Q&A With Chris Swain, Chair, Game Design Dept., New York Film Academy

May 22, 2014

Chris Swain

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

CS: 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.

Q: What do you wish you knew when you started your education in game design?

CS: 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.

Q: How do I get the most out of the game program at NYFA?

CS: 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.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your professional career?

CS: 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 business of games in parallel with our design courses.

Q: Which pieces of equipment do you find most effective in your field?

CS: 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.

A software package that we recommend for student laptops is Adobe Creative Suite. Where programming languages come and go quickly Adobe tools are timeless assets.

Q: What are the essential first steps to breaking into this field after completing a program at NYFA?

CS: We encourage all incoming students to start LinkedIn accounts and to add their entire faculty, classmates, guest speakers, and anyone else they meet while students to their network. We also post links to all the good game events happening in NY and LA every week so students can have the opportunity to meet the community as early as possible.

We encourage students to put a link to their personal portfolio sites on their LinkedIn profile and add all of their projects to their portfolio – e.g. pictures of their paper prototypes, class assignments, working software, etc.

Finally, we provide students access to an ever-evolving list of game company internship / job pages. And we provide tips for getting interviews. Breaking into the industry is a mix of doing good work and knowing people.

Q: Who do you consider to be the most influential artists in your field?

CS: 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.