Mario and Luigi might be Super Mario Brothers, but no one sees the sibling rivalry coursing beneath their adventures to rescue Princess Peach and defeat Bowser. In the Tyler Junior College Gaming and Simulation Development program, this same rivalry exists between the programmers and the artists.
“There’s this ongoing joke about there being like a feud between the programmers and the artists,” Gaming and Simulation Graphics student Josey Gonzalez said. “We call them number pushers and they think we have no imagination or something but in the end we get along really, really well. We just like pick on each other so it’s like we are a huge family.”
The program is filled with many different people, but they all can be classified under the same label: gamers.
“You have a lot of kids who come from the same things, so to speak, and they befriend each other,” Gaming and Simulation Development professor Casey Callender said. “You can easily spot a gamer. There are usually 10 to 12 of them walking together. So they definitely develop a lot of friendships and it’s something that they all can relate to… and this is the kind of program where it’s conducive to friendship. There are a lot of people who become lifelong friends just from having taken classes together.”
While the program can be considered fun, both Callender and Gaming and Simulation Development professor David Alger believe that the gaming program could be considered one of the hardest programs at TJC.
“They have to have a true feel for games,” Callender said. “They have to eat, breathe and sleep games. It’s very, very time consuming. Even in the professional field, if you’re lucky enough to get into the industry, you’re going to work your butt off. If you’re persistent and you have talent and you have a good work ethic, with those things combined it can be a very lucrative career for a student.”
The Gaming and Simulation Development Program has two different degree plans; a Gaming and Simulation Graphics degree and a Gaming and Simulation Programming degree.
“The program, since I’ve been here, has changed a bunch,” Gaming and Simulation Graphics student Travis Dorsey said. “Like when I initially got in, I think I was in the first group of art people and since that, two years ago, the degree plan has changed a bunch from what classes are required and actually what classes we have. So I think it’s growing in a good direction and eventually when we get all the kinks worked out. The structure will be good.”
The graphic program involves all the art aspects of the game development program and everything that goes into that as far as career. This can involve animation, 3D modeling and 2D art like concept design and illustration.
“[The program includes] any type of graphic, basically the look of the game and the visual layout of the game,” Callender said. “90-95 percent of it is evolved digitally with the 2D stuff; the drawing and illustration. That’s how we teach it here in our program.”
According to Callender, there is a higher demand for programmers than there is for artists.
“It is harder for the artist to get jobs more so than the programmers,” Callender said. “In programming, there seems to be a lot more of it because there’s more of a demand for it.
In art, it’s a little more inclusive in the sense that there’s probably at any given time around 5,000 art jobs in the U.S. and you really have to fight for those jobs. There’s a lot of really talented people trying to get those positions.”
The programming side of the program involves writing computer games, video games and graphic simulations.
“Programmers actually make the game work, artists make it pretty and designers make it fun,” Alger said. “So everything that happens in the game, the programmer controls.
They write games.
They also do some graphical simulations, but they incorporate art from other sources, sometimes our artists sometimes from outside sources and they take those and use them to write games.”
The programmers mainly work with code, which tells the game what to do. Students are given detailed specifications on what the game should do and they take those instructions and interpret them into code for the computer.
“Code is kind of like a foreign language, so it’s kind of like doing a foreign language and math at the same time,” Alger said. “Imagine taking Spanish, at the same time you are taking the advanced math class in Spanish and that’s what it’s like.”
The Gaming and Simulation Development program requires the programming students to take an art class and the graphics students to take an intro to programming class so they can make sure that both sides can grasp what the other side does.
“They are completely opposite from one another,” Callender said. “Programming is strictly that; coding, programming, scripting and stuff like that. Art is just what it is, it’s just solely art. They are pretty much completely opposites but you can’t have one without the other.”
All students in the program are also appointed project classes where they are assigned a game and the artists make the art for it while the programmers create the game, then the art gets incorporated with the game in the end.
“So they are forced to work together once per semester and we did that because that’s what the industry said that they wanted,” Alger said. “They wanted artists that were able to work with programmers and programmers who are able to work with artists. And that’s pretty unusual because they are two completely different fields. Someone who is attracted to art is not usually attracted to math and someone who is attracted to math is usually not attracted to art. It’s really hard to get those very different groups of people working together. That’s why we do it like that.”
The job opportunities for people with degrees in this field can range from game testers to game designers.
“The really creative people that can do this and do programming too, shoot they could go out and get a job at DreamWorks and Pixar or George Lucas,” 3D modeling and animation professor Hank Gatewood said. “They can easily make $100 an hour from some of this stuff. It’s a pretty good skill.”