Hey everyone! Welcome to “Getting Noticed: Why you need a portfolio site and how to make one.”Please turn off your cellphones or set them to vibrate, and don’t forget to fill out your feedback forms and hand them in to one of our awesome green-shirted conference associates at the end of the session.
“I want to make games.”“I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes, but I never get any responses.”This is how almost every conversation that I have with an aspiring game developer starts.
I imagine that a lot of you attended the earlier talks today – about networking with professional game developers and how students can jump-start their careers. Networking is really important. The old adage, “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know” really holds true in this industry. No matter how talented you are, you really need to get people to see your work, and the best way is by talking to someone in game development.
Events like GDC really give you a leg up on the competition, especially if you’re a student – they let you get face-time with professional developers like me and that’s really the key to getting into this industry. But what do you do once you meet a developer? What do you show them that proves to them that you can do the job?
You NEED an online portfolio. It doesn’t matter whether you want to be a designer, a programmer, an effects artist, a sound designer, a concept artist. You NEED a portfolio site. It will be one of your most important tools in the job search. It drives me nuts when I find out that a game development program doesn’t require their students to make an online portfolio.
To send them out into the world without one is like sending them adrift in the ocean without a life-jacket.
So, why am I up here, talking to you about this today? My name is Jacob Minkoff and I’m a game designer at Naughty Dog. I recently worked on the very well-received Uncharted 2.But I haven’t always been a successful developer. In fact, it’s only recently that I managed to get hired by a good company and ship a good game. Until then end of 2008, I was Lead Designer at a company I helped to found back in 2003 called Blue Omega.
About a year after I graduated from college, after taking some terrible jobs in web and interface design, I was working with a couple of guys who wanted to make videogames. We put together a mod team that we called Blue Omega and entered the Make Something Unreal Contest with our mod, “Damnation.” We won second place.
Years later, after many trials and tribulations, we went on to get a contract with Codemasters as our publisher. I will forever be thankful for their faith in us. They gave a struggling mod team a chance to make a professional multiplatform console game. They were a fantastic partner and supported us through to the bitter end when we ultimately shipped a full retail version. It didn’t do terribly well.But that happens. It sucks! It sucks for the developers. It sucks for the publisher. It sucks for the investors. But sometimes, despite everything you do, despite all the hours you put in, you can’t get the team to pull together, the vision gets compromised, and the game is stillborn.
Everyone on that project worked incredibly hard, putting in late hours and working on the weekends for months on end. We all did our best and it simply wasn’t good enough.
Making games is hard. Plain and simple. Think of how often you hear that a game has been pushed back or canceled. Recently, think of how many studios have closed and their whole teams laid off. Things go wrong all the time in game development and it always feels like a miracle when you finally ship the game.
Sadly, that miracle is often not enough to save a struggling studio. So even veteran developers, after years spent at one studio or on one project, regularly find themselves job searching again.
In my case, when Blue Omega went under, a former colleague of mine from there – Justin Richmond – put in a good word for me at Naughty Dog. How had he gotten hired? The in-house recruiter at Naughty Dog had seen his online portfolio and gave him a call.No matter if you’re a student or if you have decades of experience under your belt, as a game developer, chances are you’re going to spend most of your career jumping between different studios. It’s a volatile industry and you have to be willing to go along for the ride, but that means that you need to take precautions. Portfolio sites aren’t just for students.
You need your life jacket standing by in case the ship you’re on starts going down.
Your goal with a portfolio site is to decrease the barrier to entry for someone hiring you. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to see your work, quickly decide that it’s good, show it to their colleagues, and give you a call. The easier you make it for someone to see your work, the more likely you are to get hired. Period. There is no easier way for someone to see your work than with an online portfolio.
Here are some common problems withjob applications:Printed Portfolios: Don’t hand anyone a printed portfolio. I’ve tried to be polite and take those things back to the office, but they’re way too heavy and bulky. Even if you mail them to the office, they’re easy to lose and a pain to hand around. Physical Media: Don’t hand anyone a CD or a DVD or, god help you, a VHS. I don’t have a DVD player at my desk. I don’t have Divx installed at work. My CD drive barely even works, and I haven’t had a VHS player in 10 years. Ask any developer or recruiter and they’ll tell you the same thing.Now, you may feel like you’re getting…
…unfairly dealt with, but you have to remember what your application says about you.
If a developerhas to work hard to decipher an application, then that in itself implies that the applicant is probably not a very good communicator. Additionally, it also implies that they may not know how to make a polished, usable product.
