Gaming is big business in Canada, just as it is in the rest of the world, but with so many major studios and more than its fair share of independent developers, our fair nation is quickly becoming one of the most desirable places in the world to build games – that much is obvious. What’s not obvious, however, is the best route to take to get involved in the industry. Game development courses are cropping up everywhere, but how does a prospective student figure out which one is best for them? We caught up with Jason Eckert, Dean of Technology at triOS College, to find out why he thinks he’s cracked the formula for creating the next generation of game developers…
Click: Tell us a little about yourself and what your role as Dean of Technology involves…
JE: Not a lot of people realize what a Dean does, and I’d probably like to keep it that way [laughs]. But, very practically, I run our three tech faculties – IT, Enterprise Web & Mobile Development and Video Game. The Video Game faculty is our newest and most dynamic, and that’s because we backed into the industry and did it right, focusing on making people really good indie programmers.
I manage the curriculum, the faculty, the direction and all that kind of stuff for the gaming faculty. Before that I spent 15 years at triOS teaching computer science of general flavours – I’ve been here since the beginning. Before that I worked for Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and Deck (who you mightn’t have heard of, but they were pretty big at one time) among others, and my education background is primarily at the University of Waterloo. Basically I’ve been a programmer forever. My background is science and programming and I love both.
Click: What makes triOS College different?
JE: Education and programming go hand in hand; you’re a better programmer if you can teach people to be better programmers. Our college isn’t semestered, it’s all about immersion. So rather than having three or four courses where you might not see the same people every day, we have them for four hours every day, one course at a time. It’s not accelerated learning, it’s just immersion. It can take people further and you can develop them into real professionals very quickly. I’m drawn to private colleges that have a non-semestered curriculum because it allows me to achieve more as an educator. For fifteen years I’ve led a lot of people into the industry, and many of them still keep in contact with me. It’s a great feeling, you know. I won’t downgrade my educational achievements – I’m a teacher to the core, as well as a programmer.
We focus on making games. Every part of our program structure and the way we execute it is focused on that. We’re constantly changing our technologies; we don’t use anything that’s outdated – we’re very proactive. We focus on the skills needed to be an indie developer; you don’t go to college and then get hired by Ubisoft. There are no resumes in this industry; it’s all about your portfolio. We’re constantly telling students that they need to build games, prototype ideas and be part of the industry from day one. We’re the only place that does that. By the time students finish our program, they’ll have 9 prototypes in their portfolio. They’ll also learn how to heavily network with other developers on Twitter, and collaborate with classmates on bigger projects in DirectX and Unity. We’re just really good at getting people to develop games.
Click: What’s your typical game development student like?
JE: A typical student in our video game course is someone who wants to change the world! They want to make games that people will play and say “Wow this is awesome!” They’re at that stage of life and that’s a good place to be, and usually game programmers stay at that stage forever. It’s a nice kind of student to have in the class because you know they want to do something, and you can help them get there. They’re more willing to listen to you and do the extra work that you assign them because they want to be in this industry and they want to do it. Before they’re even accepted, our students know they want to be game developers, and that really helps.
Click: Is there any hope in development for those weak in math and physics?
JE: There’s always a role. Yes, as a programmer you use math and physics pretty much every day. Is it tough math? It can be, it can be very tough, but it can also be simple math like algebra. But, you know, if you really hate that stuff, what I’d say to you is try it. Try it without being afraid of it and you might love it, because it really isn’t that hard. But if you still hate it, there’s always room for people who provide the support for those who do a lot of the development, whether it be managing a team, problem solving or performance analysis. There’s always room for people who don’t like math and physics, even as a programmer.
Click: Tell us a bit about the internship programs you guys have…
JE:We partner with a lot of organizations that need the skills our students as have, and they take them on as interns. Both sides understand what their responsibilities are and how they work, and we’ve had some amazingly successful internship opportunities where our students have contributed a lot, and that leads to employment as a result, not necessarily with the company you interned with. It shows that you’ve worked in a real team with people, so whether you’re going to work as an independent developer or work in a large team, you’re not blind to what it’s like working on a real project.
Click: What advice can you give to our younger readers who aren’t quite finished high school yet, but are interested in getting into the gaming industry down the line?
JE: The simple answer to that is play with GameMaker. GameMaker is a free prototyping tool. It’s the easiest one to learn and with it you can build the idea of your game quickly. Prototyping has to be quick, because if you have a great idea for a game you need to be able to take it back to your studio and show people, not just tell them about it. Anyone can play with Game Maker, you can pick up books on it at Chapters and you can just play around with it at home.
You also need to play games. A lot of them, and different types. You need to understand that every gamer is not a game developer, but every game developer is a gamer. The wider the variety you’re exposed to, the wider the variety of game mechanics you can bring into your own games. We teach you how to analyze those game mechanics properly, but you need to have a big base behind you to draw inspiration and ideas from.