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Although the field is very competitive, there are jobs to be had in the video game design profession. A love of gaming is helpful, but only the most qualified find jobs.
Demand for video games is exploding, and the industry is growing rapidly. According to a Coopers and Lybrand study for the Interactive Software Developers Association, the average development company grew by 18 percent between 1997 and 1998, with about 50,000 people working in video game development in 1998.
There are five major areas of gaming- mobile phone gaming, computer/TV gaming, arcade gaming, web gaming, and gaming for training purposes. Gaming for training purposes is a recent development, so it is growing rapidly as more and more companies seek out ways to quickly train new employees.
The history of video games actually goes back to the early 1960's when Ralph Baer, Steve "Slug" Russell, and Willy Higinbotham designed interactive games. The first was called Spacewar! and played on a DEC PDP-1 mainframe computer. Later, Pong, Asteroid, Space Invaders, Centipede, and others hit the store shelves and were available for play on the television as well as arcade games. The first desktop computer games were played on the Apple II.
Video games came to television in 1972 when Atari came out with Pong. They also ported Asteroids, Space Invaders, and other games. These early games were based on only a few pixels, so resolution was poor. Later, they had more competition when Commodore, Nintendo, Sega, Activision, Gameboy, Playstation and X-Box entered the fray. As time went on, the resolution improved and of course today we have high definition games. Also, about this time, the first coin-operated arcade game was produced in 1971.
The popularity of "shoot 'm up" games began with Wolfenstein 3-D (1992) and later Doom. Wolfenstein 3D was featured in the movie, The Net. Interest in video game design jobs expanded when programmers created programs that allowed ordinary people to create their own scenarios. The capability of Computer Gaming really took off with the game Myst. With Myst, there was a new level of interaction and graphics.
Today, the basic games are still being played across the world. You can see many bored workers playing solitaire (Klondike on the Mac) and Tetris.
Animated Game Artists
An artist takes a game's concept and converts it into 2D or 3D computer art. During the concept stages of development, concept artists draw sketches and storyboards to illustrate designers' ideas. Artists later create all the artwork the design spec calls for, including creatures, settings, vehicles, and icons. All artists work under the direction of an artistic lead.
Video games are either two or three dimensions or a combination of both. In a 2-D game, artists draw images on paper and scan them into the computer. In a 3-D game, artists build images with software. Most new games have 3-D components. (Also see Animation/Cartooning)
With the advent of the iPhone by Apple, mobile gaming has really taken off. Mobile games are typically Java games and most can be played on a multitude of cell phones. An artist who wishes to enter this field must be familiar with 3D modeling & UV layout skills (MAX, or Maya) and experience with Photoshop, 2D ability to paint highly detailed texture maps (ex. Diffuse, Normal, Spec, AO, etc.), and excellent knowledge of design basics (relief, lighting, composition, perspective, colours, etc.). Currently the field is exploding, so there are more openings in this field. This is also an opportunity to be your own boss. There are many individuals creating applications for mobile phones. Most begin by visiting the Apple iPhone development page. The second place to visit might be the iPhone Toolbox. Because this is a fairly new area, salaries / income vary widely on the number of applications created as well as their popularity.
Character artist and animator- Character artists design and build creatures, including the one the player becomes. Animators make those creatures move. Sometimes, the same person does both tasks.
Character artists begin by sketching the creature on paper or a white board. "We try to make the game look the way the designers intend," says Riley, a former lead character artist at Bethesda Softworks in of creative freedom."
When the creature's basic design is completed, artists build it within the computer using modeling software. They start with simple shapes, called primitive polygons. They twist, stretch, and combine the polygons until they have a skeleton covered with a wire mesh. As Riley describes it, "We sculpt with digital clay."
On the monitor, the character looks like a figure made of chicken wire. The artist then covers the character's mesh with a virtual skin and adds color.
Making static creatures and objects move is an animator's job. "I'm given a scene and told what my character has to do, who it will interact with, and where it is in the story," says Angie Jones, an animator at Oddworld Inhabitants.
Animators often use real-world creatures as guides to create natural-looking movement. Animals make good guides; game creatures are often patterned after ostriches or horses.
Animators create two kinds of action sequences: cut scenes, the short movies that play at predetermined times in the game, and player-controlled action, such as running, jumping, or talking. During cut scenes, animators can make the action as detailed and complicated as they'd like. But when the player is in control, the animator is more constrained: the player must be able to produce most movements with a joystick, button, or menu selection.