Game development is all about usability and the visual display of information so your application should reflect your mastery of those subjects.
Getting back to why you need a portfolio site -- making a portfolio site will help you mature as a developer. Most people discover that once they sit down and try to make a portfolio site, they have nothing to put on it! They have all sorts of different pieces, but each one has some sort of problem with it. They find that they actually don’t have a single piece that they can put up on their site and feel 100% confident in it displaying their talent.
It’s like having a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear. Perhaps each thing they’ve made works well in context of the game it was made for, but on its own it looks somewhat unremarkable. Or it looked good when they made it, but it has aged poorly. That forces them to delve into the medium even further. In trying to make something representative of their skills, they find that they learn even more about their chosen concentration.
One of the character artists on Uncharted 2, Hanno Hagedorn, sits right behind me at work. Recently, for about a month, I saw him at work late every night and every weekend – sometimes even passed out at his desk -- working on his portfolio. He didn’t want to show screenshots of his models in-game, he wanted to show off all the modeling work that he put into them.
All of the fine detail of a model gets lost in the richness and complexity of a full frame. He wanted people viewing his portfolio to really be able to focus on what he did and how well he did it. Just rendering out some model shots to his satisfaction turned out to be a massive task. Here you see an image of Lazarevicfrom Uncharted 2 in-game.
And here he is in Hanno’s portfolio.Hanno learned more about sub-surface-scattering and other rendering tricks in Maya while making this image than he’d ever learned during the course of the project.
In the case of the characters Chloe and Elena, he only modeled the body – not the faces, so he needed to represent that on his portfolio site. Now, he could have simply written next to the images, “I didn’t do the face.” But, instead, he made that information into part of the composition by breaking the face and making it look like a plaster sculpture. He took what could have been seen as a downside to his work, “I didn’t do the face,” and turned it into a positive, “Look at these cool, sculptures I made!”
Again – it’s all about how your site presents you as a professional – as someone with passion who will polish anything they work on to a glossy shine.Just committing to making a site will force you to become a more professional, more talented game developer.
So, now that you’ve decided to make a site, you need to figure out what to put on it. First, ask yourself what you want to do. Do you want to be a Designer? Programmer? Artist? Writer? Animator? Sound Designer? Believe it or not, many aspiring developers neglect to answer this first, and most important question. In fact, many professional developers who have experience in many parts of development struggle with how to represent themselves on their resume and portfolio.
In order to get hired, you have to know what you want to do. Specialization is at the core of this industry. Of course, it’s great if you know a lot about all different parts of development. A designer who can also program or who is a very good modeler is a great asset to any team – but they’re still a designer first and foremost. You need to focus on one discipline as your strength.Up on the screen, you can see a simple list of possible careers. Each of these has sub-categories that go into more specifics.
For instance, a programmer can focus on Gameplay, Physics, Rendering, AI, Tools, Networking, etc. An asset artist can model environments and/or texture them, model characters, make particle effects, make animated or physics objects, light the environments, simulate their destruction, etc.The more you specialize, the better your work will get when it comes to specific elements of that discipline.
If you try to get GOODat EVERYTHING, you’ll never get GREAT at ANYTHING. Specializing also makes it easier for recruiters to envision how you would fit into their team.
Speaking of specialization,I want to take a moment out here to mention that, in my experience, educational institutions are WAY behind the times when it comes to career advising. I had a student come up to me recently and tell me that he wanted to be an effects artist. He loved making explosions. His career advisor had told him to focus on 3D modeling instead. His career advisor was a…
Well, his advisor was ill-informed….Modeling is one of the most over-saturated fields in the industry. It’s extremely hard to get into. That doesn’t mean you CAN’T get in – just that if you like something else more (such as effects), you should focus on that instead.
Effects, Lighting, Dynamics – these are all artist positions that are increasingly in demand. These are things that Environment Artists used to do as part of their job, but as games become more complex and the visual fidelity approaches that of feature films, we’re starting to need dedicated people to fill positions that, until recently, didn’t provide enough work to fill a full-time job. That’s what I mean about educational institutions being behind the times. This industry changes incredibly quickly. Game development is always on the bleeding edge of technology. If you’re not actively engaged in game production or regularly talking to people who are, then you simply have no way of knowing what sort of skills are in demand right now. It changes all the time.On Uncharted 2, we had 3 effects artists and, frankly, we needed more. We also had multiple Dynamics artists – people whose job was exclusively to simulate and pre-compute the interactions of physics objects in the game, like the ones you’re seeing onscreen right now.
