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I am starting my computer science degree at a local community college in programming using C++. However, I will be transferring to a 4-year university. Does anyone have any insight on university programs?

I know Cal State Fullerton has a degree with a minor in Game Development. however, is that as important as getting a degree from a really great school? If I could shoot for something like Cal Poly would that be better? Or even Stanford or SF State being so close to so many gaming companies up there in the Bay area?

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guildhall.smu.edu has an excellent program. –  Sparr Oct 16 '12 at 15:58

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

A lot of universities who don't have formal "game development" programs are still great places to get a general Computer Science education, and many of them might have clubs or classes that will help you in that direction. I noticed you mentioned Cal Poly, and since I'm a Masters student at Poly with a focus in computer graphics maybe I can provide some insight.

Cal Poly doesn't have a formal "game development" degree or program (although we're in the process of building a game dev track into the CS curriculum), but there are tons of resources here for people interested in games. Dr. Wood teaches a series of graphics courses which are great, including a 2 quarter real-time graphics course in which you build a game from scratch.

We've also got a fairly new Game Development Club which has seen an explosion of members in just the two years we've been around. We hosted one of the California Global Game Jam sites and had over 50 people attend and make games. A big part of our job as a club (I'm an officer) has been building relationships with industry to help our members find jobs making games when they graduate. (Without making this sound too much like a commercial, that's something that Poly is really good at.)

None of this stuff is something you would find in a general brochure, or probably anywhere on Poly's main website.

Basically my point is that there may be a lot of game dev stuff happening at different places that might not be publicized. With a general CS degree it opens the doors to work in game dev, but also allows you work in other areas as well if you end up getting burned out in the game industry (which is actually fairly common). Your best bet is to get in touch with the actual CS departments at universities you're interested and ask them directly if there's any game dev stuff going on.

And if you have any questions about Poly specifically, I'm happy to answer them. :)

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Wow that is awesome. I had no idea the game dev community at cal poly. As of right now it is on the top of my list of schools i would like to attend. Do you know anything about the admission process? Any insight to put me ahead of the admission curve. –  DukeYore Feb 10 '11 at 22:38
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The Cal State process is very different from the UC process (at least it was when I applied several years ago). The UC's are much more subjective, you have to write essays, etc. The Cal States are completely objective. You punch in your info (grades, work experience, etc.) it computes a score, ranks everyone who applies from top to bottom, and cuts off the list at the admission limit. –  Bob Somers Feb 11 '11 at 2:43
    
I can't thank you enough. You have been more than helpful man. –  DukeYore Feb 11 '11 at 5:30
    
@Bob - Sorry, one more question. I have heard recently that Cal Poly is the MIT of computer science? Does that appear to be accurate? –  DukeYore Feb 11 '11 at 16:40
    
Heh, I hadn't heard that, but both the Computer Science and Computer Engineering departments are great and the faculty are really amazing people. Poly is a "teaching university" rather than a "research university", so the faculty's number one priority is student learning, not churning out research papers. (Not to say there isn't research going on here, but it's not the focus.) Class sizes are small (over 30 students is rare), classes are always taught by professors (not grad students), and you can really develop relationships with the faculty, which I really like. –  Bob Somers Feb 11 '11 at 23:06

Just do straight computer science, ignore any gamedev specific stuff. You need to be a good programmer first, before you can make games. No employer will turn their noses up at you because you haven't done a course on XNA development or whatever.

Having said that, do as much programming and game dev in your spare time as possible. Go to X48 and take part in a Global Games Jam. Make a portfolio website listing your games and source code. These will help your CV get noticed, but once they take a closer look your straight CS degree will get you the interview.

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Basically Global Games Jam or Ludlum Dare but for students and heavily sponsored by MS. x48gamecamp.com I've mentored at one and would advise going. –  tenpn Feb 10 '11 at 11:26
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@James: He mentioned creating a portfolio of games and source code. He's arguing that a straight CS degree and programming games/other stuff in your spare time is better than getting only a game specific degree. –  Michael Coleman Feb 10 '11 at 22:24
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Definitely this answer. I'm at NYU, where people are mostly interested in web and social media stuff, but there also ended up being a great community of people interested in games (despite NYC being a pretty awful location for game studios, we were the largest GGJ site in the country). It's all a matter of learning your fundamentals, and then seeking out like-minded people via IGDA chapter meetings or any region-specific game networking/social events. +9001 for anything like GGJ. You should be working on your own projects in addition to schoolwork anyway, so focus those efforts on games. –  michael.bartnett Feb 12 '11 at 3:36
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-1. CS programs are hard, leaving little time for hobbies. CS programs focus on hardcore CS, students will have to do things there that are good exercise but won't necessarily help them land a game dev job, e.g. compilers course. Marks aren't awarded for producing a great game at all in CS, so it's hard for an undergrad to self motivate. Plus you're ignoring all the +benefits of a gamedev program: teachers focussed on game dev, 150 other like-minded peers. I think this answer was appropriate in 2000, when there were like 3 schools that did this, but it's outdated today. –  bobobobo Aug 13 '12 at 22:26
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@tenpn Yes, making a compiler would be a great exercise. But at the end of the day it's not going to catch the eyes of a recruiter -- a (good) completed portfolio will. –  bobobobo Aug 14 '12 at 15:55

As a guy with a CS degree who got a job in the industry straight out of school with no prior game dev experience, I feel as though I may have some good advice.

