When starting a new student project, the first thing that crosses everyone’s mind is the team. How many people will this project need? Who is going to handle which part of the engine? Where do we recruit people to handle the part of the game we aren’t skilled in? What most students forget is that the possibility of forming a “one man band”. In some cases, a lot can be gained pursuing solo projects.
Working on individual projects can go a long way towards building one’s confidence and abilities. Oftentimes, teams of student projects will be disrupted by the gaps in proficiency that each team member has. More experienced members try to do everything, either because they feel it is more efficient or due to a lack of trust for their younger teammates’ skills. Conversely, the less advanced members of the group may try to “slide by”, making use of their group in order to gain credit for work they are not necessarily capable of doing on their own. This is a situation that job employers are all too familiar with. When reviewing student work, there is always the question of who actually did what in the final product.
With personal projects, students have an opportunity to work at their own pace without concern for being overwhelmed by the abilities of other people on the project. They have the freedom to explore topics of their choice, approach the challenges how they see fit, and learn and grow from the experience.
As was previously mentioned, personal projects can be greatly beneficial for a student to use in their portfolio. Not only can employers clearly see what skills are brought to the table, but they can get an understanding for what kind of person the student is. They can get an understanding for one’s passions, personal interests outside of classwork, and how they might fit into the company. This doesn’t mean that students should avoid group projects by any means. However, taking the time to try and build on their own is an incredible experience worth looking into.
So, let’s say that a student does want to begin a solo project. Where do they begin? If they don’t know how to do all aspects of game development, aren’t they stuck at a roadblock?
NOT AT ALL. Today, all sorts of tools exist that students can use to show off their stuff. Artists can create very simple mods of existing titles like Half-Life, where they place their own assets into an environment to see how they fit into a game. Change a few files, and you can see the art and animations that you created in an actual video game playable by anyone! For programmers, all they need to do is build a tech demo. Rather than try to build an entire game by yourself, work on implementing very specific, like a rendering system, physics engine, or something like that. These kinds of projects show your flexibility when it comes to problem solving, and helps prove to employers that you can meet any challenge that is presented to you. For designers, you may want to look into building pen & paper games, or using programs like Game Maker to build a prototype for the mechanic you are envisioning. Just because it isn’t on a console showing off the latest and greatest in graphics doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun game.
One important thing to note about your personal project is the scope. A side project being worked on by a single person can only have so much content before developing becomes cumbersome and overbearing. The point of the project is to show off some of the cool things you have learned or taught yourself, not that you can do everything. The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” very much applies here. you want the project to be a very small, very focused topic. For example, building a casual game a great experience for a designer because of the limitations in scale that come with such a project. A programmer may want to work on implementing a single feature that may be used in a game, like the fog of war effect often seen in strategy games. The goal is to have something small, but very polished and very impressive to call your own.
Finally, the most important part of this project is to have fun with it! Find something that you’ve always thought would be cool to do, but never really known how to go about making. Don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, school is a place for learning, and a time to find out your passions. Why waste this time doing the same things everyone else does the same way you’ve always heard how it has been done?