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I am studying C++ code in my school (my major is computer programming). Honestly, my grades are not so good, and assignments are really hard. Sometimes I feel sad that I will spend 8-10 hours per day coding (which is stressful) in the future for my job.

But I still want to make video games. Maybe this is the only reason why I am taking all of these stressful courses. I always write down plots, stories, characters, fictional gaming worlds... Once, I thought I should study artistic technology such as game design and not computer technology such as C++, C#, etc.

However, most of popular game designers (or directors) such as Kojima, Miyamoto, etc. used to be good programmers. Companies actaully assign programmers to directors because they understand how to make a game.

I've try to find other colleges or universities where they teach game design programs. However, one article that lists rank 10 game design schools in North America seems untrustful because the survey company only scores it from intervews of students.

Once, I tried to attend Art Institute of Vancouver which is rank 7 according to that article. However, one programmer who used to be an instructor in there told me the truth: the employement rate of graduated students is low.

How can I have a future making games if I don't like programming?

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closed as off-topic by Josh Petrie Nov 12 '13 at 18:16

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions about "how to get started" or "what should I learn next" cannot reasonably be answered with anything other than opinion polling and therefore are off topic for the site. For more information on how to ask a better question, see the help center" – Josh Petrie
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

As a side note, although programming is not required as stated in the other comments... a general understanding of how code works is beneficial as it give you insights to possible hardware / software limitations (for example, modelling & polycounts). – Inisheer Apr 7 '12 at 2:29
Neither Miyamoto nor Kojima were ever programmers. Miyamoto was an industrial designer and Kojima would be best described as a writer. Seminal Japanese developers who were programmers include Koichi Nakamura, Tomonobu Itagaki, and Satoru Iwata. – user744 Apr 7 '12 at 8:06
I didn't vote, but I really don't like this question. I think there's a fundamental problem with your attitude ("I don't wanna..") and if you can't step up to the plate and code your assignments, I don't think you'll do very well any place else either. – bobobobo Apr 7 '12 at 14:02
"I always write down plots, stories, characters, fictional gaming worlds." This is not game design; this is writing. You don't want to make games. You want to make game backstory. BTW, advice questions are not really appropriate for this site. We prefer more practical questions that have real answers, not chatty forum-type stuff. – Nicol Bolas Apr 7 '12 at 17:44

12 Answers 12

Programmers are far from the only people in the game industry. From what you've stated, it sounds like you'd be much, much happier pursuing a game design career. You could still write down those plots, stories, characters, and fictional gaming worlds with a team of other game designers (depending on how big the game company is). Then just hand all the designs to the programmers and game artists, and they'll put your ideas into action.

A game design major would be a lot more fun, and it doesn't pay that much less than being a programmer.

I personally have plans for a double major in game design and programming, simply because I'd like to create my own independent games some time in the future. As for a school, I've been looking at Champlain college in Burlington.

Here's a link to the game design major I was looking at:

Also, of you are concerned that you'll need to have a decent insight into game programming to be a better game designer, take a look at this minor course in game programming:

I hope some of this helps!

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In the industry, I think I've only ever encountered one designer at non-senior level who could "just hand all the designs to the programmers and game artists". Few people hire staff just to write plots, stories, characters, and worlds, because that is not a full time post for the duration of a project. – Kylotan Apr 7 '12 at 12:04
The problem with "persuing a game design career" is that nobody will hire someone who is just starting out in the industry to design games. Chances are the studio already has more than enough ideas for games. The problem is that everyone has ideas for games, so that by itself is not a useful talent for a company. I think the only way to pursue a carreer that is purely game design is by actually founding your own game studio/indie team/ whatever and taking the game design position. Nobody's gonna pay you for that unless you've already got years of experience. – TravisG Apr 7 '12 at 12:36
Although it is very true that "just hand all the designs to the programmers and game artists" is a pretty wrong-headed way to think about the job of game design, I personally know several people who were hired straight out of college to work on game design, and have pursued careers that are (arguably) purely game design. Thing is, they were hired for more practical aspects of game design, like level design. – jhocking Apr 7 '12 at 13:42
Yup, entry level 'design' roles are usually about content creation - on one level this can be considered 'plots, stories, characters, and worlds', but there is usually still some technical requirement (although not necessarily programming). – Kylotan Apr 7 '12 at 19:47
The technical requirement these days is mostly familiarity with 3D editing environments and some artistic flair. – Patrick Hughes Apr 8 '12 at 2:32

Game Design distinct from Game programming.

You can have a role as a game designer and not touch code.

