You’ve probably heard of Tripwire’s two FPS minor classics - Red Orchestra and Killing Floor - and you might know that Red Orchestra started as an Unreal Tournament mod. What you likely don’t know is that the team that would become Tripwire got its big break - not to mention an Unreal Engine license and enough cash to set up the company in a Georgia office - in the first ever Make Something Unreal contest in 2003.
We talked to Tripwire vice-president Alan Wilson about how this year’s entrants can make the most of Epic, the engine, and the rather blunt community feedback awaiting them in Make Something Unreal Live.
Ask developers questions
It might be a competition, but that doesn’t mean you have to work alone. In Tripwire’s case, they relied on Epic to provide feedback on the progress of their mod right through to the finals.
“It’s like sitting and taking an exam but you don’t actually know what the subject is. ‘What can I do?’ ‘Anything, really.’ ‘Would it be really cool if I did a squirrel hunting game?’ People go, ‘No, I don’t think so’. You do need that feedback.”
“We actually ended up - like lots of the teams did - in some sort of relationship with Epic. Simply because you’re firing questions at them and going, ‘What did you like about this?’, or, ‘What didn’t you like about this?’
Build a community...
Even as you’re developing the game, you should have one eye on bringing players with you, says Alan: “Whether it was the contest driving it or whatever, by the time we founded the company we had - from what we could assess, about half a million downloads of the mod, probably more."
“By the end of the mod we had a good, stable community, we had hundreds of people playing every day, which meant that we knew that if we took the game commercial - and did it right - we’d get people going, ‘I played the mod, I know this, I like this, I’ll buy it’. It meant that starting up the company was a gamble, but it wasn’t one of these things where we were starting absolutely from scratch. We’d got a couple of years under our belt, building a fanbase.”
...and listen to them, even if they’re a bit sweary
Some of the best feedback will come from your community, says Alan, “the mob out there”. And it will come in no uncertain terms.
“If a few hundred people look at your website, look at the early art and go, “It’s crap,” that’s a pretty obvious bit of feedback going on.
“That’s one of the things we kind of miss about doing a mod [rather than] doing games commercially. We could punt stuff out there, and if it was crap people would go, ‘What did you do that for?’, and you could just take it back out again. If people thought it was completely crap we’d take it back out again and go, ‘Well, it was just an experiment - we didn’t like it either’. People understand that in a mod environment.”
Make something stupid
That dream game idea of yours? Make it now. You will never have more freedom to be absurd, brilliant, or downright rude.
“Especially as students," says Alan, "at the end of the day these guys and girls can do whatever they like. Just go and create something really offensive or deeply stupid or whatever. Who cares? Because if you get into the games industry you’re not going to be able to do that. Very high probability says you’ll be creating something for Mickey Mouse or whatever it turns out to be. And your creativity will be very focused, very channeled.”
The games industry uses engines - so should you
Fluency in a programming language or two can be invaluable, but the games industry needs people who’ve seen the inside of the most popular engines - which is where Make Something Unreal comes in.
“Someone told me that there’s about 2,800 students in the Atlanta area doing games-related courses, and we go and talk to a lot of the colleges. We’ve been jumping up and down for about the last five years, going, ‘It’s all very well learning bits of CE and Java, but the industry uses engines’. We want people to come out of universities with skills, creativity, to get working. I don’t want to spend the first months teaching them what an FPS engine actually does.”
Great development tools are available for free - make the most of them
Alan echoes Chet Faliszek in saying that it has never been easier to create something that’ll impress employers.
“I think Epic, before they did UDK, would give away copies of the old Unreal Engine. But now UDK is fully functional. If you want your students to be up and running, ready for the games industry, why wouldn’t you have them using one or more engines during their courses? They get their hands on the core toolset they’re going to need when they get into the industry, and the other side is they might as well go away and create stuff.
“It’s one of the things we say at these colleges - it kind of weeds out the men from the boys, sheep from the goats, whatever expression you want to pick. If all you do is your coursework and come to us with your resume that says, ‘Hey look, I got a B+ on my coursework’, we’re going to go, ‘Yay. You and 2,000 others’. You’ve got these tools - go use them, do stuff.”
Find out what you’re good at - and what you’re really not
Game development is a simple term that refers to a multitude of disciplines, some of which, inevitably, you won’t be very good at. And that’s fine - but it’s best to feel out your strengths before calling up a potential employer.
“At the end of the day, if you’re going on an animation course and it turns out you’re pretty crap at human animation, that’s kind of important to learn. There’s no point in trying to get a job at Activision or Treyarch on Call of Duty if you’re crap at human animation but brilliant at robotics and machines.”