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New York Film Academy Game Design
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FAQs

Chris Swain, Chair of NYFA’s Game Design School, answers a variety of commonly asked questions about NYFA’s Game Design program and the Game Industry.

What is the first lesson to learn in becoming a successful game designer?
What do you wish you knew when you started your education in game design?
How do I get the most out of the Game program at NYFA?
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your professional career?
Which pieces of equipment do you find most effective in your field?
What are some ways I can get my student games noticed?
Who do you consider to be the most influential artists in the field?

Q. What is the first lesson to learn in becoming a successful game designer?

A. Games are playable systems. Successful game designers understand how to prototype, playtest, iterate, and collaborate to create compelling systems independent of software development. The only real way to learn the craft is to do it. A lot. NYFA Games students build multiple game prototypes each semester on paper (often as part of solving hard design problems for software projects). By building on paper to start students gain a deep understanding of the craft and have the foundation of knowledge that will allow them to build for any current or future technology platform—e.g. console, mobile, handheld, location-based, etc.
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Q. What do you wish you knew when you started your education in game design?

A. I wish I understood how important collaboration skills were to my success. Game development inherently requires multiple skill sets to do well. Students who get formal training in collaboration and understand how to get what they want with other people go the farthest.
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Q. How do I get the most out of the Game program at NYFA?

A. Each semester you will create a functioning digital game with classmates and an instructor who is an A-list professional game programmer. That means you get to run your own game studio each semester. When you graduate you will have worked with multiple combinations of students and multiple different instructors and you will have a portfolio of titles under your belt. To get the most out of the program we encourage students to post all of their work to personal portfolio websites where potential collaborators and employers can see and play your work.
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Q. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your professional career?

A. The game business moves fast. Platforms, programming languages, and business models change each year. To be able to surf on something that changes this fast you need a foundation of knowledge that transcends any one technology. That’s why we stress playable system design independent of software. That’s also why we formally teach collaboration, Agile Development, and the business of games in parallel with our design courses.
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Q. Which pieces of equipment do you find the most effective in your field?

A. Having a laptop with a large screen enables you to bring your game studio and presentation station anywhere. It can be a Mac or Windows or dual-boot. Also putting all your work in a cloud-synced folder (such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive) means your work is always backed up and always at your fingertips via any device—e.g. phone, tablet, NYFA lab computer, etc. Software packages that we recommend for student laptops (and which you will get exposure to at NYFA) include Adobe Creative Suite and Maya. Where programming languages come and go quickly Adobe tools and Maya for 3D are timeless assets.
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Q. What are some ways I can get my student games noticed?

A. There are two basic ways to make an impression on game studios and other potential collaborators.

Option 1: Production Values
This means take a genre of game that works—such as FPS, RPG, platform scroller, racing game, etc.—and execute a very polished version of it. Big publishers are famous for this strategy (think: Call of Duty series, Halo series, Grand Theft Auto series, and anything made by Blizzard) but you can do a student version too. Focus on putting great art, sound, pacing, and presentation on top of “golden mechanics.” Golden mechanics means play mechanics that you know people love.

Option 2: Gameplay Innovation
This means consciously do not start with a known genre of game. Start by creating a type of game play that no one has seen before. The beauty of innovating via gameplay is that it does not cost anything in dollars. And once you have figured out a new playable system you don’t have to build a large amount of content nor execute at GTA-level production values in order to impress an audience. Early adopters will come because of the new mechanics and spread the word for you. Examples include: Narbular Drop (which was created by college students and became Portal), Flow (which was created by college students and became the hit on Playstation 3), and Threes (created by a college student and took the App Store and Google Play by storm).

The bottom line is that to win in games today you have to get noticed. Getting noticed means differentiating. For students the smart move is often to differentiate via gameplay innovation versus production values.
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Q. Who do you consider to be the most influential artists in the field?

A. Great artists in game design include Shigeru Miyamoto, Will Wright, Sid Meier, Hideo Kojima, Peter Molyneux, Rob Pardo, Cliff Bleszinski, and many others. Those stars all got where they are with the help of teams of great collaborators – including visual artists, business people, engineers, composers, and writers. Great game studios—past and present—include: Valve, Riot Games, Blizzard, id Software, Maxis, thatgamecompany, Naughty Dog, and others.
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