Two techniques for creating and animating objects combine computer graphics with real-world elements. In one technique, artists and production technicians build fiberglass or clay sculptures and scan them into the computer. The computer translates the data from the scan into a digital model. The model is then painted and animated in the computer.
In the other technique, developers use actors along with animators to create some action sequences. Actors perform motions with sensors attached to their bodies. The sensors record their positions. Artists use the data to animate computer characters. This motion-capture method is most often used in sports games.
Background artist or modeler- When players find themselves on alien planets, theme parks, football stadiums, or other settings, they have background artists to thank for the view.
Background artists, sometimes called modelers, create video game settings. "I'm building playgrounds for the characters," says Michael Kirkbridge, a background artist at Bethesda Softworks. "We draw and construct environments to the design team's specifications. Background artists work hand in hand with the level designer to create environments that fit the game."
Background artists begin by making sketches of the background suggested in the design document. Then, they draft an accurately proportioned version on graph paper. "The scale has to be correct," says Kirkbridge. "Otherwise, you could make a structure too large or too small for the size of the characters." Once they are satisfied with the drawings, artists mold the environment shape by shape, using the computer as a virtual movie set.
For example, artists creating a laboratory might use rectangles to form the walls, ceiling, windows, and doors; then shape circles and cylinders into counters, stools, and sinks; and, finally, add any objects players will be able to pick up, such as test tubes, calculators, or fire extinguishers. A player would be able to walk around furniture and move through the lab in any direction.
Then, the artists add fill lights or spotlights to cast pools of brightness and shadow over the environment. They adjust the color and intensity of the lights to evoke a particular mood or time of day.
Concept Artist- This person will create and design characters and worlds used within the game. They first create a rough concept on paper. When the concept is approved, it goes through a cleaning-up period which may involve scanning the designs on to computer and using an art package such as Photoshop to perfect fine line work and add details. Colour is then introduced into the Image so that the texture artist can create the correct textures for the world or character. Once the concept artwork has been completed it is passed on to the 3D Model Builder (or Animator if it is an animated character).
Texture artist- These artists add detail to the surfaces of 3-D art. By adding texture to a wall, for example, they make it look like brick, plaster, or stone. They might make a creature's eyes shiny and wet and its cheeks matte like skin.
Texture artists take a photograph or paint a picture of a surface they need. Then, they scan it into the computer. Finally, they wrap the picture around the object in a process called texture mapping.
Some surface art requires detailed painting. For example, paintings of circuit boards or computer keyboards can be draped onto flat ledges.
All game artists have to contend with the technical constraints imposed by arcade machines, consoles, and personal computers. These playback devices have limited memory and processing power. Each element of the game is competing for a piece of memory and power.
When the image on the screen changes, the game software retrieves data from its database and redraws the image. This takes time. The more complicated the image, the more time it takes to render. To cope, game artists try to use the fewest possible polygons. They want to fool the eye into seeing more detail than is actually there.
Skills and training- Game artists need to know basic math concepts when working on 3-D games. "When you add a third axis, you really have to understand geometry," says Jones.
Artists working in 3-D should know how to use modeling and animating software and should be able to teach themselves new features and techniques. Ability to communicate with programmers is another must.
Most people in these occupations have formal training in fine arts or art-related subjects, such as animation or industrial design. They study drawing, painting, color theory, sculpture, and graphic design. Those with bachelor’s degrees are usually more likely to be hired. "It is very important to get a traditional education in the arts," says Jones. "The degree of artistic skill required is rising."
Additional skills that will help the candidate are C/C++, game/console development, vertex and pixel shaders, game "asset pipelines," and of course, experience playing Xbox, Wii, Playstation, and Nintendo.
Employment in the Gaming Industry
Most game artists work on staff (and on site) for game publishers. While many work 50 hours a week on average, 70-hour weeks are common during crunch periods.
Most artists starting out make between $25,000 and $40,000 a year, but to make six figures, artists needs to have some experience (typically, seven to 10 years' worth) and/or helped create top-selling games.
Earnings- The Bureau of Labor Statistics' data show the average median annual salary for artists across all industries is $51,716. BLS does not collect earnings data specifically for video game artists and animators. According to Animation Arena, a gaming artist with 6 or more years experience averages $66,700 a year. Beginners can expect $41,500 on average. Animators start out at $46,700 on average. Lead designers and creative directors usually have to have experience and average between $80,000 to $215,000 a year with 6 or more years experience.