For instance, in the collapsing building sequence that we showed at E3 last year, we had someone whose job was to simulate the animation of all the desks and other junk bouncing around in the room. Of course, there’s real physics going on in there too – but only on the medium sized stuff. Anything really big or really small is pre-calculated. That is someone’s full-time job, and it’s unlikely to be suggested by a career advisor. They just don’t tend to be well-enough informed.So, again, specialize. If you think you’d really get a kick out of doing something like that – focus on it. There will be fewer total job postings you can respond to, but your likelihood of getting the job will be much, MUCH higher since you’ll have very little competition.
Ok. Once you’ve chosen your career, you need to choose your genre.
If you want to make games like Uncharted 2, then create art, or design documentation, or tech demos that would be applicable to a game like that. So let’s say, for instance, if you’re an artist, don’t just draw a bunch of anime characters. Don’t just model an orc.
The web is full of grey monsters, but there aren’t that many opportunities to do monsters in games. I mean really, think about it. How many games have monsters in them compared to all the games that have realistic-looking humans? Nearly every World War II game, every urban open-world GTA-type game, every modern military game – they all have tons of human models and no monsters. The truth is that monsters are fun to model, so that’s why people model them. They’re also, unfortunately, very easy to model compared to a realistic human. When looking to hire a modeler, Naughty Dog is unlikely to hire anyone who has a portfolio full of grey monsters. It’s cool to have something like a monster to show your creativity, but you want to balance it out with some great human models. Also, bear in mind that many game studios require their character modelers to also texture the models.
Naughty Dog is one of those studios – so just showing a grey model will work against you as well. Of course, if you’re no good at texturing, then certainly focus on your modeling. Showing no texture work at all is better than showing bad texture work. But showing that you understand how to texture can really give you a leg up. Yes, that goes against what I said earlier about specialization – but you have to know the industry. Make sure that you don’t overspecialize. A character modeler who doesn’t know how to texture is too specialized for the games industry – not for movies mind you, but definitely for games.
It’s like the quote often attributed to Einstein, “simplify as much as possible but no further.”Basically, regardless of what your concentration is – you just want to make sure that your work is relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you’re a designer and you want to work on an FPS, you need to do FPS level design. If you’re a composer and you want to score the next God of War, your demo mp3s need to be epic, orchestral pieces – not techno.
Ok, so you know what you want to do and you know what genre you want to do it for. Great! Now it’s time to make your portfolio site! But what do you put on it? Developers and recruiters want to see that you already know what it takes to make a game. In order to get hired to make games, you have to already make games.
It’s a Catch-22. So how do show them that you can make games if you’ve never made a game before? Simple! Make a game!
Designers: Buy a game with an editor such as Unreal Tournament 3, Oblivion, or Crysis and start making levels. Buying an existing game will give you access to shippable art and levels which you can hack apart to make your own. Otherwise, the Unreal Development Kit is available for free.Programmers: Make a tech demo or a cool utility or get into the demoscene.
Y’know, our co-president, Christophe Balestra, actually came from the demoscene. These are some shots of the demos he made on the Amiga back in the day.
Actually, The Unreal Development Kit is a good call for programmers too.Artists and Animators: Make models, textures, mattepaintings,etc. Ideally, import them into a game engine like the ones I’ve listed.Sound Designers: Compose music, or re-foley an existing game.Writers: Well, your task is more difficult. You can write game screenplays and dialogue trees, but it’s going to be hard to get someone to read them. It takes WAY longer to read a script than it does to browse a gallery or watch a couple of videos. In your case you really need to consider getting your dialogue into an actual game. For that, you’ll need to collaborate.
Actually, that goes for everyone! Team up if possible. Work together with people from other disciplines to make a fully-fledged indie game. Working with other people will show that you know how to collaborate – which is absolutely key to the industry. Personality and the ability to work with others can be a higher priority when hiring for game development than the actual technical skill of the applicant.
Anyways,I cannot stress this point enough – you MUST make game content if you want to be hired to make a game.
Ok, so you’ve made a game. Or, at least, something that is clearly game-related. Now, you need to display it in the most impactful way possible. You’re ready to start constructing your website.Now, this is daunting to many people – and rightfully so. You have to get web hosting, register a domain name, ftp to your server, learn HTML, learn php, learn CSS, design a layout in photoshop, cut it up, convert it to html or CSS, and then you have to continue maintaining the site as you have new and better work to show. Eventually the site gets outdated and you have to redo it from scratch. It’s complicated, it’s time consuming, and it can be expensive.Or, you could do everything quickly, easily, and for free.
