Guest speaker: Mike Dussault from Valve

posted by: Ms. Martin 18 September 2009 One Comment

We were honored to get a visit from Mike Dussault, a game programmer at Valve Software.  Mike talked about the game development process as well as how he and others he knows became good at what they do.  Like many of you, I’m not a gamer, but I learned a lot of interesting things about the creative and business processes of building software as well as some cool specifics about 3D animation.

Mike talked to us about his path to becoming a game programmer: he taught himself to program in high school, made a cool demo, presented it to a company and got hired.  He said that to get good at something, the best thing to do is to take on a project that seems impossible since it takes 10 000 hours of practice to expertise.

Mike also told a couple of interesting paths other people took.  The guy who designed Gollum’s head in Lord of the Rings started out coloring in comic reels and worked his way up by always taking on bigger challenges.  The game Portal was created from a demo some DigiPen students had put together.  To become great, Mike says, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and persist.

We learned about the game development process followed by Valve.  There, everyone in the company is free to give ideas or show demos that could become games.  The company decides which games to create in a somewhat democratic way but the CEO and founder always has the final word.  After teams have worked months on a game script, he may ask for a significant change that enhances the game.  Once a game has been selected and a preliminary script approved, artists work on storyboards and concept art as programmers start putting the action together.  Teams that work together on a game are composed of artists, designers, marketing and programmers.

One thing that struck me is how long the games Mike talked about took to develop.  Half-Life 2 was 4 years in the making and he mentioned another game, Duke Nukem Forever, that was 10 years in the making but was eventually cut because it wasn’t relevant anymore.

Hopefully, you were all inspired by Mike’s path and got some good ideas for our upcoming project!

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