Gaming schools? When I stopped studying, the idea of schools teaching how to make games just didn’t exist. To me at least. WTF?!, is pretty much what I thought, when they started popping all over in the past few years. Now, they even have TV ads going all out, like it’s every parent’s dream that their kid ends up making video games: “You too can be a hero game designer, enroll now!”.
Weren’t the people that make games just born with the fire and skills? Someone tell me: what gaming schools did Miyamoto and Kojima attend? And who taught the Final Fantasy makers? The StarCraft guys?
Then I saw a couple interesting videos from students projects here and there on the web. And we started working, at what wasn’t called Gamocracy yet, with dotsMarc, who’s coming out of one French school, ENJMIN, himself. I met other students at the GDC. I even got a friend who got paid to do a talk about game design at the same school dotsMarc’s from. That was the last straw: if they put their hands in their pockets for a friend, these schools couldn’t be bad, could they?
I decided I wanted to check some out and found out a pretty big one is just a fifteen minutes walk away from home: I paid a visit to ISART Digital last week.
In the article below, I’ll introduce you to the school through various angles. I’ll try to be somewhat thorough. Serious and all.
ISART Digital ID
Passage du Cheval Blanc
2 rue de la Roquette
- Phone: +33 1 48 07 58 48
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web: http://www.isartdigital.com
- Founded in 2001 by Xavier Rousselle, who’s still the boss
- 400 students, approx. 15 by class
- 20 employees
- The school awards official State degrees in:
Game Design (see below)
Web Mobile Game (see below)
3D for movies
How to join
To join ISART Digital, students need a high school degree at least. For some of the majors, they might need a two-year university degree too. Candidates have to pass a test that’s mostly evaluating their cultural level and English skills. The test aims at making sure students are fit for creating in the digital era.
How it works
Every student at ISART Digital also has to be employed at a company where they’re doing work that’s related to their studies. We call that “apprenticeship” here in France, maybe elsewhere too? It’s mandatory for all school padawans, that’s where they really learn how to make good use of the Force. Each month, students spend one week in school and three weeks at work.
How much it costs
A year at ISART Digital costs approximately 6 000 €.
75% to 100% of the cost is paid for by the company that hired the student as an apprentice. Yes, that means the school is almost free of charge to the student! Thank you French laws, I love my country when stuff like that is actually working.
How to survive in the wild
This whole apprentice thing also means students get paid as employees by the companies that hire them. They receive something between 55% and 100% (which is approximately 500 to 800 € for three weeks of work/month) of the French legal minimum wage. Not bad, except for those willing to live in downtown Paris, where the school is, in which case they will barely have enough to pay for a “small” rent.
Video games require many different skills to make. Per Chris Deleon’s definition, you need images, sounds, songs, levels and code just to make one. ISART Digital teaches all that but sounds and songs.
Preparatory classes are open for students wiling to join right after high school graduation.
Visiting ISART Digital
While preparing my visit, I asked to meet students in the Game Design and Web Mobile Game majors because these are the ones I have the biggest interest in. I do a bit of rudimentary game deisgn here and there for Gamocracy. It might be what I like doing the most… I was also curious about Web Mobile Game because social and mobile games are becoming very big while still offering a great deal of freedom to designers and devs. And… Gamocracy is a social game on the web, too.
?#? Web Mobile Game ?#?
Head: Pierre Doulcet, a former web CTO who’s very much into games and of course everything related to web and mobile development.
This happens in September. By October, students have formed teams and by February they have developed an alpha version of their yearly project, a game of course. It has to be playable by then. Wait, let me count on my fingers… that’s only 4 months to develop a game with people you didn’t know before. Sweet!
Students in this major will soon get trained to use Unity, as it is becoming a major 3D web game engine.
Oh, and promotion is a main topic too. Students need to learn how they will draw players to their games. That is very important, and not so easy. I can tell…
Besides the head, Pierre Doulcet, I met Web Mobile Game students Aurélien Loos and Emilien Régent who explained all this to me. They also told me, as everyone else did throughout our talks, that studying at ISART Digital required a lot of work. While they have to deliver on fast paced school projects, students are also spending three weeks at their real job each month!
Aurélien has to be a stakhanovite. One game wasn’t enough: he’s working at two with two different teams. One is a game for kids and another is a strategy & management one. Emilien is doing one in the life sim genre.
Let’s see where they at in February!
?#? Game Design ?#?
Head: Christophe Thibaut, a former Ubisoft employee who worked on many many games there including Rayman 2, XIII and some Splinter Cells before he joined the global publishing board.
This major specifically teaches how to design games. There’s very little technical training, just some scripting with Virtools in order for a designer to be able to present devs with a working prototype.
During their two years in Game Design, students are taught formalization: how to present and communicate ideas to a team; level design: how to create compelling levels; and awareness. Well no one really uttered the exact word but…
“Awareness is everything” said a Zen Master. Or was it Jean-Claude Van Damme?! Anyway, really, my personal take on what Christophe Thibaut, the head of the section, and Allessandro Costa and Hamana Boulet, the students, told me, is that game designers need to be aware. Whether they come through criticism or sheer observation or the randomness of life, they have to welcome the truth, ideas and concepts while keeping an open, common sense-driven, mind.
This ain’t easy o_O. I don’t know how much a school can teach you that actually. I guess it can only assist those willing to go down this road.
Students in the Game Design major also have to make a game each year. They make teams where they mix with students from the Game Programmation and Game Art majors and go for it! Some of these games, such as IFluid in 2008, end up on Gamocracy, Steam and the likes (noticed how I put Gamocracy and Steam in the same sentence? And we’re ahead of course.)
Last year, a group of students made a game called Backstab. It got the Best Game Award at PLAY 2010, the yearly event organized by the school to celebrate graduations and the best students projects of the year. There’s a Flickr gallery if you’d like to see what it was like.
I met Grégoire Andivero, who was a Game Design student last year and worked on Backstab. We played it a bit together. It’s a multiplayer action game about collaboration and betrayal, or how much will you be able to trick your friend into trusting you before you turn your back on him and start firing… (something’s wrong with that metaphor, I know)
The game was done in eight months. It’s not ready for release yet, and might never be, but who knows, says Grégoire: “if it starts itching again…”. While the game is not being developed anymore, it’s shown at different contests and events around the country. Too bad I can’t show you any footage…
EDIT: Actually, here’s the trailer, everybody says thank you Alice.
In the meantime, after ISART Digital, Grégoire started another school this year. He’s an apprentice again, but this time in the music field. That will add to his game design and programming (yes, that too) skills. That might lead him to re-doing the sound of another game he already worked at, called Polarize.
France can feel safe, it will soon have its own one man game dev army.
Feelings, wohhhhhhohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Feelings
Some people are making sure we’re not done playing. I just didn’t expect there would be a hive of them so close to my garden. That doesn’t feel bad at all. In the course of one morning I’ve only seen driven people with a passion for games: from the students to the teachers to the school’s founder and PR team. These guys are moving forward all the time, breeding a new class of flexible and creative workers.
I wonder if many schools have the same quality… and I can’t wait to see all these people mature and release more games. With the rise of smaller platforms, there’s even a chance they could bring some of their unbriddled creativity to the real world market of video games.
Thank you everyone!