At wordpress.com, you can start a blog for free. They give you 3 gigs of storage space and you can host pdfs, word docs, and still images.
Wordpress is a very powerful website authoring system. The software is free to download at wordpress.org and it’s pretty much the standard back end for portfolio sites. Unfortunately, it can be tricky or expensive to install and maintain on your own webspace. But at wordpress.com, it’s already pre-installed and free.
Editing your site is simple. They have a GUI editor that you can use to make the site. They have all sorts of different themes you can choose from and I had no trouble finding one I liked.
They won’t let you host video on their site unless you buy an upgrade, but they WILL let you embed youtube videos – so I just made a free Youtube account and uploaded whatever I wanted.
On top of that – the site is automatically converted to a mobile-friendly version as well.
After 3 days, with zero financial investment, I had a site that was better looking, easier to navigate, and MUCH easier to maintain than my previous custom html and CSS site. You can view it at jacobminkoff.com
Wordpress will also let you buy a domain name if you want your site to seem more legit. It’s a little pricey compared to something like godaddy.com, but it’s incredibly easy. Just click “upgrades” in the dashboard, type in the domain that you want, and for $15 per year you’ll have a legit domain name.So, basically – you can have an professional-looking and easy-to-maintain site set up for free in just a weekend or two of concerted effort. If you want it to have a domain name, then it’ll cost you a little more than a buck a month.
Now, I’m not a Wordpress salesman. I’m not saying that this is the only way to go about it. This is just the best method I found when testing out various options. And, of course, it has its downsides too. The number of total themes available is limited, you can’t ftp into the server so you’re limited to using their semi-slow browser interface, they don’t let you edit the CSS unless you buy an extra upgrade, and there are much cheaper ways to register domains.
If you want more flexibility, there are lots of good options. For instance, go to wordpress.org/hosting/ and you’ll find sites that will install Wordpress for you on your own hosting space. And bear in mind that Wordpress.com isn’t the only free website hosting service. Google runs one too, and there are any number of others, like Webs and Weebly. They each have different strengths and weaknesses – generally relating to domain names, server space, and what content they’ll let you host. Experiment a bit and see which ones you like! Or there are sites like Squarespace that have a much sexier GUI that allows you to set up your own layout with really cool drag and drop tools.
One of our concept artists at Naughty Dog – Robh Ruppel – built his site using Squarespace. He was able to make some rad image galleries and a really slick looking, easy to navigate site with it. Of course, Wordpress is free and Squarespace is a minimum of $8 a month, so you always come back to the budget concern especially if you’re a student. Also, Squarespace won’t run as well as wordpress on older, slower computers or smartphones. It does, however, excel at making large image galleries. So it’s a tradeoff. If you have tons of images you want to show and you want a really good built-in image viewer, then squarespace may be the way to go. But, if you can get away with it, Wordpress will run better and more reliably on more platforms.
The whole point is that you don’t need technical ability in order to make a website anymore. You don’t need to be a web designer. You don’t need to hire a web designer. You don’t have to write a single line of HTML.
Tools like Wordpress and Squarespace are so user-friendly that even the least-technically-savvy among us can still make a really slick-looking site. And, these aren’t the only options. As I’ve said, there are tons of other middleware possibilities out there.
Of course, if you’re comfortable getting your hands dirty setting up web-hosting and writing your own site, then that’s great! But for the rest of us who don’t want to get into the technical nitty-gritty and just need a site that’s cheap and easy to maintain – something like wordpress.com is a great bet.
So now that you’ve decided on some form of hosting – free or otherwise – you have to start planning out your layout.
First, start with the background. You want something really vibrant that will draw people’s attention.
Choose a font that matches nicely.
Consider adding your face – that way people will really know that it’s your site.
Make sure that all your important links blink. Add some rotating skulls. And finish it all off with a flash intro that takes slightly longer to load than the development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever.In all seriousness, though, I’ve seen portfolio sites that look like this. In fact, I’ve seen worse. I once received an application from a modder whose handle was something along the lines of
… “peeonmyface.”Now, that might be a fine name on some mod community forums, but it’s not great for a job application. No matter what you see on community forums – this is NOT an ok professional name.
