Your guide to the ins and outs of game development
Gamers naturally fantasise working on games they love, but is it something that any gamer can just walk into?
With international studios like Sony Interactive Entertainment and Larian Studios (developer of Divinity: Original Sin II and Baldur's Gate 3) branching into the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia has indeed cemented its status as the go-to destination for game development needs. This may come as a surprise to some, but in reality, the local games industry has been around for almost three decades now - the first Malaysian-developed game was made for the 16-bit Super Nintendo (a.k.a the SNES): Ghoul Patrol by Motion Pixel Sdn Bhd in 1994.
But, what exactly qualifies as game development?
We figured it would be fitting to ask this question to Hilmy Abdul Rahim, a producer at Gameka who oversees and manages various projects in the game and app development company. Not only is he a former member of game development companies Gamebrains and Titoonic Asia, he was also a lecturer at KDU University College (now UOW Malaysia) and Lim Kok Wing University.
The big picture
“Fundamentally, video game development is the process of combining together various forms of media into a new type of content that allows interactivity,” said Hilmy, who joined Gameka exactly one year ago. Using the analogy of filmmaking to explain its team structure, he explained that like films comprising audio and visual, video games contain those two, plus texts and interactivity. Although games are packaged in discs or mere digital files, it’s a misleading representation of the vastness each of them holds, requiring a diverse team to bring it to life.
According to Hilmy, ultimately, there are three streams within every game development team:
“It’s what makes games look good,” the ex-educator explained. “It’s about creating assets to be used in-game and inject artistic elements that includes visuals and, even audio.”
“It makes a game function, using programming language to tell the computer what to do, specifically to create programs that give the game the interactivity and effects the medium requires.”
“This makes games fun to play. Similar to a theatre director, they plan out what assets to appear - and even when to pop up - in-game, in terms of both programming and art. It requires an understanding of how to use the two elements to convey the game properly to players.”
Despite being somewhat standardised over the decades, he clarified that the line between art and programming are slowly blurring, to the extent that we might not be able to differentiate between the two anymore. For example, artists can have a basic knowledge of programming to fully utilise the tools they have on-hand.
However, the makeup of each team can differ from one another, as it “depends on what kind of vision you have for your medium”, what kind of product they’re producing. For example, visual novels (a text-driven genre akin to an interactive digital graphic novel) would involve more artists than programmers in the team, in contrast to the graphics-, visual effects- and physics-heavy first person shooters (FPS) that they entail, which emphasises manpower for programmers instead of artists. But generally, game development teams would have at least three of these streams, with additional ones opened up to meet the game’s vision.
The nitty gritty
Even if the components vary from one another, the daily grind encompassing the trio remains the same. “On a typical day, the producer would check and delegate tasks among everyone in the team,” Hilmy shared, reflecting on his own role at Gameka. He added that each department will then let their department head(s) check their work before sending it to the repository, a storage space which houses every single game asset.
“It’s like an orchestra: the juniors play their own part while the seniors make sure everyone is working well together.”
Hilmy Abdul Rahim
But, if you’re working on a game that’s supposed to sell well, it takes more than the game development team to bring that to life. “Selling a game requires adding a business model into development,” Hilmy said, which means a marketing and business strategy stream would exist in this scenario. “You’d need to analyse your target audience and know what’s valuable to them, so that they’ll exchange your game for their money,” which is why games are usually promoted before it’s finished to know who the game resonates with. Thus, the whole process of game development can include departments for business, quality assurance, social media, online support and even streaming.
Don’t stop me now
To those worried that game development is just a momentary trend, turn that frown upside down, because Hilmy noted that interest in the industry has never been higher. “The idea of game development is so normalised now, that even parents are interested in enrolling their children in university programmes for the field.” He attributed its accessibility and intrigue to the Malaysian government, who has been promoting and encouraging growth for the industry extensively.
Even though there are educational courses for game development, Hilmy believes that a certified qualification isn’t entirely necessary. “A Degree doesn’t say what you can really do, it only certifies what you know.” Instead, showcase your skills to prove that you can work in the industry, which can be learned for free on game engine sites, such as Unreal Engine and Unity Learn.
Having said the above, he acknowledges that the lack of a Degree can be a dealbreaker for employers, especially in Malaysia. So, he advised that when discerning the various university programmes, keep a lookout for ones that teach the fundamentals well, such as focusing on the C++ programming language. “Tools change all the time, but the basis will always stay the same.”
And last but not least, it’s of utmost importance that aspiring game creators have the passion to make games if they want to stick to the industry. Aside from being willing to hone and expand your skill set, “making games is about doing what you’re good at continuously, which is why passion is so important. Ask anyone who works on games, and they’ll tell you that they’re doing it because they love it.”
Interested to find out more about Gameka? Check out their website to know more about what they do.
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