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Go Make Games: Media Design School

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Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

Getting into the Video Game Industry is no easy feat, it is true the market grows bigger by the day but with that growth comes demand for ever more specialised employees. Sometimes ambition alone isn’t enough to carry you. Luckily we in New Zealand have our very own world-class training facility to give would-be game developers the very best start to their career.

Auckland’s Media Design School offers a number of courses relating to game development for students seeking practical, industry-focused training. At the undergraduate level students interested in programming can pursue a Diploma of Interactive Gaming while those interested in art for games work towards a Diploma of 3D Animation. Both of these programs lead to the intensive two-year Game Development course, equipping students with the skills necessary to enter the industry in their chosen area of specialisation, art or programming.
The Game Development faculty is currently working with around 60 students across the different qualifications, though with the ability to coordinate two intakes at each level the department could potentially operate with over 80 game development students at one time.

These courses are noted as being highly intensive, making the qualifications particularly appealing to employers from a very demanding industry. Because of the course’s challenging nature the school is careful in nominating their perspective students, ensuring they are suitable candidates for immersive, production-based courses.

One current student studying towards their Graduate Diploma explained to me how surprised he was at the challenging pace of the curriculum, “going into the course I had no idea that it would be as intense as it has been. The upside of this is that I have learnt an incredible amount since I've been here, downside being that I don't have much time for anything else.”

“My reaction was something along the lines of “Oh crap, I'm screwed!” But lucky for me the tutors and fellow students were really helpful,” the Game Development student remarked on being asked how he handled the demanding curriculum, “so I dealt with it by asking lots of questions and unfortunately having to cut back on my social life a bit.”

Candidates with industry experience or relevant qualifications from other institutes are considered favourably, proficiency in C++ and math are essential for those wishing to study under the programming branch of the Graduate Diploma, and those interested in the art stream need to demonstrate a working knowledge of Autodesk Maya.

Successful applicants will have the privilege of studying under a staff of industry-connected tutors, many of whom have shipped games for PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, and PSP, and all of whom have strong ties to key figures within the industry.

Game Development students are taught proficiency in a number of important development tools such as Gamebryo, Autodesk Maya, C++, Microsoft Visual Studio, and DirectX. Games developed within the course are for PC, but the skills learnt can be directly applied to any gaming platform and the students also have access to Sony’s extensive PSP development kit.

Past and present students have spoken highly of Media Design School’s impressive level of connection to the industry, as one explained it, “when I came into this course I knew very little about how the industry worked from an insider's perspective. Since then we've had many guest lecturers from the programming, art and design fields, which is always interesting, and the tutors try to relate everything we’re taught back to the industry. So I’ve now got a fairly good idea of what to expect if I get into the industry, which is comforting.”
The Game Development facility was created five years ago to address an industry need for skilled employees, since then graduates have gone on to work at both local and international companies such as Ratbag, Krome Studios Australia, Sidhe Interactive, Metia Interactive, Binary Star, Mere Mortals NZ, Grinding Gears, Ninja Kiwi, and Rock Solid Games.

In an effort to remain as relevant and up to date as possible the course continues to maintain strong connections with the industry, the curriculum has been developed with input from former and current practitioners from Midway, Sony Online Entertainment, and Sidhe Interactive. The course also hosts a series of guest lectures from the industries brightest talent, in the past including veteran game designer Noah Falstein, Sidhe Interactive’s co-founder Mario Wynands, local game designer James Everett, and usability expert Gareth Griffiths.

With each graduating class students have their work reviewed by an international panel of industry experts, followed by a show in which students are given the opportunity to display their games and other work to industry guests.    

As further testament to the course’s industry relevance Media Design School have developed a scholarship program in partnership with New Zealand’s biggest game development company Sidhe Interactive, the studio behind Speed Racer for the Nintendo Wii, GripShift for Sony’s PSP, and the recently released Shatter for the PlayStation Network. Applicants for the annual scholarship need to respond to a dissertation question issued by Sidhe to be considered for a grant that covers half of the student’s first year fees, a sum matched by Media Design School in the second year.

The course has a well-earned reputation for its intensive, demanding pace ideal for truly dedicated students intent on adapting their skills to an equally intense industry. Media Design School’s Marketing Executive Stephanie Dunant had the following advise for those considering starting their game development career at MDS:

“If you want to be part of the games industry, there are a few things to take into consideration. First, playing games and making them are two different things. This is an industry you have to have a passion for and not expect high levels of salary when you start. A lot of people have left high paid IT jobs in favour of the games industry because it is a much more rewarding, interesting, and fun industry to work in, not because of the pay check.

The intense nature of our qualifications doesn’t give much time to rest and commitment, passion, and drive are essential to succeed in the industry and in the course as much as technical and creative abilities.

It is a hard industry to get in, and the competition can be fierce so it is important to never give up. If this is your dream and you give yourself all the chances to succeed, then nothing’s impossible.”

These sentiments were echoed by the game development students I talked to, one of whom offered the following advice, “make sure you really want to get into the games industry first because the courses here are really tough and the drop out rate is pretty high for the first year courses. If yes, then sign on up. Making games is incredibly rewarding and MDS is the best place to train in NZ.”

For fledgling game developers in Aoteroa, Media Design School is easily one of the most valuable resources available and I encourage anyone with even a vague interest in the field to give them a thorough checking out.

The next article in this series will take a look at one of the glamours, high-flying local game companies that would-be game makers can set their career sights on.

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