So, rules to make your site look professional:
Rule #1: Make your site look normal. Make it look professional. Fit the standards of other websites that people are used to navigating. This is particularly easy if you’re going with wordpress. Just choose a clean, easily readable theme and you’re done.
Rule #2: No Flash -- Flash requires a plugin that people may not have installed (especially at work),can take a long time to load, runs poorly on slow computers, and isn’t iphone compatible. Don’t forget, many professionals travel with netbooks these days, and those things are really weak. If you’re a UI designer, then you can get away with a Flash-based UI demonstration, but don’t ever use it for core site navigation. Personally, I’d recommend avoiding Flash entirely if you can since that’s just one more barrier to people being able to see your site.A good example of a site NOT to use is Wix. It’s free and the sites it makes look really cool, but they’re all made of super-complicated Flash, so loading and navigating them is hellish. I groan every time I see a portfolio site hosted on Wix.
Rule #3: Quick loading content -- When making screenshots and videos do everything in multiple resolutions – one for quick loading and another for scrutiny. Wordpress and Youtube both do this automatically. You can see the automatically generated thumbnails for my screenshots in this image, and of course Youtube now has the HD button. Also, don’t use videos with weird codecs. By all means host an hdvid on your site if you want to, but make it optional. Put your stuff on YouTube and embed it.
Rule #4: Don’t rely on people being able to run executables or game levels. Make videos and screenshots of everything, just like you see on my site. Many great tools exist for capturing video. Fraps and Camtasia are some of the standards.If you’re a programmer, post the executable, a video of what the executable does, and your source code. If you made a level in Unreal Engine 3, take a video flythrough of the level and show people playing it. If you made a complete game, cut together a trailer for it.
The truth is, people are unlikely to download and play your mod pack or executable, at least until you get the first interview. If it requires that they have another game installed to run your mod, then they may never run it. You can actually use this to your advantage! Make the video and screenshots of your game look awesome! Who cares if the game is buggy as heck?! The screenshots won’t show that! Take all the best pieces of everything that everyone on your team made and cut it together into a kickass trailer. This is a great collaborative project since you can use stuff from every discipline in your trailer.For example, here’s a trailer that I made for the mod version of Damnation way back in 2004, before I had any professional experience. It’s not professional quality by any means, but I think it’s still a good target for an indie project.
It’s short, it’s to the point, it gives you the feeling that with a bigger budget, maybe these modders could do something really cool. Also, let me note that since the trailer showcases work from everyone on the team, they can all put it on their portfolio sites.
Bear in mind, though -- keep your videos short. The longer they are, the less likely people are to watch them all the way through. People have short attention spans. Remember, I have to resort to feeding you guys a steady diet of lolcats to keep you focused on my talk.
Up on the screen is a graph showing the falloff of viewers of web videos, taken from video2zero.com. They measured 22 million unique streams of 200,000 videos and came up with some interesting numbers. As you can see, there’s an appreciable drop in the number of viewers after only 10 seconds. After 1 minute, the viewers drop by more than 50%! The conventional wisdom for a Hollywood feature film trailer is that 2 minutes and 10 seconds is the absolute max, but you can see that by 2 minutes, only 20 out of 100 web video viewers still remain.
Now, I don’t know how accurate these numbers are, but the general point holds. Show you best stuff up front IMMEDIATELY to try to hook people. Then keep it coming, fast and furious. If you don’t grab them in the first few seconds, you’ve lost them. If you keep it going for too long after that, then you’ve also lost them.
If you’re curious to see how the content viewing stats shake out for your site, you can use Google Analytics. Wordpress also has some basic stat tracking built in.
By the way, going back to the Damnation trailer. That trailer plus a 25-page game design doc are what sold Damnation. You can see a few pages from that doc up on the screen. A quick note here – you’ll see that the documentation is extremely visual. The fact is that people are unlikely to read a big block of text if you drop it in front of them. That’s why writers have so much trouble getting into the industry.
The more attractively you display your documentation, the more likely someone is to page through it. Your best-case scenario is that they will skim it quickly, leafing through it and looking at all the cool diagrams and illustrations. Then, that will pique their interest enough that they go back through it and start reading the text next to the coolest illustrations to find out more about why the pictures look so cool.This goes for programmers too! Make sure that you always communicate your work graphically. A programmer who shows that they can clearly communicate what they do even to the layman is a huge asset to any company.Anyway, this strategy worked for Blue Omega. We were a completely inexperienced mod team, many of us straight out of college, and we got a multi-million dollar contract by simply putting our stuff together in a professional-looking fashion.
