For all of you video gamers, here’s something to chew on—those hours spent finely tuning your favorite pastime skills could lead to a cool career. From sound engineers to programmers, a whole slew of opportunities may await you in video game development. Gaming was always a hobby for John Feil, until he landed a dream job in game level design at LucasArts—the company that makes Star Wars games. While Feil combines his interests, artistic talent, and technical skills to make something that entertains people, his job is not all fun and games. A designer’s challenge is to create games with realistic environments, and making things appear “real” requires knowledge of subjects ranging from geology and physics to biology and sociology. The places and levels you visit in a game would seem fake without influence from bona fide science.
Describe this job.
A video game level designer creates the individual missions found in a game. The responsibilities vary from game to game, but in most cases we create and place things that players may encounter, such as buildings, people, plants, and animals. We also have to program how the entities in different levels react to the player. Will the puppy run over and greet the player with a big slurp, or will he run away when the player comes near? By placing objects and instructing them how to act, the level designer creates an environment players can easily imagine as “real.”
How do you use science?
Creating a realistic world requires knowledge about subjects such as geology, biology, sociology, anthropology, astronomy, geography, mathematics, and physics. For instance, if the player falls off a building, he cannot fall lightly like a leaf; the player must fall like a person affected by gravity. Even with little physics knowledge, a player knows what it looks like when a person falls. Because the player also understands that falling will hurt, we use biology principles to simulate injury. Similarly, computer-controlled people must behave and react realistically, so we need to know something about psychology. How those people act when they are in a group requires some knowledge of sociology and anthropology. The terrain that the player walks on also needs to make sense, so we need to be familiar with geology and geography.
On the web:
- Game sound engineer,
game composer, fiction
writer, game tester,
What background is needed?
At this point, the game industry is still pretty new, so there is not just one way to get into the business. I was a music major in college, for instance. Designers I know have been trained as architects, mechanical engineers, theologians, biologists, artists, and computer programmers. But times are changing; hundreds of schools in the United States are developing (or already offering) degrees in game-related majors. A lot of people want to make games, however, so there is much competition. To get ahead, students should be familiar with principles across many disciplines—once again, we make worlds, so to make good games it is important to read a lot, pay attention in science and humanities courses, and know how the world works. While playing games, students should consider and analyze what is realistic, as well as when they are having fun, when they are not, and why. Last, but certainly not least, students should love video games.
By Megan Sullivan