Back In My Day...
After my recent visit to Full Sail, it got me thinking about how much the school has changed over the 10 years since I graduated. When I was a kid and the original Legend of Zelda inspired me to make games...people around me just kind of shrugged it off as a pipe dream. At that time, there was no clear place to start down the path of a career like this so I spent my early life learning all I could about pc hardware and playing as many games as possible. Then, when I heard that Full Sail was introducing a Game Development Degree...I headed straight to Orlando to check things out and was sold. I could finally work toward my dream.
Being a part of the first class of Game Dev students meant that not only was the group small (about 12) but also that there were some growing pains with the classes and teachers as well. The Game Degree was placed in basic classrooms in an unused area of the school which was sufficient, but not really geared for the degree. The good news is that everyone there truly cared about giving a top quality education and provided all the effort and tools they could to make it happen.
As I visit Full Sail now, I see that the campus has more than tripled in size and they have created areas like the new Blackmoor Studios that is tailored to how Game Dev groups work together. There is a large area with write on glass walls so they can brainstorm together, then break into the smaller areas setup for getting their laptops close together and being collaborative. There is even a QA room near by where they can close off the rest of the world and do focus testing and get feedback for their projects.
My first three months at Full Sail were in what they called Mini School and was a requirement for my degree to be accredited. You may not know that Full Sail has many degree programs: Audio Engineering, Film, Show Production, Animation, Digital Media...etc. Mini School was designed as an introductory program for EVERY student to get that accreditation. So, I learned to mix audio, do Foley recording, operate film cameras, etc. While the experience was interesting...it wasn't geared to Game Dev in any way and it was hard not to feel like I was wasting time. Luckily for recent Full Sail students that process has changed and they have figured out a way to let them focus entirely on making games from the beginning.
One thing that hasn't changed is that the school runs 24 hours and students often feel the real world Game Dev experience as they are working most of their time on learning and completing projects. When I attended in 2000 there was only an Associates of Science Dergree and it took me 13 months to complete. Each day generally consisted of a 2-4 hour class and then 4 hours of lab where we put the learning into practice. All of us were focused on programming so if we needed art assets for our games we had to scour the internet or create something on our own (that usually didn't turn out well for me).
Each course is generally one month and if we grouped together for projects there was at most three of us working together. Our final project was a massive TWO month endeavor that was totally focused on taking everything we had learned and creating a fully functioning game that we could show to potential employers. I formed a group with two other friends and we worked on creating Mercenary...a Turn-Based Strategy Game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. You can see demonstrated our fantastic programmer art! Also, I spent a good chunk of my time making Mercenary the first internet playable game project from a Full Sail student. They now use much more advanced game creation tools...we did everything from scratch.
Current Full Sail students attend class for 23 months while working toward a full Bachelor Degree. There is also a Game Design Masters Degree that takes an additional 12 months if they wish to go down that road. Most of the Game Dev classes are named the same as when I attended, but they now have even better content and some have extended to more time. I'm sad that current students don't get the benefit of learning from Dave Arneson since his passing, he was a fantastic teacher and playing a D&D session with him as Dungeon Master was a highlight of my life.
The final projects are now FIVE months and they are much larger groups of students from the various degree programs working together. There are Master's Degree students that work as the producers, Game Dev Bachelor students that handle the gameplay programming, as well as Game Art students that provide art for the games. I believe they also get animation support from that degree program, but i'm not certain about that. This is a fantastic way to handle final projects and gives a true Game Development experience for everyone involved. Not only that, but the games that come out of these final projects are pretty amazing. Check out some of them HERE.
Yeah, things have changed a lot during the last 10 years. I felt like I came out of Full Sail with a great set of knowledge and some great projects to show employers. The level of education has taken a huge leap forward and they students that I hire now are incredibly capable and show great promise. The Gaming Industry has changed a lot in how it views potential entry level employees as well...but I'll get into that in another post.