Game Design is as much an art form as painting or sculpting. Millions of people spend hours lost in the intriguing world of gaming. But who brings these worlds to life? Jared Brandjes talks about his degree at OWI and what to expect from Game Design.
I went to school at Benoni High School in Benoni, Gauteng. My high school subjects were Business Studies, Design, and IT – the two latter were my favourite subjects, and I achieved a distinction in both, along with a distinction in Maths Literacy.
When it was time to leave school, I was already very excited to start college, and didn’t really consider any other options like taking a gap year, even though a gap year can definitely help people who, for example, don’t have a clear idea about their future career path. I also stayed away from aptitude tests, since I knew what I wanted to do from very early on, and nothing was going to change that.
My love for design and animation can be traced back to my childhood. Already in Grade 6 I used my free time to teach myself and others how to do little 3D animations.
The Open Window Institute was the first search result for anything 3D animation related at the time, and so, I attended my first open day in grade 9. I then attended other Open Window events before I was enrolled, as I was very excited.
I then applied in about July of my Matric year, went through the entrance exam, which was a couple problem solving questions and a drawing, if I remember correctly. Also, had a chat with one of the lecturers as part of the entrance process, to kind of pick up if you will fit in or not.
The exam is really just there to see if you’re creatively inclined to study there.
Studies at Open Window
I decided to apply to OWI for various reasons. Firstly, the college offers plenty of variety – there are so many different courses, and first year introduces you to a large number of them. It allows you to experience other fields too, and be sure of what exactly you want. Secondly, studying at Open Window would get me a BA Degree, as opposed to a Diploma or Certificate. And thirdly, the quality of work I saw produced at the college was unmatched anywhere else in South Africa.
I studied toward the BA in Film Arts. I always tried to put in more than the basic required effort during my studies, to come out at the top. It’s not difficult to do when you’re passionate about what you study, and thanks to this, I completed my studies in 2015 and will be graduating in April/May.
Although I’ve always been a gamer and passionate about games, it wasn’t until last year that my career path changed from animation to game design.
I started programming and tackling challenges I had no idea how to tackle. This kind of challenge and creative thinking is very difficult but the reward is far greater to me than animating in the same fashion for hours. With gaming, there’s always a new challenge, specifically centered around that game. The challenge is always new and exciting. Don’t get me wrong, the amount of frustration far exceeds that of animation, but I love it anyway!
Tackling the Degree
Before studying at OWI, I attended a couple of open days, visited the 3rd year exhibitions and other events when they were on to really get a feel for the college and the quality of work. I spoke to the lecturers on open days and shared my thoughts on what I wanted to do and got sound advice in return, such as softwares to begin in, resources to check out and an idea of what the course entailed.
At Open Window, the college is divided into 4 schools, Design Studies, Film Arts, Animation Arts and Interaction Arts. Animation Arts is a new school, separated from Film Arts, that hosts all the 3D Animation and Game Design related courses now, with speciality in a vast range of categories from game artist to developer, from concept artist to animator. When I began this wasn’t the case and there were only two schools, Film Arts being one of them, which included 3D Animation and Game Design.
The 1st year of the Film Arts course was quite intense, as we had to do all of the pre-set subjects, which were tons of work (it has since changed, and students can now select which subjects to take). I was living at home and had to travel through to class everyday for 45min, so my work time was limited. The travelling was annoying at first but soon became a part of life.
I achieved distinctions for all of my subjects apart from my theory subject which I found a little harder as it wasn’t practical work.
My first 2nd year was really exciting as I was finally getting into my major courses –3D Animation– and also took AV studies, an introduction to using after effects and post processing work. I postponed my theory subject to the following year so I could focus on my passion.
We were taught:
- character design
The film I ended up making, Timmy, is still on the Open Window 3D animation reel.
