Complete Guide to Online Video Game Design Schools
Online game design schools provide students with the skills necessary to create challenging and entertaining gaming experiences for players. Training is available at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, or master's degree level. Students will need to start with a certain level of artistic ability, along with communication skills and critical thinking skills, to succeed in a game design program. These skills will be a key part of the work required for team projects in your role as a game designer, quality assurance tester, team leader, or project manager.
Confirming whether a school is accredited at the regional or national level is an important part of evaluating the quality of an educational institution. Prospective students can confirm a school's accreditation status by contacting the school directly or by checking an authoritative accreditation database; the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation each offer such databases.
Comprehensive List of Online Colleges & Universities for a Video Game Design Degree
Overview of Available Online Video Game Design Degrees
Video game design degree programs at the associate level typically include an array of courses in game design, level design, and game art. They may also include courses in effects animation, prop modeling, character design, and 3-D modeling. Bachelor's degree programs will also supply students with a liberal arts foundation, which can be applied toward many aspects of building stories in video game formats.
Master's degree programs will likely include classes in quality assurance, game production tools, research design, and asset management. Because these graduate programs prepare students for leadership roles, master's students will also take classes that will help them develop these abilities, such as project management and managing for digital media. Students enrolled in a master's degree program can expect to complete a capstone project or conduct research to prepare a thesis and defend their findings before a committee.
People who are passionate about combining visual art with technology may consider pursuing an associate degree in video game design. This field is closely linked to other areas of design, such as multimedia and graphic design. Video game design specifically focuses on the creation and promotion of video games for consumer culture. These programs are typically offered by vocational-technical schools and community colleges. Applicants should possess a high school diploma or its equivalent and be able to commit to two years of full-time study and the completion of 60 or more credit hours.
Video game design programs at the associate level educate students about the artistic and technical principles of game design. Students become familiar with video game programming languages and software applications used in the industry, such as Java, C++, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft DirectX. Coursework may focus on game development, video game script writing, data modeling, simulation, 3-D animation, level design, and Flash programming. Students in these programs may also complete portfolio projects to prepare them for finding employment after graduation.
Associate degree holders may pursue a number of different job opportunities. Graduates typically become modelers, game level designers, and freelance technical artists. They may work in private studios, video game companies, or out of their homes.
The video game design bachelor's program teaches students how to develop digital graphics and leverage interactivity to draw players into a game. These programs usually require four years of full-time study. Applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED to apply; programs may also require baseline technical skills and the submission of an art portfolio.
Video game design classes cover a wide variety of subjects, including 2-D and 3-D digital design, computer graphics, video game programming, storyboarding, project management, and computer game analysis. Students learn about the overall structure of a successful video game, as well as the details of creating digital graphics for various computer and console systems.
Along with technical graphics and animation skills, students also learn about the methods for working with teams of animators and bringing a large project to completion. Many programs require students to work on a large game design project during the final semester of the degree; in some cases, students work in teams to develop a complete game.
A bachelor's degree in video game design or a related creative-technical subject is required to land entry-level positions in game design, multimedia design, or animation. Bachelor's graduates with a strong portfolio of game design work will have the best chances of landing a job in this highly competitive field. Video game designers work in software development, computer systems design, motion picture and film production, and advertising.
Master's degrees in video game design are designed for current computer science professionals who wish to move into a game design or game development role, or for bachelor's graduates seeking more advanced training in game design concepts. Applicants to a master's degree program in video game design must hold a bachelor's degree and provide transcripts of their undergraduate work. Programs may also ask applicants to present a resume, a personal statement of goals, and a portfolio of creative work. These 12-course programs can usually be completed in 12 months.
Students enrolled in a master's degree program in video game design examine topics such as production leadership, research design, level design, prototyping, visual development, game art, quality assurance, leadership and team dynamics, game production tools, and marketing and media relations. Other courses may include asset management, effects animation, prop modeling, 3-D design, and character design. Game design graduate programs often require students to complete a thesis or capstone project. A capstone project for a video game design program may involve leading a team of developers in the conception, production, and promotion of a game.
