As a junior in college going to my first GDC, my main goals consisted of meeting people within the industry, meeting fellow students, and learning all that I can about how to best present myself as an ideal applicant for an industry job once I graduate. Luckily I was able to meet each of these goals, but it was upon accomplishing the last goal that I received a gut punch.
Prior to attending the conference, I believed that my portfolio was pretty good for my age. I have several pieces from my various school projects, two of which were semester long team projects that I believed to have given me a good amount of experience. My primary concern with my portfolio, however, was that if I continued my current path of doing most of my work within my school's industry simulation program, employers would think that I did only the bare minimum by doing only school projects. Employers could potentially see that as a lack of passion or work ethic. This is not true, as I put a lot of work into these projects, plus by working a job in addition to going to school with classes that require lots of out-of-class work, I find it difficult to be able to work on anything but school projects.
Eager for an honest answer to my conundrum, I sought the advice of one of Blizzard Entertainment's University Relations staff. I applied for an internship there earlier this year, and as one of the companies I'm passionate about most (and one of the hardest to get in to), I knew they would be more than willing to give me the cold hard truth. It turns out, as I had already begun to suspect, that the answer to my conundrum is "tough shit". The Blizzard employee didn't use that language exactly, but as someone who works for a company that reviews thousands upon thousands of applications a year, the answer was simple: if you want to stand out, if you want to show that you're passionate about making games and willing to work your ass off to do so, you must make them in your spare time.
While every developer I spoke to was kind, their responses felt like a continuous barrage of "You're not good enough!". This has fueled me, and throughout the entirety of GDC and the days upon my return, I've been thinking nonstop about how to approach my problem. Compiling all of the advice that everyone was so gracious to give me, I have decided upon the solution.
The mission is clear: I must create. Plans will soon be in place to rearrange my school schedule for the coming semester, and if I must, I am willing to reduce my hours at work or leave my job behind entirely. Nothing is more important than my preparation for my future career.
Starting today, I will be creating one level every two months for the next year. In order to broaden my skill set, I intend for each project to be in a different tool set. These levels will be limited in scope due to my time limitations, but they will be fun, and they will be complete. Failure to meet those requirements are unacceptable. To ensure I maintain on schedule, I will be posting here every week to document my progress. In addition to these levels, I also intend to post blog posts dissecting levels from games I am either playing currently or that I have played in the past. These might be levels I love, or levels I had problems with, and I will discuss the pros and cons of each.
All of this is to show that I am always thinking about game design. Being a video game designer is not something I want to become because I love games and I want to make them, it's because I love the video game medium and its unique way of providing entertainment experiences and there is nothing in this world that I want more than to contribute to those experiences myself. A year from now, I want to be able to walk up to everyone I saw at GDC last week and show them: this is what I've done since we last spoke. This is what I was able to do in 12 months.
Since my skills currently lie with Unity, I will be tackling Unreal Engine 4 and its F2P Unreal Tournament first. Project 1 begins now.