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Will you tell me with detail? Can you recommend me some schools or something? – hoper Apr 7 '12 at 2:31
@hoper: if you can afford it, there's DigiPen. most game schools have a very bad reputation, and have earned it; DigiPen has a glowing reputation, and likewise has earned it. however, the BAGD/BSGD programs are very new, still under some flux, and are not yet proven in the industry: – Sean Middleditch Apr 7 '12 at 6:40
Having been to DigiPen and interviewed an extensive number of candidates from DigiPen in recent years, I would content the "glowing reputation" assertion quite heavily myself. – Josh Petrie Jun 1 '12 at 15:24

I believe that as a game designer, you should have at least one area of expertise where you can be productive for the whole development cycle. You should have at least a good notion of what's going on with the code because after all, that's what holds any video game together.

I didn't plan to post this answer, but today I read some solid evidence to back it up:

Valve's presumably leaked employee manual says on page 39-40:

Non-Engineers: program or be programmed

Valve’s core competency is making software. Obviously, different disciplines are part of making our products, but we’re still an engineering-centric company. That’s because the core of the software-building process is engineering. As in, writing code. If your expertise is not in writing code, then every bit of energy you put into understanding the code-writing part of making software is to your (and Valve’s) benefit. You don’t need to become an engineer, and there’s nothing that says an engineer is more valuable than you. But broadening your awareness in a highly technical direction is never a bad thing. It’ll either increase the quality or quantity of bits you can put “into boxes,” which means affecting customers more, which means you’re valuable.

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The manual you linked is fantastic. By the way it's actually distributed on their website now (if it wasn't before.?) – bobobobo Dec 13 '12 at 15:27

Are you artistic? Have you considered doing a digital media degree? I have a lot of friends that are studying both Computer Science and Digital Media and a lot of them have found digital media very enjoyable.

I'm not sure of your circumstances exactly, but the whole game creation process involves many different people of varying skills. If not pure game design (which is definitely a field that you might like), there's still modelling and animation, sound, etc.

Good luck!

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Have you considered programming in another language than C++? You say programming can be stressful, but just picking a programming language that suits you better might relieve a lot of stress.

Especially if you're not really into the technical side of computers C++ might just not be the language for you. It is designed to be very fast, but can be on the verbose and intricate side. It's also very unforgiving when it comes to forgetting implementation details like memory management and types. For a non-technical person I think these properties can give you extra stress since your mind is not aligned to the implementation details.

I think trying to make a game in for example PyGame (it's in Python and I heard good things about it) would allow you to really focus on game mechanics and other highlevel game properties while not fussing so much about implementation details. It might relief some stress and release your creativity. Other languages that might be easier on you: Ruby, Lua, C#, Javascript/Coffeescript.

You are totally right that most of the big name game designers are also programmers. It is hard to get recognition as a game designer when you don't actually have any games to show for it, and it's hard to convince a programmer to make you a game when you don't have a track record. I think you'll definitely gain more respect when you have produced at least one game, even if it's a small webbased one.

I say make the programming part as easy as possible so you can focus on the things that are important to you.

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I started out like you, hating programming, and loving the other aspects. I failed the programming course the first year, but had to retake and get a positive grade to stay in school. I tried my best a bit harder that year and actually enjoyed it. Now 3 years later I'm about 75% programmer and 25% artist.

There is one difference: I started with actionscript 3, which doesn't involve all the low-level headaches that c++ does. I actually hate c++ and low level programming in general. I think the conditions in which you were introduced to programming are not optimal. Try an easier language like actionscript or c#(xna), it's a big difference.

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I just found this article on gamasutra. It's about using gamemaker:

This tool might be considered silly and easy, but it definitely can be used to create games.

For example, Spelunky was created with game maker.

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Pick a skill, any skill, and excel at it

Even ignoring that most game studios/indies have a ton of their own ideas to work with and aren't going to care about some random person with ideas of their own... ...have you looked around the web? It's full of nothing but game ideas, almost all of which haven't and won't come to fruition. Everyone and their little brother has game ideas, so you had better work on becoming better at bringing an idea to fruition, the hardest part. Which requires organization, or management or capital, etc.

Write english instead of code

Either that or write instead, which totally skips the programming aspect, though also isn't easy to get published or if self-published, get popular. You can create games with just writing, and you can create writing that feels playful like a game, if you work at it. And people will enjoy that in the way that they would a game, so why not?

Pick a different language, or two, or three

I would hate C++ if I were writing in it, too, which is why I don't. I write in different languages instead (I like clojure, though I often don't get to use it, and I don't hate javascript). Programming is not an identical experience across the various languages.