I began with my other major, Interactive Design, which was focused on advanced web and app development, which I had been doing as a part-time job since I was 15. So after 3 weeks, I realised it’s not something I wanted to do for a whole year, so I changed to Game Design. At the time it was only a minor subject. I loved Game Design classes, which involved
- analysing other games
- conceptualising our own game
- creating the characters with specific game requirements
- making our own game.
The game I made by the end of the year, The Bob Adventures, is also still on the Open Window game design reel.
It being my second 2nd year, I had to take my theory subject and fortunately, Film Theory was introduced as a Film Arts theory subject rather than Visual Culture. Film Theory was tough and introduced many new concepts that required some processing to make sense of but I made it through the nerve-wracking exams. It was hard to balance the effort of studying whilst trying to make a game, so I would most definitely suggest doing the subject your passionate about in the year without your theory subject, if you do part-time.
My first 3rd year started up with 3D Animation and the electives that go with it, plus a sound elective.
In Animation we had to conceptualise a story for a short film and create a 2D animatic for it with sketched frames and basic sound, to ‘sell’ the idea. I conceptualised my film for the year, Endeavor, in the first term, which unfortunately didn’t make it through as one of the group projects (it was too ambitious).
The next few terms evolved around working on another project, Reach, which won the Golden Pangolin Award at the end of the year for best animated film. We went into more detail in animating, rigging and overall upped our game over the previous year of animation. The sound elective was great too, and I got to know Protools as another software for my arsenal.
My second 3rd-year was the best year by far. The OWI Game Design course was incredible.
In the course, we
- conceptualised games
- had classes with a foreign game developer/designer that has worked on AAA games that I’ve played like Thief
- learned more advanced programming
- took part in the Ludem Dare, an international game jam competition
- created a game called Jelly Terror, which we took to rage with us to show off
- We helped on a friend’s game, Sheepd
- I even created my own game in 3 weeks, Mars Missions, which is now available on the Appstore and Play store
Our group even won the Pangolin for best game for Jelly Terror. What a year!
On top of that, my theory was my best year. I hated doing the essays but ended up extremely proud of them after and got great marks for them as well as my exams which surprised me. For Game Design we also got to develop experimental technology using the Arduino micro controller, and I created a gun meant for First Person Shooter games (they had a mounted iPhone streaming the game from the computer that could measure your position in space and move you around in the game).[/su_spoiler]
I decided against doing Honours as I had the experience I needed from my studies and really wanted to get out into the world.
Here is the trailer to my game Mars Missions which I made in my final year:
I completed my first year with full-time study, then moved into part-time. I was double-majoring in 3D Animation as well as Game Design, so I had a lot of work and also juggled a freelance job, although my hours were flexible and allowed me to focus on my studies completely.
Studying with a fixed part-time job can be difficult if your employer is not
understanding. And to get good marks, you really need to put in the extra effort and many extra hours, which is easier as a freelancer. It’s definitely possible to work and study. It all comes down to how passionate you are.
After completing my studies, I began to work for Content Box, doing game and programming related tasks as well as freelancing for a company in London. When I do get a gap, I either play games or make games and I’m still busy with a big update for my own game, Mars Missions.
Over the course of my studies I’ve grown into a confident and enthusiastic person. I have surrounded myself with like-minded people, and roamed in an environment that helped me achieve my goals.
The advice that I would give to other students in the creative study field is this:
- Find something you love. It’s not a job when you’re passionate about what you do.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait until college or university to start your career.
- Use the Internet to learn. There are so many resources available for free to teach you almost anything. Google, Google, Google.
- online articles
- Youtube videos
- online forums
- Stackexchange (especially this one!)
Admission Requirements for a BA Degree at Open Window
- Matric (Grade 12 school leaving certificate)
- An artistic background or passion
If you are creative, like problem-solving and are fascinated by the world of computers and games, this could be a very interesting stream for you. You can combine this passion with anything too – teaching games, or memory games, or races. The codes are the limit! To read more about Jared’s work, check out his website.