According to the California Employment Development Department, multimedia artists and animators earned between $46,935 and $77,452 annually in 2013; art directors earned between $30,000 and $100,000. A survey taken at the 2006 Computer Game Developers Association conference found that 3-D artists with at least 1 year of experience earned an average of $70,000. Animators earned more.
Video Game Artists and Animators reported that they made more money in 2004 than they did the previous year across all levels of experience with the largest salary increases being reported buy animators with 3 or more years of experience. Although artist salaries generally start significantly lower than coders for those with similar job experience, the highest individual salary for any artist was $220,000, beating out the top programmers salary of $211,500.
Outlook - The Bureau of Labor Statistics says, "Employment of multimedia artists and animators is expected to grow by 8 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. Expected growth will be due to increased demand for animation and visual effects in video games, movies, and television. However, growth will be slow as companies increasing hire animators who are overseas. In addition, competition for jobs will be tough because there are many people interested in entering the occupation."
A trend in the past five years has been the use of gaming with employee training. The military has used video games in training for decades. This has picked up dramatically of recent with games simulating exercises and operations. Says Dr. Stephen Goldberg, "These games are essentially meant to provide Soldiers with a myriad of experiences in developing situational awareness - where they are, where their buddies are - and potentially where the enemy might be."
Some games have employees drag and drop machine parts to the correct location. Another game, sales people persuade characters to buy products. Cisco uses gaming to teach technicians how to build computer networks. Another program by Etcetera Edutainment teaches people how to operate forklifts. Even Homeland Security is using games to simulate terrorist attacks.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 70% of major employers in the U.S. use some form of gaming in their training programs. As more and more companies turn to gaming to save money on training, the job market is sure to improve in this area.
Artist: video game artist with 3 years or less experience make on average $42,512 a year. Game Artist with 3-6 years of experience average $55,594 a year and Game Artist with 6 or more years of experience average $64,870 a year.
Animators: video game animators with 3 years or less experience make an average of $44,778 a year. Animators with 3-6 years of experience average $65,619 a year and video game animators with 6 or more years of experience average $73,031 a year.
Lead Artist/Animators: video game lead artist/animators with 3 years or less experience make an average of $64,036 a year. Lead artist/animators with 3-6 years of experience average $62,411 a year and lead artist/animators with 6 or more years of experience average $78,700 a year with the highest salary being reported at $220,000!
Game Designer: video game designer with 3 years or less experience make on average $44,176 a year. Game Designers with 3-6 years of experience average $52,604 a year and Game Designer with 6 or more years of experience average $67,840 a year.
Creative directors/Lead designers: Video game Creative directors/Lead designers with 3 years or less experience make an average of $43,778 a year. Creative directors/Lead designers with 3-6 years of experience average $51,777 a year and video game Creative directors/Lead designers with 6 or more years of experience average $78,913 a year with the highest reported salary being $190,000.
Acme Filmworks - With resume and demo reel submission information
Planet Romero - A great site by a video game artist, John Romero.
The Art of Computer Game Design - [Book] A tutorial about the process of games design and its history.
A Digital Dreamer - With a list of video game design schools and resources.
Sloperama - A site with tips on preparing for a career in game design as well as choosing a school. There is a lot of information here.
Game Design Articles - A page of many links related to game design.
International Game Developers Association - A society that is committed to advancing the careers and enhancing the lives of game developers with networking, professional development, and advocacy.
North American Simulation and Gaming Association - A site that focuses on gaming as a means of instruction and training.
The Independent Game Developers Association (TIGA) - an association based in Europe.
Jobs at Cyan World - The creators of Myst and Riven post any jobs here.
Video Game Jobs - a job site by Gamasutra.
EntertainmentCareers.net - They have many jobs in the animated, game, and film arts. You can get job updates via e-mail.
Game Institute - Take online courses in Video Game Design.
Gameloft - With mobile phone game jobs. You'll need to Google translate the page.
CreativeHeads.net - Search for Video Game, Animation, VFX, TV and Film jobs
Mary-Margaret.com- A recruiting agency for gaming jobs.
NationJob.com- with a searchable database of video game and other art positions.
Showbizjobs - A searchable site for many jobs in the animation, game development and graphic arts areas.
Disney Interactive Media Group - Disney has launched a wireless phone, voice, and data service, so look for some upcoming jobs in cell phone games.
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