Interactive Entertainment & Game Design '21
Why did you choose SCA?
I’m studying game design but also take programming classes through the ITP department as well as some graduate level animation courses within SCA. While game development is my passion, SCA gives me the leeway to try my hand at visual effects and other forms of immersive media outside of my major.
My search for game design programs started in a PC Gamer magazine. I saw The Princeton Review’s “Top Undergrad & Grad Schools to Study Game Design” list and began exhaustively researching every single program, their faculty, and most importantly their students and student work. Ultimately, no matter how notable the faculty are, the best test of a school’s performance can be judged by the quality of the current students’ work, so I played everything. Additionally, I reached out to alumni of a few of the top programs to see the big picture on what each of the programs had to offer as well as their shortcomings before I took a road trip to visit them. What I found was that the for-profit programs were traps: class credits couldn’t transfer, there was minimal financial aid, false promises with unreasonable goals, the school retained their students’ IP, burnt out their students, and really destroyed any passion for game development that was there in the first place. As for the other top universities, the sheer amount of resources available to the students and small class sizes at USC topped all. Yet while I toured most of the top programs as a high schooler, none of them at the time felt inviting. No matter how much free swag they threw at prospective students or school spirit they showcased, initially I didn’t feel very welcome at any of the schools. As someone who already had five years of experience in independent development at the time of applying for colleges, I was out of place wherever I went. I felt invisible, and I believe that’s something that many prospective college students feel too. There is no such thing as a perfect college, it’s just what you make of it. However, across the board USC Games at SCA is the closest thing there is to a perfect game design program and there’s plenty at our disposal to make something from it.
What's been the greatest challenging of coming here?
The biggest challenge for me at USC has been saying “no” to opportunities. Coming from a place where I was the only one my age making games and going out of my way to network and make opportunities out of thin air to LA where opportunities just land in your lap and having the luxury to be able to choose… it’s a big transition. I find myself always second guessing how I spend my time while trying to juggle everything. From being an RA, and now TA, volunteering at a non-profit, organizing a student org, hosting a weekly co-working space, working on personal and friends’ projects, applying for scholarships, and still trying to keep up a good GPA with a full course load... biting off more than one can chew is the easiest mistake one can make here. I pride myself on being self-sufficient, competent, and reliable even if it’s at the expense of myself. However, in the rare moments when I’ve had to step down from something, say “no” to a friend in need, or ask for help has been the hardest. USC will push you to your limits and then some. You’ll hate it, and then appreciate it afterwards.
Is there a particular project you've worked on or are working on that you're proud of?
I’m proud of almost everything I make. While I’ve done animation and artwork for some of the advanced games projects in the past as a sort of problem solver contractor and made many small comedy games, I’d like to plug my most recent project Post Hello. It’s a 3rd person narrative adventure game about experiencing life from the eyes of a deliveryman searching for fulfillment. Despite a rocky development cycle, meeting my experience goals with this project and making something very wholesome and sincere that so many people regardless of age were able to enjoy has been a nice experience.
Any advice for prospective students interested in your major?
I’ve met plenty of extremely talented and passionate developers who applied to SCA IMGD and didn’t get accepted, people who would have made fantastic additions to our program but didn’t make the cut. My peers and I are very lucky to be here. I can’t tell you what those in charge of admissions are looking for, it’s all a big mystery to me. My best advice for applying to IMGD is to never stop asking yourself why you want to make games and simply be yourself, that’s all you can do. Regardless of whatever happens just keep making games. Don’t wait for permission, don’t call yourself an aspiring developer, just make it happen. All you need to start your gamedev career is a computer, an internet connection, and lots of patience and passion. Game development is such a new and unexplored frontier that nobody knows what they’re doing, so you shouldn’t feel like an imposter. There are plenty of free online resources to learn and plenty of open source tools to assist in development. You don’t need a design doc, team, homemade engine, publisher, grand scope, fresh idea, or a redo – you just need patience and self-motivation. Make a lot of bad games, and eventually they’ll get better. There's no one correct path to a career in games, just focus on making the games you'd like to see in the world.
Steven Harmon is earning his B.A. Interactive Entertainment & Game Design '21, and from Denver, CO.