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Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Dev Journals: So You Want to be an MMO Developer: Part Two

By Guest Writer on December 19, 2006

Nick Parkinson looks at the question: "So You Want to be an MMO Developer?"

Today, we present Part Two: Programming, of Nick's four-part developer journal series. Nick Parkinson is a developer at Sigil and is currently working on Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.

Where to Start

Most development studios work with C++ and maybe some C#. Fortunately, more and more schools (high schools included) are offering beginner courses in various forms of computer programming, C++ included. Take those, see if you like it – it’ll be challenging but if you enjoy it keep going. If you find yourself not liking it at all, it’s probably best to focus on some other area of development as it’s only going to get more intense.

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Getting a well rounded view of programming as a whole though is a good idea too. Look into taking a few beginning computer science courses, maybe even a class or book on Visual Basic or JavaScript. You won’t necessarily be using either of those to develop games but the knowledge base that comes with them will help.

Finally, fool around with Maya some. In a development environment you’ll be working with designers and artists constantly and familiarity with the tools they are using (especially artists) will be exceptionally helpful. Also, if you’re going to be a programmer now is probably the time to start building up a resistance to caffeine, it will become both a source of pride and measurement of self worth later.

Where to go to School

Much as with art, with programming it’s less about what school you go to and more about what you make of it. Though having some sort of programming related degree is probably more important and will help you get a job more here than in any other department. There are a few schools which have strong focuses on programming for video games as well:

There are also a lot of larger universities that offer game design/programming as part of CIS degrees such as University of Delaware, Michigan Tech or UC Irvine. Again though, it’s more about what you can do than where your degree came from. These are just suggestions for places that we know others have had success at.

Getting a Job

The good news for you is that good programmers are always in demand. Just about every company out there wishes they had more. For us, we’ve been in the position before where we had the money allocated to hire one and just couldn’t find anyone to fill the spot. This isn’t to say that you’re going to get a job the day after graduating, but it’s probably going to be easier than it would be if you were a designer, for instance.

If you can, try to set up some kind of internship. Many of the companies out there will welcome free or cheap labor over a summer, just be prepared to do a lot of grunt work. Even if the company doesn’t end up hiring you, experience like that is great on resumes. Also, when searching for internships, established companies are more likely to have some sort of intern program already up and running than start-ups working on their first title.

Creating your own mini-game can also go a long way in showcasing your talents – just as a demo reel would for an artist. It doesn’t have to be something super fancy, just show off what you can do, and again, try to make all of the assets yourself.

Probably most importantly though, be persistent and make sure you give a good impression at interviews. Having the skills to get the job is only part of it, you need to be a culture fit too. At Sigil, you need to show you’ve got a sense of humor, can take a joke and can be serious about your work all at the same time. Senior Programmer, Dave Forrest recounts his interview process, “I started out with an interview that I didn’t think went very well. I had recently graduated from UCI with a computer science degree and was chomping at the bit to get a job in the industry. I was persistent and eventually my persistence turned into a second interview which must have gone pretty well since I’m here. I think I was hired because when I was asked, “What would you consider your weaknesses?” I responded with, “Well, I’m overconfident… [dramatic pause]… and so have no weaknesses.”

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