March 1, 2002
Mr. Rob Catto has been a faculty member at Full Sail Real World Education since 1995, where he is Program Director for the Digital Media and Game Design Programs and responsible for the development of the Game Design course curriculum, designed to bring new game programmers into the industry.
Mr. Catto's background is in education, and he previously worked for the Orange County Public School System in Florida where he developed the first fully-immersive VR program at a high school. He has since developed the VR curriculum for the Digital Media Program and designed the new Visualization Center at Full Sail.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Catto is a faculty member at Full Sail Real World Education, a sponsor of ComputerSchools.com at the time of this interview's publication.
MR. CATTO AND HIS CAREER
What's your career experience and background in Game Design? Where did you start and how did you come to your current position?
I graduated from the University of West Florida with a Bachelors Degree in Technology Education, and I began my career teaching a Principles of Engineering class at a High School. In 1994, some of my students and I began working with Virtual Reality. In late 1994 we had, I believe, the first full immersive VR program in a high school.
Full immersive VR is a system that completely blocks, tracks and replaces one or more of the senses. For example, the system we had at the high school blocked, tracked and replaced the visual sense. We had an HMD (head mounted display) for the eyes and a magnetic tracker that tracked the head and hand movements of the participant. We were building the worlds and teaching them how to program the worlds with an API (application programming interface). It was this experience that brought me to Full Sail to develop its Real-Time VR course.
How difficult is it to keep up to date with changing technology?
It is difficult to stay current with everything. One must find their specialty/interest and concentrate on that area. Then, keep informed about all the rest with research. I have several web sites that I peruse every morning before I begin my day that helps me stay current.
You developed the Game Design curriculum at Full Sail. Why do you believe it will bring new game programmers into the industry?
There are very few educational programs existing now that teach a curriculum dedicated specifically to game programming. Most programmers came from a Computer Science program or dropped out of school, wrote a game and got noticed. These days you need a degree, but most Computer Science programs don't teach with a specific game development curriculum; we do.
What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?
The transformation in the students from the time they start, to the demo of their first game. They start excited and scared and finish poised and confident.
EDUCATION INFORMATION & ADVICE
What kind of education do students need to get a good job in the games industry?
That depends on what part of the industry they are interested in: Audio, Programming, Graphics. We are at a cross roads in this industry - the advice given in the past to people interested in video games was: "Get a computer, make a game and then find someone that will take a look at it." Now, the games are much more sophisticated, they cost a lot of money and it takes a team. There are many curriculums that offer audio, graphics and programming degrees that will help, but if you can find a curriculum that offers these degrees and is video game specific, you'll be much better prepared.
What are the most important software programs that game designers should learn? Is it important to be literate on both Mac and PC?
For the game developer, it's going to be some type of IDE, with a good compiler and debugger. We use Visual C++ in our program. For the game artist, it's going to be Adobe Photoshop and a 3D package. Probably, the most popular is 3D Studio Max.
Regarding being literate on Mac and PC, it depends on the work you're doing. If it's related to 2d art, either platform will be appropriate. For 3D databases, it's probably going to be a PC. If you're programming, most likely you'll be working on a PC.
Do game design students need to learn to become programmers? If so, what are the most common certifications that they'll eventually need?
To use the description "game design student" is a little too generic. Game design encompasses many different positions in the game industry. The answer to your question is: Yes indeed, you'll need to know programming if you want to be a game developer. And you would need a degree from a game programming curriculum or a computer science degree.
Just as it is an advantage to know something about modeling and animation when you are a programmer, for a 3d animator/modeler it would be an advantage to have some programming knowledge. But they aren't necessary for the positions.
Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious game design programs in the US that really make a difference to students who graduate from these schools/depts.
Again, game design covers much territory. To find a program specific to your own interest I would suggest going to Gamasutra.com and looking at their list of schools.
JOB INFORMATION & ADVICE
Game design professionals don't typically sit around thinking up new games all day. So, what kinds of jobs, positions and responsibilities should graduates expect to get in the industry?
Do anything that will get your foot in the door. If an internship is available take it. If you plan on being a programmer, then the position would be an entry level programming position, junior programmer, and you might be working on game components, utility tools, game levels, plugins, loaders, and small games. If you're an artist, it would be an entry level 2d, 3d, or animation position.
Game companies get thousands of job inquiries a year. How can one stand out from the crowd to get the inside track for a good job in the games industry?
Get your name into "titles," meaning game titles that have your name in the credits; the more the better. If you have none, get online and find someone making a game that needs help. Find a game you enjoy playing and make a level or a mod - anything that will show the prospective employer you have experience.
Are there any professional organizations for game design professionals?
Yes, International Game Developer Association (IGDA).
If you have any questions for Mr. Catto, you may e-mail him directly at RCatto@fullsail.com.