The University of Southern California has announced the introduction of a bachelor’s program in video game development. With the advent of sophisticated games such as MMOs and the merging of commercial interests with virtual reality, it is possible that USC did this as an academic exercise rather than a place to park its football players.
Other mainstream universities have similar programs, among them Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech and Southern Methodist University. The game industry has cracked the seven billion dollar mark in annual revenue. More important from an academic point of view perhaps, is the prospect of applying game theory, analysis and development skills to cultural or economic environments that are not strictly about games. Major game producer Electronic Arts has helped to underwrite the USC program simply because of its focus on non-commercial applications.
It’s a fair guess that the skills and analytical tools one might develop in a video game liberal arts degree program will be increasingly applicable in commercial online applications. The Internet has become a major commercial marketplace, one that functions more efficiently as the websites utilized for commercial exchange become more sophisticated and, to some degree, have high level graphics.
With that in mind, the nuts and bolts of a video game education still have to do with the development of a sophisticated piece of software. Critical skills include digital animation, game design and game programming.
Basic job descriptions within the business have included:
A programmer can work on the game engine, the artificial intelligence features, the tools, hardware and network.
A designer – or artists – can be an animator, 3D artist/modeler or 2D artist/texturer.
Though it sounds similar and uses some of the same skills as a designer, level design is a job unto itself. Level designers need to have some art proficiency, but must also have good spatial awareness, organizational skills and lightning effects knowledge.
This is a growing position in the game community. There is more than just a manual to write; the story behind the game must be well-crafted and compelling. Every speaking character must have a script. Documentation is still an important element, though; as it is a necessary part of any software creation, and games are certainly no exception.
Behind these technical/creative roles are production managers, game modeling experts, and directors – much as with a film. Interactive design is an integral part of any video game and is also a key function of many websites. The transition of video game production methods to uses outside the game industry is well underway. The sophisticated graphics used in videogames are increasingly appearing in online commercials with high-gloss production values.
It will be the Internet and its importance as an economic engine that connects the video game major with the business world and provides job opportunities beyond the gaming industry. The trained, experienced level designer will find opportunities in high-end web site development companies that provide sophisticated sites for corporate sales and presentation purposes.
The flow of a high quality website (visit BMW USA for example) requires almost as much scripting as a game does, although much of the script appears as print instead of dialogue. And the use of artificial intelligence (AI) as a sales tool is probably not too far down the road – a method of taking a retail customer to the product that will suit them. Video games have forced the development of skill sets that are becoming meaningful to mainstream industries.