Now, admittedly, we kind of flubbed the landing, but that’s beside the point. The point is that it got us into the industry in the first place! It got our collective feet in the door and most of the team went on to have vibrant careers in the industry even after Blue Omega failed. A decent mod, well presented on your portfolio site could do the same for you. The end of a company can be an opportunity, not a curse – as long as you have a portfolio ready to go when the headhunters come calling.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel really bad about Damnation. I wish there was some way I could have saved it. I feel terrible for letting our publisher and investors down. But a failed game isn’t the product of an individual. Game development is collaborative. It takes a whole team to make a great game or to sink it. Any number of team members can be doing good work on a project that ultimately fails. People remember individual developers. A failed project doesn’t mean the end of your career.
If you worked hard, if you did great work under the circumstances, if you killed yourself trying to save a failing project, people remember that. I may not have been able to save Damnation, but my hard work on that project gained me friends, experience, and portfolio content that ultimately lead to a new, even better job. The same is true of many other members of the Damnation team.
By the way – going back to design docs for a moment, those can be a good thing to collaborate on. If you’re a designer, you can work with an artist on one or youcan hack together some images on your own.
One of the things on my site is a random game concept I came up with called Wolves. I think it would be a great game and I’m 100% confident in the concept, but I don’t expect it to ever get made. I just have it on my site to show my ability to communicate design concepts. Sometimes I get asked about the docs on my site. People ask me, aren’t you worried about your ideas getting stolen? No. No I am not. I’m a game designer. I have a million ideas.
My job is to come up with ideas as quickly as possible, communicate them clearly, and test them out. A designer who isn’t willing to throw ideas around willy-nilly probably isn’t worth hiring. The same thing is true of concept artists. Ideation is all about throwing around interesting concepts as quickly as possible in the hopes that some of them will have merit. There’s no such thing as a successful idea. There’s only successful execution.
Games are really, REALLY hard to make. Like, incomprehensibly hard – so hard, that every time I get about halfway through a project I think to myself, “Damn! I forgot how hard this was!” The human mind rebels! It will not allow us to remember the acuteness of the pain of development.
Damnation and Uncharted actually have many similar IDEAS behind them – linear and story-driven, combination of 3rd person, dual-analog shooter and acrobatic platforming, unique vertically-oriented multi-tiered multiplayer levels – but one of them has superb EXECUTION and the other… doesn’t. Now that’s not to say that Uncharted 2 didn’t ALSO have some superior ideas behind it that drove the execution – it did! – but the proof is in the pudding as it were.
So, share! Share your ideas! Don’t hold on to them. Put them on your portfolio site! Share them with wild abandon, knowing that no-one would ever execute them the way that you will (whether you succeed in realizing your vision or not). And remember -- everyone else has their own million ideas that they want to make. Their own pet projects. If they ever get the freedom and the budget to make a unique new intellectual property, they’ll make their own ideas! Your idea is safe.
Alright, so, going back to your site -- you need to display your content clearly. Assume that the person looking at your resume has no industry experience. Make it comprehensible to the layman. Think of it like the extras on a DVD rather than a white-paper in a scientific journal.
Let’s go over your site map briefly. You want your site to be pretty small so that it’s easy to see everything quickly. The user will want to see your work, make a decision about its quality, find out a little about your career, and then (hopefully) find your contact info ASAP. Thus, you want your site to be divided into the sections above. (We’ll go over each of these in detail now).
Home – a very simple intro page that clearly states what the site is. Here’s the home page from my site. You should have one, very quick-loading item on the front page that shows off your best skills. That will make the viewer more willing to delve further into the site. I have a screenshot of the train sequence that I did in Uncharted 2 since I feel that that is my very best work.
Remember Robh’ssite? Same deal with his.
Next up, you’re going to want to display your best professional work. This can be either a blog page or a gallery. To make sure that the viewer understands what went into making each piece, you need to think about DVD extras again. Director’s commentary. You need to put your work in context. For every piece you put on your site, clearly show what you did on it.
Something that you did very quickly may not look amazing, but it may be impressive that you were under such a tight deadline. Here, you can see some of the Tibetan villagers from Uncharted 2 as they appear on the portfolio site of Darcy Korch – one of our character artists. They don’t look as impressive as that image of Lazarevich that I showed earlier, but Lazarevictook 2 MONTHS. The villagers were done, from scratch, in 2 DAYS.
Thus, you want to note the speed at which the models were made right near the image on your site. You can see the description below the head.
