I can't code and I can't draw...

...yet I wanna be a game developer! This kinds of posts pop up on game development forums pretty frequently and a common reply to these is "What can you do in gamedev without being able to code or at least draw some art?" These people (mostly programmers themselves) would be absolutely right around 30 years ago.

Let's start with a quick gaming industry evolution recap, shall we? In the "old days" games were made entirely by one person. This person had to code. With the evolution of gamedev came new roles. Games started to be made by larger teams, and the coders easily gave up things like visuals or sound. This is where acknowledging the art part comes from. The programmers and artists soon needed armies of people who could do things they themselves couldn't. Their little game making efforts evolved into game making companies. Of course, with the whole Angry Bird Flu, the vast part of the industry is now in the early development stage, recreating the pattern from the 80's. Small teams, where single person performs multiple roles.

What better to paste when talking about the industry evolution than evolution of the most famous pair of game boobs? Image stolen from http://pedro-croft.deviantart.com :)

Since we really don't want to limit ourselves with indie companies, let's focus on AAA. This is a list called "all the jobs in gamedev that come to my mind": producer, designer, writer, sound engineer, animator, programmer, concept artist, 3D artist, QA, and less development-connected: legal, finance, HR, sales, marketing, PR, IT. Some of them truely need programming skills. Some of them need artistic skills. Some don't need any. It is more or less like this:

Artistic skills refer explicitly to visual arts, as these are topic here.
I've introduced a new term here - scripting. Every game engine I heard of has a scripting language embedded. It is a simple language with a basic set of commands that do preprogrammed things. Compared to programming languages, these scripting things are very user-friendly, but have limited capabilities. They only let the user choose out of a predefined list of tasks, but it means you can actually do something in the game engine. There are some valid arguments, that scripting is a kind of programming - that there are algorithms, that there's debugging, that you need to actually know the commands and use them in a correct syntax.

Still, in reality, calling scripting programming is like calling chihuahua a real dog. Scripting languages used in the gaming engines are usually even less complicated than IRC scripts. Think of it in terms of advanced usage of MS DOS rather than actual coding. What's more important, most of the companies are either using their own engines with their own scripting languages, or are using purchased engines, but modify the scripting language to match their needs. This means that if you apply for an entry level job that needs scripting, most of the time you won't be actually expected to know the scripting language the company uses. They will expect you to know what scripting is, to be willing to learn how to script in their engine and to have some basic understanding of logic.

Therefore, while programming and artistic skills are actually required for the jobs they are associated with, scripting is an additional skill that will help you do your job with the core skills that are required, like animating or writing. This means, that when you are applying for an entry level job, the breakdown of required skills looks like this:

Artistic skills refer explicitly to visual arts, as these are topic here.
Let me rephrase that, because I am immensely enjoying this conclusion. One (1) job needs programming skills in AAA gamedev. Two (2) jobs need visual artistic skills in AAA gamedev. Thirteen (13) jobs, among these six (6) jobs in actual development need neither programming nor artistic skills in AAA gamedev.

"What can you do in gamedev without being able to code or at least draw some art?" - now you can easily answer!

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  1. Interesting blog, however I will disagree with you that animators don't need artistic skills.

    Ok, there is no need to know how to mix paints but there is a serious need to know about composition and knowing how to draw is a massive bonus.

    Anyway keep posting, it's good stuff.

    P.S. you can guess what sort of role I had in the industry. ;-)

    1. Hello John!

      Thank you for the kind words. The article was written as a reply to all the nay-sayers that claim that without either being able to draw or code you are useless in the industry. I agree, that I might have taken a quite extremely opposite stance and could have oversimplified some things, mostly to keep the whole argument within a readable length :)

      Also, I am writing about entry level skills, and - correct me if I'm wrong - I think an animator doesn't necessarily need to know how to draw when he applies for the position of a Junior Assistant to the Junior Animator :) Sure, he needs artistic skills, but for example being a decent photographer (knowing about the colors, composition, scene dynamics) could probably easily make up for not being able to draw.



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