I bought two books to start with: Game Design: The Art & Business of Creating Games by Bob Bates and Break into the Game Industry by Ernest Adams.
Bates' book was very interesting and unveiled many aspects of the game making process that the average gamer doesn't stop to think about. It is a recommended read, but I didn't find it too helpful in getting me a job. With that said, at that point of the search I was kinda looking for a book that will reveal the simple trick to get into the industry right away. Some kind of secret password that will get me hired on the spot.
While I never found that book, Break into the Game Industry was the closest thing to it. Ernest Adams discusses pretty much all the jobs in the industry and practical ways to get there. All those ways include a lot of hard work without any real shortcuts, which is fair enough. A year or so later I got to tell Ernest at an IGDA meeting, to his satisfaction, that his book worked for me.
Speaking of the IGDA, The International Game Developers Association, the best advice I did get from the book was to join it. I checked out the website and after talking to a few people on the message boards I decided to pay $100 for the membership (the price has dropped significantly since), somewhat feeling as if I was buying myself a position in the games industry.
The London Chapter has been practically dead at the time, but after a few people shown interest in it on the London message board, we had a meeting that relaunched the chapter with a new committee of which I was a part of. It was quite exciting. We were, and still are, a combination of seasoned industry profesionals and eager wannabes. We meet every two weeks and plan various events for London based game developers. I learnt a lot from those people and started networking, while having fun on the way. I got to meet people who worked on games I played as a kid. That alone was mind blowing and took getting used to.
Meanwhile, I did a day game focus testing for Climax in their Portsmouth office. It was fun, but didn't lead to anything. I then got the job on Time Commanders and for two and a half weeks I was an "industry profesional". It didn't lead to a permanent position at Creative Assembly and that's probably was for the best as the commute was a nightmarish 2 1/2 hours trip in each direction using two tubes, two trains and a taxi.
An IGDA committee member gave me the valuable advice to do a Neverwinter Nights module and I did. It took me three-four months of full time hard work. I recorded 1,500 files of dialogue with friends, 500 of them which were used. The module itself was fairly long and lasted between eight to twenty hours. It was a huge headache and I needed constant help and support from the excellent NWN community, but I pulled it off and learnt a lot about game design and scripting on the way. I even had my own deadline and crunch time. The scale was massive and had I known what I was walking into, I might have thought twice. I was just so lucky I was so stupid and innocent.
I also fiddled with the Unreal Tournament 2004 level editor and took part of an IGDA London Chapter group project doing a Half-Life 2 mod that never really took off the ground. Well, took off for a second and then crashed magnificently.
But even with a growing game design portfolio I didn't get any invitations for interviews. I was quite depressed and started looking for jobs anywhere else. A small part of me gave up on getting a job at the games industry. I was 26 which in the games industry is almost middle life. Obviously I wasn't very convincing in my attempts to apply for work at various shops and supermarkets as they also ended up rejecting me as well. It did not feel good.
At first I was looking for work as a Designer/animator. That was a mistake as I didn't want to be an animator anyway and such an application just confused people, but applying only as a designer didn't yield any results either. It was only when I decided to simply bite the bullet and apply only as a tester when things started looking up.
To be continued,
Part 3 Part 4 Part 5