For another example, remember that Damnation trailer? I did the motion graphics and the editing but I got the art assets from other people, so I note that right above the video on my site. It’s important to let people know what you didn’t do as well.
Another quick note about presenting your professional work is that you don’t have to present ALL of it. Here are two images from the portfolio of Shaddy Safadi – one of our concept artists. These pages come from a style guide he made. What’s great about these is how quickly you can absorb his graphic design skills. He didn’t post the whole style guide – just a collage of it and then one sample page. Again – the more quickly someone can skim your work and get an idea of your skills, the better.I keep going back to site navigation speed here because you have to remember that recruiters see tens of thousands of resumes and portfolios – the great majority of which are crap. So anyone reviewing your portfolio is going to initially have an unfavorable view of it.
In their eyes, you’re basically presumed guilty of wasting their time until proven innocent. Don’t blame the recruiters – blame the people submitting crappy portfolios! Anyway, you want to prove your innocence as quickly as possible by showing them something awesome. The worst possible thing would be to have your site contain material that would get you hired, but to have it be so hard to find that they close the site without seeing it.
Alright, on to the next section – Personal Work. Divide your website into personal and professional work. Additional content (such as photography or sculpting that you do) can be interesting, but make sure that your personal and professional work is clearly separated
If you have lots of content, add sub-categories if you must, but try to be sparing. Certainly, I could have had separate pages for game design, level design, motion graphics, etc – but that would have made site navigation difficult.
You don’t want your content hidden too deeply – it has to be available within only one or two clicks. Instead of having lots of categories, I just have my best, most recent work on one page and relevant older stuff on another.
I lumped personal work and older professional work together to make it even more concise and because, in my case, they’re thematically similar. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether that works for you.
Sometimes I suggest that students have Educational work sections as well if they did a lot of school projects that they want to post. But, remember – you want to get rid of anything old that doesn’t represent your current level of talent. I got rid of all my old Damnation level design work once I shipped Uncharted 2 since it was no longer representative of my skill-level. So student projects should remain on your site only as long as they are relevant.
Another important note: Some people try to pad their portfolios with tons of work – drawing from every talent or hobby they have rather than focusing on the stuff they rock at. A portfolio site CAN hurt you if you put stuff on it that’s no good.Like, for instance, it’s better to have a simple, generic business card than one with hideous design. So if you just dabble in something and you’re not 100% confident in its quality, leave it off your professional portfolio site. A few great pieces are better than tons of mediocre ones.Also, regarding personal work --
don’t post things that are not work-appropriate. Or if you must, then make sure that the user has to click through a censored version of the image first. Remember that people are, by necessity, going to be viewing your site at work.
The next section of your site is the Bio -- a bio is like a cover letter – use it to explain what sort of person you are. Let your passion for games come through here. People argue over whether you should have a picture of yourself here. I’m undecided. On the one hand, it makes it more personal. On the other hand, people make snap-judgments based on appearance. I put up a video of myself being interviewed because I know that benefits me in a professional context. It shows that I know how to talk to the press. Perhaps you have a video or image where you’re participating in a competition or event that is job-relevant. If you do, I’d say go for it.
As for your resume, put it in html and some sort of downloadable format like PDF. You can see that I have word doc and pdf download links at the top of the page. PDF is better than Word because it will always look the same on everyone’s machine. Your resume should be no longer than one page when printed out. Depending on your site layout and the end-user’s printer settings, you never know how the resume is going to print out, so that’s why giving a download link is helpful.
Everyone – no matter how illustrious their career -- can fit everything recent and relevant in one page. If you have many years of experience, you don’t need your earlier jobs where you were a QA tester. If you have no experience, there’s no amount of padding you can do to hide that – it’s your portfolio site that’s going to sell you by showing off your work, not your resume. Remember – this is going to be skimmed very, very quickly by recruiters and developers. The shorter you make it, the more likely that people will read the important bits that you really want them to see.
Once they read your resume, they’ll want your contact info. Email is a no-brainer, but here’s something that everyone thinks is crazy: put your cell phone on your site.
Yes, it’s scary to put information like that out on the intertubes. It’s potentially unsafe. But people actually get jobs this way. The guy I mentioned earlier -- Justin Richmond -- had his cell-phone on his website so it was easy for Candace – our totally awesome recruiter at Naughty Dog – to give him a call. Then, he put in a good word for me, so I got an interview opportunity. Basically – I wouldn’t be standing here today if he hadn’t put his cell on his site.
