine or physics demo.  Designer?  Create level layouts and spreadsheets with ability/stat balancing for an RPG.  Marketing?  Write up analysis of a popular game franchise and create marketing plans for how you would launch the next iteration in the series.

One piece of advice I have about portfolios:  It's better to have just a few really high quality examples, than a bunch of mediocre examples.  Be a ruthless editor and don't include anything that doesn't measure up.

When you're first getting started, you won't have a lot of on the job experience, so you need to create your own experience.  The best thing you can do is team up with other people from other disciplines and try actually making some small games. Mobile, PC mod, whatever.  Don't be too ambitious, just concentrate on small, quick, fun games that you can learn from, set aside and start a new one. Every game development experience, even the bad ones (sometimes especially the bad ones) is a learning experience. And employers in the future will love to see that you're motivated and creative enough to do stuff on your own time.

4. Job? I don't need no stinkin' job!

You'll probably ask yourself at some point:  Do you even need to get a job?  There are a lot of opportunities for small indie game developers these days.  You can make your own stinkin' job, right?!

Technically this is true.  But remember that are 1000's of games released every day on mobile and PC, and 99% of them don't make any money.  Of the remaining 1%, 99% of THEM maybe make enough money to buy themselves a coffee every day.  I know it's tempting to skip getting a job and go straight to founding your own mobile development studio.  And that might work for you.  But if you can manage it, getting a job at a major company like Zynga or Kixeye or EA or 2K is an invaluable experience, and one that will give you a big leg up on the competition if you ever do decide to try the indie thing.

5. Woohoo!

When you do get a job, here's some random bits of advice:  

  • Be humble and realize that there's a lot to learn even from the most basic or mundane-seeming gigs in the industry.  
  • Look up from your desk and absorb as much as you can about the process of making games that's happening all around you.  
  • Meet people outside your discipline or department.  Learn what they do.  
  • Ask questions. 

Above all be patient, it's a competitive industry to get into but it can be an incredibly rewarding one!

Riptide GP2 Development Update: Are We There Yet?

Hi everyone!  We get a lot of questions from people asking us when Riptide GP2 is coming out.  I know, we've just been all mysterious, saying "this summer", or "Summer '13" and people are like, what?  June?  August?  September???

Well.... I can't say exactly, but we're shooting for something in the July timeframe.  Ultimately, what it comes down to is we're going to release the game when we feel like it's done.  

What I can say is, the game is shaping up nicely.  We've got all the new jet skis -- sorry, "hydro jets" -- done. And I'm really happy with them -- they're way higher poly than the vehicles from the first RGP, they have cooler details, there's more of them, and there are some funky new ones that look totally different from the first game.

Also a lot of the tracks / environments are done.  Our goal is to have more variety than the first game, and we totally have that.  Now we're just adding a last couple of tracks and polishing the bejeezus out of the ones we have.

The big piece of the puzzle still being worked on is the progression tuning.  Riptide GP2 has a whole career mode, where you earn money to buy new hydro jets or upgrade the ones you already own, experience points to upgrade your character, and stars (or maybe we'll change that to something else?) to unlock new races and events.  It all works, but we need to play with it more and tune it so the progression and challenge feels good.

And of course there's a lot of general gameplay tuning and polishing.  We are playing multiplayer matches every day at the office to make sure the whole game feels tight and delicious.  

So don't fear -- the final game is not far off.  Just a little more content, a little more polish, and about a month or so of hard work and we'll be good to go!  Stay tuned...

10 Awesomest Things from Google I/O

This last week we traveled allllll the way down to San Francisco to attend Google I/O as part of the Developer Sandbox.  

The main reason for going was to show off our new game, Beach Buggy Blitz ... which we did to every poor sucker who walked by within arm's length of our kiosk and didn't run away screaming when we shoved our preloaded Nexus 7's into their face.  

Actually, OK, it was a bit more relaxed than that.  We had a great time meeting fellow Android nerds, and people seemed to really enjoy the game, which was gratifying because we haven't shown it to many people outside our little circle.

We had the Sandbox kiosk on Thursday, and on Wednesday and Friday we got to wander around, explore, check out some exhbits, and just soak up the Android love.  

