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The Guildhall

Game development now is a major enterprise, bringing together writers, artists, programmers, and strategists. The Guildhall shows that getting these savvy game designers trained is an even more serious endeavor.

Back when video games required cartridges, a clumsy controller, and a willingness to sit through hours of Pong, game development wasn’t too sophisticated. Usually, a developer would hammer away on a sluggish computer, hoping to craft something that at least one other person would want to play. In just a few short decades, how far we’ve come.

Game development now is a major enterprise, bringing together writers, artists, programmers, and strategists. Although it’s all about play, making games is serious work. Getting these savvy game designers trained is an even more serious endeavor. One new program is The Guildhall, part of Southern Methodist University, which lets future gamers train for 18 months to get valuable game development certifications.

With its first class of students starting in July, the program takes advantage of the deep gaming knowledge that exists throughout Dallas, at such companies as id Software, Ensemble Studios, Monkeystone Games, Ritual Entertainment, and Terminal Reality. Some designers from the companies will also be teaching at Guildhall.

To kick off the start of classes, the school brought in John Carmack of id Software to address the program’s first gamer students. What future developer wouldn’t be inspired to hear a few comments from the guy who programmed the 3D graphics engine for “Quake” and “Doom”?

The Guildhall also worked to do more than simply bring in game design teachers and make sure there were enough computers for everyone, however. It built the whole program with industry input to make sure that students would be trained to tackle both major and minor game issues.

This is not a program for hobbyists, in other words. The school wants to turn out the best and brightest in the game development world. To do that, class size is kept low. The program will enroll only up to 100 new students for each new cohort, and during six terms, students are asked to focus on one of three major disciplines: art, level design, or programming. Because game development is no longer a solo endeavor, with a lone game enthusiast hammering out some code, the student work in teams.

Guildhall believes the team approach is crucial, since all major games rely on the skills of several developers to get made. By working together, the students not only get a glimpse into their future working life, but also get a better idea about the business of making games. This means that they go beyond the nuts-and-bolts of development and learn about intellectual-property issues, storytelling, and art.

In fact, future Guildhall students may even receive a thorough education in game publishing. One of the school’s ultimate goals is to create a production company so that student projects can be published and played beyond Guildhall walls. Before that happens, though, students will have to be content with cranking out a number of games during the program. Looks like Mom and Dad should be getting some interesting holiday presents this year, eh?

By developing such a strong program, and building it with help from game industry leaders, The Guildhall has set out to make sure that gaming not only gets the credit it deserves, but also the skilled professionals that it needs. But despite the program’s newness, the students and faculty do know one thing already: Making games can sure be fun.

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