Sigil's Nick Parkinson addresses the question: "So You Want to be an MMO Developer?"
Today, we present Part One: Art of Nick's four-part developer journal series.
Just north of San Diego, tucked away in an unmarked building just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, the developers at Sigil Games Online are hard at work. Founded in early 2002 by the original minds behind the smash hit EverQuest, Sigil is preparing for the winter launch of their first title, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
In the past four years, we have grown from a modest dozen initial employees to the current count of just over 100. Sigil is comprised of, 33 artists, 30 designers, 13 programmers, 13 customer support staff, 7 production staff, 3 community/marketing staff, 1 very, very angry and slightly off balance monkey, 3 administration staff and management (not to be confused with the monkey).
As you can see, it takes a big team to make an MMO and we'll have even more by the time we ship. Sigil employs a wide variety of people - young guys just starting out, old folks who have had a lot of experience, and even people over 30. When undertaking a project as massive in size as an MMO one of the challenges in managing a team this large is being able to actually find the right people. Some positions we get more applicants than we know what to do with, and others it takes quite a bit of patience and looking around to fill. With this article, we hope to give some insight into the way MMO developers work and how to become part of one. We'll take a look at the art department, the programming department, the design department and quality assurance, customer support and community - so stay tuned!
Part One: Art
If you're just beginning to take an interest in video game art its important to understand the fundamentals of art before diving right in to the heavy stuff. If you're still in school, take those 2D drawing classes, understand perspective and learn the basics. A firm understanding of 2D art will help immensely when moving on to 3D works. Perhaps most importantly though, start learning how to angle rubber bands off walls to hit people in hard to reach places. That is a very important skill at Sigil.
Once you do decide to start working in 3D though there are a few different programs you have the option of choosing from. There's three main ways of creating 3D artwork for video games: Maya, 3D Studio MAX and dark voodoo rituals. At Sigil, we use a healthy combination of Maya and voodoo magic. Other developers prefer 3D Studio Max. The differences between the programs are fairly small and it's really a matter of personal preference - but if you're going to be working in 3D make sure you know the in's and out's of at least one of them. Once you've got that down, picking up the other will be much easier.
Not all video game artwork is done in 3D though. Concept art and texture art are both typically two-dimensional. If you find yourself taking a liking to either of those, be sure you not only have strong 2D drawing skills but also are proficient in Photoshop, Illustrator or some other equivalent program.
A lot of the computer programs you'll need or want to know have great built in tutorials and once you've gone through those its just a simple Google search to find more.
Where to go to School
Most developers (or anywhere hiring creative artists) don't require that the potential artist have a degree. If someone is great at what they do, they're great at what they do - college education or not. That said, there are a lot of really important things that come much easier at an art school than if you were to just go it alone and the degree will help. Due to the number of development studios here, there's a bunch of pretty good art schools on the west coast with video gaming centric programs. However, its not the only place to find them and while it never hurts to be close to the action - we've hired just as many (if not more) artists out of Eastern Tennessee State University as we have from the Art Institute here in San Diego.
Ultimately, the school you choose to go to depends entirely on your preferences. Whether you attend a gaming centric school such as Full Sail in Florida or simply a state school with a strong art program - none will make or break you. Ultimately, it is up to you.
Here's a quick list of a few of the schools we've had artists come from:
And that's just a small sampling to show the various locations -- ArtSchools.com is a handy tool for searching for art schools near you.