Graduates from a master's degree program in video game design may be qualified to work as video game producers, executive producers, creative directors, level or concept artists, 3-D animators, lead game designers, storyboard artists, and cinematics directors.
The video game design certificate covers technical strategies, game dynamics, and business topics relating to the creation of interactive games and online experiences. This certificate is available through technical schools, design and art institutes, college extension programs and online colleges and universities. Most programs require three to eight courses and can be completed in one year. The majority of available certificates are available at the undergraduate level and require applicants to have an understanding of high school-level math; some may require programming experience.
The courses taught during game design certificate programs may address the social science behind gaming, the programming and software tools involved, or the marketing and monetization strategies used by gaming businesses. Courses in the fundamentals of game design and game mechanics teach students about the narrative of games, project management strategies for game development, and prototype development. Classes in 3-D animation and 3-D modeling discuss digital tools for rendering the images used in games. Other courses discuss heuristic testing, skinning techniques, and feedback mechanisms in games.
The certificate in video game design can serve as a good entry point for a career as a game developer, animator, or game programmer. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employers of multimedia artists, such as game designers, require a strong portfolio of work and evidence of technical skills, rather than a formal degree. The video game design certificate can be a useful way to gain basic skills and start a portfolio in order to pursue an assistant or apprentice position in the field.
Schools that offer higher education degrees and certificates may choose to go through an accreditation process in order to demonstrate to the public that they meet the highest academic standards. They are evaluated by outside accrediting agencies in areas such as curricula, faculty, and student outcomes, and must renew their accreditation status every few years to ensure that they maintain high levels of competency.
Choosing an accredited school can help students feel confident that they will receive a high-quality education and graduate with adequate preparation for their future career. Attending an accredited school is also necessary for students who plan to transfer credits to other accredited schools or apply for federal financial aid.
The US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize legitimate accrediting agencies in the United States and provide a current list of accredited schools on their websites. Visit Guide to Online Schools' comprehensive accreditation hub for more information.
Within the field of video game design, there are many categories and specializations. Some people work behind the scenes, coming up with concepts, fleshing out the story, and writing dialogue. They then pass these elements on to the team that will build the functional elements of the game. This team consists of designers and programmers skilled in various elements of video game development who bring ideas to life. Here is an overview of some of the job titles you might hold if you earn a degree in video game design. Keep in mind that you may want to be able to perform several of these tasks after you graduate in order to ensure your marketability.
- AI Programmer: The player characters are important, but so are the non-player-controlled characters (NPC), which need to be programmed with Artificial Intelligence (AI). NPCs need to behave naturally and in a way that makes sense or they become distracting.
- Background Artist: Background artists build the world in which the game will take place. As a background artist, you need to have a keen understanding of the atmosphere and tone of the game as a whole, and specifically, the concept that should be conveyed at various times.
- Character Artist: Becoming a character artist takes creativity, attention to detail, and a dedication to storytelling. A character's movements and gear must be realistic and facial expressions true to the world it is a part of.
- Game Engine Programmer: This is one of the most vital job categories within the video game industry. Game engine programmers come up with the basic software for a game.
- Level Designer: These professionals build the different levels of a game's environment for players to explore. Successful level designers must have strong skills in art, math, and design.
- Physics/Environment Programmer: This aspect of video game programming focuses on the physical properties of the game world, and makes sure objects interact in a consistent way. Some programmers even develop “physics engines,” which set the rules for how everything in the world operates: how fast things fall, or what happens when to objects bump into each other.
- Script Writer: Although not always considered a technical part of game design, writing is key to developing a video game. A video game writer works with the design team to come up with the dialogue and text that happens between characters. They will also write the text that video game players see as they complete levels or reach certain goals.
- Sound Programmer: These designers create a game's score and sound effects. In musical games, or games where the sound effects change based on the player's proximity to them, sound designers have a very challenging job.
- Tool Programmer: Game creation tool programmers design software that enables other people to create and make changes to a game. Modern games typically use several tools from the beginning to end of a project.
- Multimedia Artists and Animators. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed September 6, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm#tab-1.
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