My Game Dev Journey Part 2 (Game Design At Uni) [Podcast E08]

Hello and welcome back to the Retro Break podcast! This is part two of my game dev journey series. If you didn’t see or hear part one yet, definitely go back and listen to that one first. In this episode, I’m going to flesh out some of the things I mentioned last time before moving on in part three to what I did after uni.

If you didn’t listen to part one or if you just need a bit of a reminder, I went to Staffordshire University to study game design, specifically gameplay design and production. But the first year I was there, I was actually doing game programming.

So I’ve kind of got four years worth of game dev experience that I want to share in this podcast, and also give you an idea of what studying game design at university entails and the projects I worked on while I was there. There’s a lot to get into – I’ve got notes on most of the stuff I did and thankfully I also backed most of it up on Google Drive, so I’ve got some files I can show you if you’re watching the YouTube version.

Without further ado, let’s get started with year one.

If you remember from the first podcast, I said that after college I decided to study something called portable game programming at uni. When I arrived, it turned out I was the only person on that course! So instead, I got put onto a game programming course. Unfortunately, my dreams of making DS or GBA games were shattered. The entire first year I didn’t learn anything about portable systems or making games at all, really. We just learned basic C programming and had to make things like pyramids out of hash symbols.

I was getting frustrated with not understanding the programming and having to do math classes I couldn’t grasp. But it wasn’t all bad – I learned multimedia production, including Adobe Premiere Pro, graphic design, animation tools, editing software and more. That’s still useful today. I also made friends, played games, watched anime and joined the anime club. So it wasn’t a wasted year, but wasn’t great for learning what I wanted. I ended up dropping out after first year.

In my second year, I switched to the gameplay design and production course – this is where it gets really interesting! One thing I learned was Lua scripting and using the Emerge game engine. We had to make a 2D adventure RPG game with story, interactions, game design document and more. I loved it! I used sprites from Illusion of Time and took inspiration from Zelda and Dragon Quest. Making something playable for the first time in years was so exciting. Unfortunately I’ve lost the files, but that course finally made me feel I was on the right track.

Writing the design document was also fascinating – you realize the insane amount that goes into game dev! I also loved the reverse engineering game design documents class. I did Sonic Adventure 2 and Illusion of Time, analyzing all the elements that went into them. Still proud of those documents today! We also had to design our own board game by adapting a video game, which was great creative fun.

Moving on to year three, I got experience with Unity and Unreal Engine. I was a bit out of my depth honestly, but it was cool to see what real devs use. For one class we had to make experimental Unity demos – I made a terrible Chinese-themed fighting game, a firefighting game, and a tilting board game inspired by Super Monkey Ball that actually turned out well! No gameplay footage survives, but I found the old video submissions at least.

I also tried recreating Mega Man Battle Network in Unity as a passion project. Didn’t get far, but found some old screenshots that brought back memories. Using pre-built templates and assets was much easier for me than coding from scratch. I helped design a game jam project called Eye for an Eye but wasn’t hands-on with the dev.

Outside of games, I learned a lot about scriptwriting and story structure, which I still use today. I wrote an interactive “choose your own adventure” called Endless Snow that you can still play online – link in the podcast description!

In final year, I was lead designer on a 2D space pirate platformer called Plunder Boss. No playable build remains, but I found some old design documents and level layouts on graph paper. I loved designing levels and layouts. My final year project was the quantum physics game Quantum Shift, covered in part one.

That covers the academic side, but my time at uni was so much more! It was my first time properly living away from home and having real independence. Easily the best years of my life so far. I made lifelong friends who shared my gaming passion – we’d play Mario Party together at night. I really should have cherished it all more at the time.

I met my girlfriend who I still live with today. So many big life events happened during those four years. If I hadn’t gone to study game design, none of that would have happened. I might be better off financially if I’d skipped uni, but I wouldn’t trade those memories and experiences for anything.

Was it all worth it, building up huge student loan debts? Absolutely 100% yes! I loved every minute, even the parts I complained about. I miss the lectures, learning new things, working on my own projects… Uni started my lifelong passion for self-improvement through creating and learning.

I’m so thankful I can continue that today through online content creation and sharing my love of games and game dev with all of you. Thank you so much for the support on these podcasts so far – it really means the world. Leave a review wherever you listen to the show!

That’s it for part two. Tune in next week for part three, where I’ll talk about the games I made after graduating. Thanks for listening – goodbye!

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