Many years ago, I spent my after school hours in the role of the brightly clad plumber, stomping evil mushrooms on route to rescuing a captive princess. Were you to ask me of future job ambitions, I would not have hesitated to answer, "computer programmer." So strong was this desire, that 7th grade me taught himself a pretty rudimentary understanding of BASIC language with which to create custom video games. Now granted, by video games I do mean text-based, decision making numbers and action games in which the letter A could be controlled with the keyboard while being chased around the screen by the letter Z. Suffice to say Nintendo and Sega didn't come calling.
As grade school turned into high school, BASIC went extinct, C++ became the programming language of choice, I discovered cars and girls, and somehow my aspirations of video game designing were dropkicked by the allure of a college major in Business Administration. Those early days spent writing code were as close as I would ever get but the charm of video gaming never wore off. In fact, even now, while immersed in some epic quest on the Playstation 3, I find myself wondering about the industry as a whole and what it takes to become a part of it. Enter Breaking Into the Game Industry by Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber; for me satiation to long-standing curiosity, for someone serious about being employed in the video game industry, a lifesaver.
The book is of the Course Technology series part of something called the CENGAGE Learning System. Not to worry if that means nothing to you, as I understand it, such classification puts it in the Professional, Technical & Reference category. Indeed, a perfect-bound softcover, it appears as if it would belong on the same shelf as say, "Welcome to the Exciting World of C++" and "Computer Programming for Dummies".
Coming in at close to 300 pages, the initial reaction could be one of overwhelmed until scanning even the introductory pages. The authors of the book take a very conversational approach to the material, written almost as if it were an email to a friend. Better still once the actual book begins, each and every bit of advice provided come in the form of easily digestible question & answer format.
Spanning the 291 pages are 100 questions; identified by the author as the most commonly asked of she and her colleagues and they cover some points I suspect would be incredibly useful for a student of video game design looking to get out and find employment in the field. Among these are what your business card should say, how your portfolio should look, dos and don'ts when talking to established game designers, writing cover letters, even proper attire when showing up to an interview!
Additionally interesting is that the book addresses the reality that while going to a college, university or specialized school to acquire degrees/ certifications is one route to breaking in, it is not the only one. It does frequently offer advice and tips to those individuals gifted with artistic ability, naturally bilingual (where the second happens to be assembly language) and those oddities who always wondered what it takes to break into the video game industry.
Another point worth mentioning is that while she does not elaborate on it, the author (Brenda Brathwaite) claims to have gotten her start in the industry at merely 15-years-old so clearly PhDs are not a requisite. The subtitle of this book is "Advice for a Successful Career from Those Who Have Done It" and while I figured we would have to take the authors' word for that, the fact is Brenda herself comes packing a resume that had me wanting to offer her a job- and I don't even work in the game industry! Her credits include working for Atari and Electronics Arts and having played a hand in the development of countless popular social-networking classics like Garden Life, Ravenwood Fair, Critter Island, and SuperPoke Pets!
Her coauthor Ian Schreiber has a history of teaching game design, has worked on many projects (including developing software used for corporate training) and is known for having co-founded Global Game Jam (GGJ); the world's largest game creation event.
As highly decorated as this pair come, surprisingly they serve mainly as the structure and research behind the book; chiming in with their own answers periodically, though a majority of the questions are fielded by their colleagues in the industry. This technique goes a long way in diversifying the information presented and prevents the authors from coming off as know-it-allish.
In all, I have to say that reading through the book was quite an interesting experience. I won't try to pretend that all of the information here was pertinent to someone in my position (just mild curiosity as to how it all works), it will likely prove quite beneficial to those individuals seriously putting together a plan of attack for getting involved. I did come away with some newfound tidbits such as what separates a Triple-A game (nothing to do with roadside assistance as you may have suspected) from a Casual Game from a Serious Game for example. I can also state with certainty that the word BASIC is never once mentioned throughout- go figure.