The DevGame Course: What’s it Like?

Tuesday , 24, May 2016 3 Comments

Vox invited me into his class on video game development and I wanted to try to convey a little bit of what it’s all about. Up front, the most striking thing about it to me was just how much Vox is into every little nuance of the history of the medium. You know, the guy is into a lot of stuff and has a lot going on. It’s possible, though, for people to deal with him extensively without really ever seeing this side of him. It’s surprising, but the fact is the guy really loves video games– in the same way that the bigger game bloggers love classic D&D. I haven’t seen much of that sort of thing in the video games press, but I really like it.

He’s not divorced from the tabletop side of things, either. One of the slides in this first session was of Avalon Hill’s Tactics II. Now, as an aside on this… the second most popular tweet that the Castalia House feed has put out as of this writing is one I threw up there of Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival. When I posted that, I kind of wondered why it’d be that someone like Vox (aka “The Supreme Dark Lord”) would retweet it. I mean, this is a really obscure game, right? Well, judging from this class session it makes perfect sense now: it’s a major link in the game design lineage of Richard Garriot’s Ultima series. Vintage games really do tie into his “real” job in a significant way.

Looking at what’s coming, almost a third of this course is focused on the history of video games. Now speaking from the peanut gallery here, why would it be that important…? I think it’s because you can’t look critically at the elements of a game design outside of that context. The history of how the games relate to each other is not just a map of sorts– in a sense, it also forms up the actual vocabulary of design as well. As a creator, when you propose to make a new game, what you’re doing reaching into a specific point in this fantastic “family tree”… and you’re then going to depart from it in a (hopefully) entertaining way.

This is obvious when you think about it. And you’d think that acknowledging this component of a medium would be de reigueuer for anyone involved in initiating people into the profession. On the other hand, judging by what’s happened in fantasy and science fiction since the seventies, I think it’s safe to say that you actually can’t take this sort of thing for granted. But that’s another story….

Now, the price tag on this course is not cheap. However, if you take a few of Lewis Pulsipher’s game design courses over at Udemy, you can easily end up spending about the same amount. How do you decide who to study with? Here’s a quick break down of the main differences:

  • Lew’s courses are videos that you can watch at your on pace and on your own schedule. Getting into one of his classes is like buying a book and/or getting access to a top notch game design blog that’s in video format.
  • Vox’s course is a live seminar. You’ve got to be at your computer at a specific time or you’ll miss it. Woe unto you if your internet connection drops while you’re trying to listen!
  • Lew will have you start out with tabletop games because nearly everyone can create and modify and develop them without special skills or equipment.
  • Vox, in contrast, will direct the programmers to get started on the Unity tutorials at the earliest opportunity.
  • Lew’s course does not have a lot in the way of class participation. Oh, he’s available to answer questions, sure. But you’re not going to be interacting much with the other students.
  • Vox takes on the role of video game producer starting with the very first class. If you think you are going to noodle around with some sort of gaming dilettantery, this is not the place for you! Vox polls everyone on what they can do and starts putting together teams on the spot. (If you’re not expecting it, it makes for a serious “stuff’s about to get real” kind of moment!)

One thing that both of these guys have in common is that they do not sugarcoat the realities of the gaming industry. If you have any illusions about just how tough it is, just how demanding it is, and just what it would cost you to try to break into it… they will disabuse you of your bogus notions in short order. I have to say, though, that Vox’s comments on the social component of the scene and even the social requirements of someone wanting to get into it are not something you’re going to hear in too many places.

Lew’s game design course gave me a better appreciation for just how difficult game design really is. However, he also got me into a direction where I could actually produce significant results. (On my own, I wasted a lot of time pursuing dead ends over the years.) Most important I think was that he conveyed a set work principles that made me orders of magnitude more productive. And while I didn’t use them to make an earth-shaking game, I believe that what he taught me had a direct impact on my ability to finish my first book project later on. (And full disclosure here: we’ve had so many discussions about game design since I took that course, we somehow became friends at some point!)

Something that I see in Vox’s class that I wasn’t really conscious of was the extent to which the video game industry needs writers and artists in addition to designers and programmers. Now sure, Doug Cole’s tabletop rpg project needs artists right now, too. But it’s different when a producer type is looking into to putting you on a team of people that have all these contrasting talents. Maybe I’m making too much of this, but coming out of the tabletop “do it yourself” scene, this feels like a whole new ballgame to me. There’s no way to just “wing it” at the table the way gamemasters can get away with!

At any rate, this sums up my first impressions of the course. If you were at all on the fence about jumping in– or if you were wondering about how it stacks up to an alternative– then hopefully this will help you make the choice that bests suits what you’re looking for.

  • mistaben says:

    Can confirm.

    This is Vox’s field, and his mastery is evident in every session. Besides that, he simply is a gentleman. The special guests in the previous course were fantastic and very gracious.

    For anyone who is on the fence about taking the course: do it.

  • Don says:

    There has to be vastly more people who want to produce video games than are needed. So you better be bringing something to the table. With table top it’s probably worse. Most new stuff gets practically or actually given away.

    “I’m losing money on each sale but I make it up on volume” seems like a hard nut to crack. If you are doing it for a living.

    • Jeffro says:

      Lew says you can make more money picking up cans off the side of the road than you can designing games. (!!)

      I’m not sure about what the job market is like right at the moment, but one reason I never completed a significant video game project on my own in the past is that someone has always turned up willing to pay me to do something else with the skills that it takes to do that stuff.

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