Go to a school with a reputable CS program. If they offer a course on graphics, take it. If they offer a course in game programming, take it. All of these will help prepare you. Your degree will teach you how to think about software development and other problems and see different (and discover optimal) ways of solving them. These skills are an absolute must-have for any programmer.

Having said that, you will then need to spend your spare time working on developing games. Most of what I learned about the skills needed for game programming (C++, OpenGL / DirectX, Geometric Methods and Data Structures, etc.) I learned on my own, as CS degrees tend to focus on more general software engineering practices.

With the combination of my school-taught knowledge and that I gained on my own, I was able to communicate my knowledge well in the interview and then aced the practical test. I didn't know everything I needed to know (not by a long shot), but I was able to prove that I was a motivated self-learner, and that mattered.

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+1 for motivated self-learner. –  tenpn Feb 10 '11 at 16:00

Don't worry about game-centric schools. Go to the best school for computers you can get into/afford. Work on games and take game classes.

Public Schools:

The University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada is very good, and Google / RIM / Microsoft recruit directly from there.

University of California, Berkeley (San Fran), invented much of the internet.

Larry Page and Bill Joy both went to the University of Michigan (near Detroit)

Private Schools:

Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh) is very good for AI and robotics computing.

MIT (Boston) has a tremendous reputation, as does Caltech (Near LA), though Caltech is more about space exploration

Let's not forget that Gates and Zuckerberg both went to, and dropped out of Harvard (Boston).

And Brin and Page started their PhDs at Stanford (San Fran).

For actual game programming, I would take whatever courses the school you chose offers, and read as many books as you can.

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I have recently finished the coursework for an MS in Computing with emphasis in videogame programming from the University of Utah. They also offer an undergrad emphasis that I don't know a lot about.

I found that having a BS in vanilla Computer Science from another school helped me have better understanding of pure programming concepts than learning game-specific programming may have been. Focusing those skills toward programming for a masters degree helped me add to that knowledge in pretty valuable ways but, for me, a foundation of non-focused programming has been integral for my success in the master's courses.

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I recommend at least checking out the DigiPen Institute of Technology.

It is a very small school that focuses on games, but unlike the various dicey "game design" schools advertised all over the Web it offers an actual full four-year computer science degree. The faculty includes world-class professors as well as game industry veterans. The curriculum is largely the same math, computer science, and general ed as you'd get at any other well known university but it also includes a mandatory set of courses on low-level graphics programming, quite advanced C++, physics, and so on.

DigiPen also requires students to actually work on real game projects (written from scratch, not with a premade engine or toolkit) in small teams, which is immensely useful (note all the other replies that stress the importance of actually writing games independent of the CS curriculum; DigiPen just enforces that). The only language taught is C++; there's no Java or Scheme or other nonsense that game companies don't use or care about.

DigiPen also has an excellent reputation and strong relationships with many major companies in the games industry. It is located in the Redmond/Seattle, which is one of the major centers for game companies. The close proximity to many exceptional games companies (not to mention Microsoft) means you can get your internships and work experience out of the way during your summers, making it much easier to get hired in as a "real" developer by the time you're done with your four years of schooling (compare to most universities where you get the same education but no practical experience, so you're stuck fighting for entry-level jobs when you graduate).

There are some serious caveats, of course. The school is very expensive. The course load is very intense and will eat you alive if you're not really dedicated to being a real game programmer. The school is not regionally accredited (but has national accreditation) and so going on to graduate school may be difficult (it has no negative impact on getting hired in the industry, at all). The campus is very small and you'll miss out on a lot of the "college experience" you'd get at a big university.

Note that DigiPen also has four-year programs in both art and game design, but I cannot personally attest to the quality of those.

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A lot of people will approach a trade school for game related degrees. I'm prepared to be laughed out of the room for saying this, but Chico State is a really good school for game development. We have a strong engineering department with a great computer science program, and we also have a video game development program. We practice game design and programming simultaneously, so if you feel like jumping in and building games you can.

Like everyone also here, I am a little worried that my post makes me sound like a recruitment officer. I have really enjoyed my large scale development courses, and they have helped keep me engaged. We have a student run studio that puts games out every 1 to 1 1/2 years, that holds more than 50 students at a time. This is one of the only schools that follows studio models, and isn't a trade school.

If you a a programmer who is interested in being a part of the game design , I would consider this school. If you a programmer who strictly wants to program, you might be better off with an education that is more computer science oriented. But what do I know, I'm just a level designer?

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