Whether you’re into Black Ops III, Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat or Guitar Hero, video games dominate America’s culture and exert a lot of power over everyone’s time.
But the game design students enrolled at Richland College appear to treasure each moment as they morph a tale into playful reality. As programmers, animators, concept artists, sound creators and storytellers, they’re designing and building their own games.
“There are no limits,” said Chris Curra, who teaches game design and game development at Richland College. “It’s an exciting time to be part of this field.” He adds, “Some people make the characters. Others make them move. There’s something for everyone.”
Careers in the video game business are a fun, solid bet for people who want to combine their interests in technology, storytelling and art.
With computer software, a vivid imagination and a lot of patience, Richland game design students are exposed to an array of entertainment that isn’t limited to stories, movies and games. “This is where the right brain and left brain connect,” Curra said.
Creativity and teamwork go hand-in-hand
Student game designers at Richland are making ideas come to life. In addition to creating and crafting movement into designs for video games, they also design for television, movies or other media. And animators create applications for mobile phones and other devices, plus visual software, Curra said.
Watching the students work is a treat as they design their game, called “Warmth,” which features a baby-stealing fox who lives in the cold but longs for a more suitable climate. Students make their subjects jump and shoot and dodge danger zones. Enemies lurk, too, including a stalker and a wizard.
Simplicity is a rule of thumb. The goal is to make scenes with objects that are easy to find, said Michael Moore, who is the project’s lead.
“The right sound is crucial and added for effect,” Moore explained. He directs the team and tracks the progress of each student, suggesting tweaks and enhancements. “Everybody is working on one story, one game. The story is abstract. It’s starting to come together now.”
Michael Haggerty, 30 and a second-year student, is building video for the game; he also has a full-time job designing for a game company. “I’m definitely a novice,” said Haggerty, who counts Civilization VI, Final Fantasy XIV and XCOM 2 among his favorite games.
“I’ve been playing games since I was six. I had no idea I would someday work on them. You have to like games to design them.” Haggerty said. “The advantage is that it lets you know what’s fun. You can go crazy, off the rails with a design, but you have to make it fun. You have to have it in your head that although this is business and you want to make money, it also has to be something that people enjoy.”
Ira Thomas, a second-year game design student, looks at an animation montage and adds movement to the computer screen. “It tells the program how to play this animal,” he said. “I split up the animation. This shows it how to raise his arms.”
Richland is the only school in the Dallas County Community College District system that offers an associate’s degree in game design. Approximately 15 faculty members teach in the department, and often students are turned away because the classes are so popular – they fill up quickly, Curra said.
“Most of our faculty are working in the industry here in Dallas, so our students get hands-on experience with people working with games. They’re young. They’re super talented, and our students meet them firsthand. It’s really cool,” he added.
Digital imaging, 3-D animation and motion capture are some of the courses offered. Students who graduate from the program go on to careers in software design or engineering. As designers, they create a product from conception to finish. They often work in small groups. The work, while it appears to be fun, is not easy.
Reality – whether virtual or real – can make gaming a fulfilling experience. Students get hand-on experience and employers applaud that, Curra said. “They’re young. They’re really talented. They understand that this is a group effort. It’s not about them. It’s about the project. You go where you’re needed, and you get better results,” he said.
Animation is 3-D fun in a growing field
Animation is a big part of computer design jobs.
Curra has seen the interest in 3-D animation grow from mild curiosity to corporate enthusiasm – including career-minded students who dream of starting their own companies. Curra actually is the managing partner at Perpetual FX Creative in Addison, a company he co-founded more than 10 years ago. His specialty is 3-D animation. He previously worked as an animator and film producer; he’s done commercials and video games, too.
“I want to tell people who have a passion for video games that there’s a job for everybody. We can find a place for you, whether you’re an artist or character guy or story person. There’s always a job,” Curra said.
He added, “No one person can do the whole thing. There are so many roles. That is what’s cool about it. I have students who were project leads, and now they’re workers. They’ve transitioned from workers to bosses and then back to bosses and workers. It’s a really open environment. You have to be able to dive right in.”
The job outlook is great for people who possess this creativity and who also have strong technical skills. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has about 30 game companies. Median pay for game designers is approximately $63,970 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The projected growth long term is about 6 percent through 2024.
The Richland game design program offers two tracks: art, animation and design; and programming. For more information, call 972-761-6830 or visit dcccd.edu/gaming.