Along the way we saw some things we really liked, and here in no particular order, are our top 10:

1. Nexus 7

Um... a 7" Tegra 3 tablet, kept eternally up to date with the latest pure Android experience starting with the as-yet-unreleased Jellybean...for $199?  Yes, please.  Sure you could quibble about not having a back-facing camera or HDMI out or whatever, but...for the love of pete it's $199!  This is the new ultimate portable gaming device.

2. Jellybean and Project Butter

Jellybean is Android OS 4.1, and it's slick.  It's especially slick because of "Project Butter", Google's effort to smooth out the UI in Android.  Anyone who's compared an iPad and Android tablet side by side knows what I'm talking about.  And thanks to their efforts Jellybean on a Tegra 3 at least is smooooooth as silk, and there are a lot of other new features we like as well.

3. The giant Nexus Q ball

I never quite figured out what this thing did, but it was big and robotic and it played cool music.

4. Cube 3D printer

At $1299 it's not cheap, but the Cube is the first consumer-level 3D printer that I've ever seen that actually looks like it does what you want.  We were super impressed with the quality of the detail and the durability of the materials.  It really is kind of like magic.  Slow magic, but still...magic.

5. Beach Buggy Blitz!

Yeah OK I know this is self serving, but it's my list dammit.  And yeah we were super happy to finally be able to show the game to people and talk to them about it and it didn't crash or do anything weird, and so I think it's fair to say it was the highlight of the show for us at least :-)

6. That guy with the helicopter

Dammit, I didn't get a video of this guy, but on Thursday afternoon this RC helicopter champion gave a demonstration in front of a massive crowd that was completely insane.  He flew that thing upside down, sideways, and within inches of the ceiling and floor.  Really, he distorted physical reality.  It was loco.

7. Visual Studio development plugins for Android and Chrome Native Client

This is actually Ralf's favorite thing.  NVIDIA is releasing a plugin that allows direct building and debugging of Android apps from within Visual Studio.  And Google is releasing one for Chrome Native Client.  This is going to make developing and debugging Android and Chrome apps a lot smoother!

8. 10 Things Every Android Game Developer Should Know

This talk on Friday morning by Daniel Galpin and Ian Lewis focused on what NOT to do to NOT get featured....or NOT NOT get featured.  Or something.  Anyway it was really informative, and surprisingly entertaining and funny to boot.  I don't know if they'll post it online, but if they do and you ever think about making Android games you should watch it.

9. Skydivers with Glass

By now pretty much everybody's seen this, or at least heard about it.  And even though I'm not totally sold on wearing a plastic toothbrush with a camera on it next to my face, the demo was pretty incredible.  Hats of to Google for coordiating a live demo like that which could have gone wrong in so many ways...and didn't.

10. Free Stuff!

Nexus 7, Nexus Q, Galaxy Nexus phone, Chromebox.  Plus T-shirts, little pins and stickers, free food and booze and music and entertainment.  OK well I guess it's not technically free if you bought your ticket, but it's still pretty awesome considering that most conferences don't give you anything except tired feet. 

Thanks again, Google!  See you next year (I hope!)

Thoughts on SOPA

Today's the big blackout protest day for SOPA, the anti-piracy bill currently wending its way through Congress.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike SOPA.  But as a software developer, I have mixed feelings about the bill, and I have to admit I'm a little annoyed by all the knee-jerk opposition to it. 

Granted, it's a poorly written bill. I don't want to see it passed in its current form. But it does try to address a real problem, and the thing that bugs me is that opposition to the bill never proposes any kind of alternative solution.

As with the whole ratings issue, ultimately the solution should come from the private sector. But the private sector has been achingly silent on the issue.

Here's an example of the kind of thing I'd like to see:

Youtube self-regulates copyright infringement through content search and advertising revenue. It also provides copyright holders a means to flag infringing content for review. Yet if you do a simple Google search for one of my games, you get any number of hits on the first page or two that take you directly to pirate sites where users can (for Android apps) just click a link and download the game for free. I suspect many users who do so don't even know they're pirating the game. And yet Google provides no means for me to flag a link for review. I can, however, flag content as "inappropriate" -- why is that? Boobs bad but pirated software OK?

Maybe it isn't a perfect solution, but it's an example of the kind of thing I'd like to see companies like Google talking about, instead of just putting a stupid black bar over their logo.

So to all o' youse who are applauding the blackout today: Why not take advantage of the browsing downtime and spend a little brain power thinking up real solutions? If you want a vibrant independent game developer community, you need to be concerned not only about free speech, but also about the ability of said independent developers to turn a profit.