That said, having a career of programming, well, it's different than just doing it for fun, regardless of your exact circumstances. I work from home doing web coding, and develop games on the side, but even despite that I don't have a boss, work for myself, freelance, and can use my time almost as I will, it's still stressful and you have to struggle at making money, and it'd be nice to get out into the outdoors once in a while...

Try to find programming professors/mentors/coder friends that don't hate themselves

Just a final note, have you really examined the attitudes of the professors that teach intro programming to crowds of not-right-for-programming kids? In my experience, they're not happy, enthusiastic people. Don't take that to heart, that's just them trying to reconcile all the horrible "programmers" that they'll be unleashing on the unsuspecting world by failing the barest minimum. Probably with heavy reliance on alcohol to get through it. If, instead, you get together with enthusiastic people who love coding, or coders who love game design ( try a game jam: ), you might find yourself liking the experience a lot more.

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Hmmm, you could read my answer, or you could just watch penny-arcades video that @5ound posted, which says it all better, with imagery. – Kzqai Dec 13 '12 at 19:05

It sounds like your best bet for a job is as a writer. If that is what you want maybe you should look into studying English or Literature.

Computer game writing is probably the hardest kind of writing you can imagine, it's never completely linear, it has to fit into a game world designed with many other considerations in mind, and often your work won't be visible in anything like it's final form until it is basically too late to change.

So for practice you should probably use a good part of your time writing normal fiction, simply because that lets you create something in it's final form without the need for a team to make a game around your story. Film and theatre scripts are kind of a middle ground, you have the linearity but still make a work that has to be visualised.

You may also want to look into gameplay (designing board games is great practice), and drawing/painting. Some games may have jobs where such skill combinations are valuable.

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There are tools that you can use to make simple games, if you hate programming. For example, GameSalad provides a very nice tool for cobbling together simple 2D games, without writing a mess of scary code.

However, if your ambitions reach beyond what you can make with a tool like that, you need a programmer -- whether it's you, a friend, or a woman down the hallway in the programming department at your future game company. At the end of the day, programming is how you tell the computer what game you are trying to make and how it is supposed to interact with players. Without programming, there's no way for the computer to have any idea what to do.

It sounds like what you really desire is to pursue a career in game design. First, you must disabuse yourself of the notion that game design is about stories and characters. What is the narrative in Tetris or Bejeweled? There isn't one! There are writing jobs in the game industry, but they are few and far between, and a lot of companies just outsource that work. There are a lot of other things that designers do, though, such as level design and systems design, and if you want to be a game designer, it would be a great idea to learn some of these other skill sets, as well.

Second, you should understand that Design is a very difficult track to get into from outside the industry, because it is almost impossible to prove that you have the necessary skills and talent. In general, my advice is usually to break into another track (such as programming, art, or production) first, before trying to get into design. So, it is worth learning one of those other skillsets. If you are already learning programming, it would be kind of a waste not to take advantage of that.

However, it sounds like you are struggling with your programming skills. That's a bit of a problem, since the industry is picky about their programmers. So, on to the next advice:

Another way to get a Design job is to... well... prove that you can make games. Nothing proves that you can make a game like making a game, after all. There are a lot of free tools that can help you get started. If you already know a little programming, you have a huge edge over other people who want to be designers. A programmer can make a game with nobody else. Oh, it will be hideous, but that doesn't matter, as long as it's fun. There are a lot of free tools out there, now. Try out Unity3D, and see what you can make.

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If you still want to give programming a shot, I suggest giving processing a try, its a pretty easy language to pick up, I tried to learn programming by going straight into C and C++ and it overwhelmed me, I stepped back and continued to do more level design and I tried processing and it gave me a good foundation in code.

It does sound like you would be happier as a game designer though.

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Languages such as Python (with Pygame) or Lua is certainly the way to go in you regaining the FUN of doing this! :-D

My intention is to help my little brother learn programming as he wants to program computer games and so we will be learning Scheme together (specifically: Racket & using this textbook: which is very famous).

This will give him a REALLY solid understanding of computer science in a relatively painless manner (MIT used to teach their "CompSci 101" course in Scheme, it is very popular for this purpose).

Then after that we shall learn Lua together (Lua has strong links with Scheme, is kinda a "cut down" version of it. So it should be super easy to pick up Lua once we've got the hang of Scheme. And there is many more excellent resources teaching Scheme than there is for Lua because Scheme has a rich history of being taught at University for introductory courses).

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