Only an App developer...

Some days my life seems.... a little unreal.

How else can you explain the picture to the left?  The hottest new iPhone and one of the hottest new Android phones bought by the same person within an hour of each other.

And why?  Not because I'm going to use them.  Oh no.  So we can debug some stuff on them.

Weirdest conversation with the guy at the Apple Store too:

Me:  Hi, I'd like to buy an iPhone 4S!

Genius:  OK, what carrier do you want?  Sprint?  Verizon?  AT&T?

Me:  I don't care.  Whichever you have in stock.

Genius:  Er, OK.  Well what size do you want?  16GB?  32GB?

Me:  Whichever is cheapest.

Genius:  Ah, OK.  And, uh...what color do you want?

Me:  I don't care.  Whatever you have in stock.

Genius:  Really?  Most people ... whatever, OK --

Me:  No wait, white.  [After realizing all our other iPhones are black, so white will help us tell them apart more easily.  Who's the Genius now??]

Genius:  Ok, white.  Well you're in luck, we have just a couple in stock.  These things have been selling out really fast.

Me:  That's awesome, thanks.  What's your return policy again?

The guy must have thought I was a freaking lunatic.  

Actually I'm being kind of a jerk about it -- Sorry, I'm sleepy.  It's actually a really sweet phone.  So's the S2.  The nerd in me would be drooling over getting a chance to play with both of these puppies.  If I weren't so busy.  And if my credit card weren't emitting low moans of ultimate pain and suffereing from inside my wallet.

SHH!  Bad credit card!

The long days of summer

Wow.  I just realized it's been months since we posted anything up here in the old Vector Unit blog.  Sorry for the extended downtime -- we've been craaaazzzy busy.

What have we been busy with?

Well there's Riptide GP for one.  We haven't really made any official announcements, but I don't think it's any surprise at this point that Riptide GP is on its way to iPhone, iPad, and non-Tegra Android phones and tablets.  We've been hard at work porting the game over and testing it to make sure the game is as fast and fun as possible on a whole range of new devices.  

We've also been working on a brand new game which we're really excited about.  I won't say too much about it, except that it involves water.  And moonshine.  And chickens.  Stay tuned for an announcement sometime in October.

OK well that's enough time in the blogosphere.  Gotta get back to work!  

The tech behind Riptide GP

You would think that converting a current-gen console game engine to a phone would be a daunting task.  I’m happy to report that this is not the case!  This year’s crop of smartphones with their multiple CPU cores and competent GPUs are definitely up to the task.

When we started developing Riptide GP for Tegra 2, we had certain expectations of the performance we could squeeze out of these devices.  The GPU (graphics) more or less met our expectations, so we were able to hit our graphics quality and rendering performance targets by optimizing the fragment shaders and doing more work per vertex.  However, we were completely blown away by the CPU (computation).  The dual-core ARM Coretex A9 is an amazing piece of silicon.  What’s running in Riptide GP is the same underlying water simulation that powered our previous game on the Xbox 360!

Besides our internal tech there are three key components that made Riptide GP possible:  The Android NDK, Bullet Physics, and FMOD Sound System.  The NDK allows us to write native C++ code which is then optimized for the ARM architecture.  Bullet Physics, which we use for collision detection and rigid body simulation, just worked out of the box.  FMOD Sound System released an Android version of their SDK just in time, which has been working flawlessly since the first release.


An embarrassment of riches

One of the great things about being a game developer, is people send you free hardware -- game consoles, dev kits, phones, tablets -- to work with, so you get to try out all the latest cool devices.

The most recent addition to our small but growing collection of Tegra2 stuff is 4 brand new, shiny LG G2X phones, courtesy of the good people at T-Mobile.  We're not actually holding on to these:  We're pre-installing copies of Riptide GP, and loaning them out to game review sites that don't have Tegra2 devices to play the game on.

Even though these are just passing through, I couldn't resist taking a picture of these four awesome phones, all charged up and running Riptide GP in parallel.  As I said, we've had the opportunity to try a lot of Tegra2 hardware, and although they each have their relative strengths, the G2X is one of our favorites.  It's a good size, it's nice and light, and like all Tegra2 phones it's awesome for games.

If only I could keep one for myself ... :-)