Finally, a News section or a blog can be useful for letting people see what you’ve been up to lately. It’s particularly useful for getting your site seen.
There are a bunch of things you can do to get exposure for your site. Again, we’ll go over each of these in detail.Firstly, submit to recruiters and job postings. Do the same thing you would have done with just your resume and cover letter, but include a link to your site now.
Get a LinkedIn account. Lots of recruiters just troll LinkedIn looking for potential hires. Put your portfolio site on your linkedin account and put your linkedin page on your portfolio site.
Post your work-in-progress on forums and link then your blog. This is where that News section comes in handy. There are tons of communities you can join to show off your work and get feedback.
If you’ve made a cool level in Unreal, join the Beyond Unreal forums and show it by posting screenshots and a description on your site and linking to them. If you’ve drawn an awesome sketch get on Deviant art and show it off there, hosting the high-res version on your personal site to drive traffic there. Or if you’ve gone all out and done a whole game, check out the Experimental Gameplay Project. Put a link in your signature on every forum you post to that goes to the News portion of your portfolio site.
There are all sorts of forums out there worth checking out. Communities like these are also a great sounding board for your work before you submit it as part of a job application. If you’re not sure whether the work is good enough to show off, these sites are great places to find constructive criticism from your peers. If they give it the thumbs up, you know you’re in decent shape. It’s always better to get a quick second opinion before you submit your portfolio. If you submit work that isn’t up to snuff, recruiters and developers may ignore your subsequent submissions since you’ve sort-of tarnished your name. Getting active in game development communities is a great way to build up a quality portfolio that has already undergone some field testing.
Make sure that the screenshots you’re showing off always have the url of your portfolio site embedded in them. That way it can spread virally but you’ll still retain credit for the piece. Like, for instance, this a personal piece done by Rob -– whose site you saw earlier. Someone might see this and make it their desktop background.
Then, when someone asks where they got it, the url is right there. No guesswork. The same goes for a rad rendering engine demo, or a cool audio mod, or anything else.
Another good example of a news section is SwedishCoding.com – the blog of Christian Gyrling – one of our AI programmers. The entry onscreen right now covers a Super NES emulator he wrote for fun back in the day.
Also, if you’ve got the chops, consider doing tutorial videos and giving stuff away for free. One of our background artists at Naughty Dog – Christophe Dess – does free tutorials and makes meshes are available for free download on his site. Both of these things drive a lot of site traffic.
In fact, if you google his name, you’ll find that the first several pages are all him thanks to those free modeling tutorials and meshes.
Another way to get your site seen is to network. Go to events like this one. Join the IGDA. Hand people like me your business card with the link to your site or get their email and permission to send them a link.Remember, anyone who has come to GDC to give a talk wants to be talked to. Talk to us! The whole reason we’re here is to talk to you!
And that’s about it! By now, you should have a good idea of why you need a portfolio site, what it should contain, and how to go about making it.Figure out what you want to do. Specialize. Make a game or at least make game-related content. Make sure that content is in the genre of the positions you want to apply for. Make your site easy to maintain and navigate by using software and hosting options like squarespace,wordpress, and youtube. Put ONLY your best work on your site – a handful of great pieces are better than a whole slew of mediocre ones. Any executable or downloadable level should be accompanied by screenshots and video. Put your work in context – let readers know exactly what you did and how long it took you. Get your site seen – submit it to every recruiter and community forum you can.
Also, if you take away anything from my experience, it should be that you can’t be afraid to fail. Maybe you WILL fail, and failing sucks! But the experience that you gain in failing is priceless. There’s no way that I would have landed a job at Naughty Dog if I hadn’t killed myself trying to make a great game at Blue Omega for 5 years. My time on that project taught me what people are looking for when hiring and it gave me the necessary content for my portfolio site. Get out there, make mods or indie games and you’ll be on your way to the same success story, even if it gets a bit bumpy along the way.
If you want to look at my site for reference, you can find it at jacobminkoff.com. The videos and design docs I showed are all up there. I will also be posting this talk along with all of the slides. Please, tell your friends and teachers about it. It’s very hard to find this sort of reference since publishers don’t generally release it.
Codemasters was EXTREMELY generous in giving me permission to show the Damnation materials so, please, everyone go out and thank them by buying their games. I mean it. Dirt 2 is a great game. Go get a copy.This is probably a good point to mention that you should regularly be asking for permission to show off assets that you worked on. Remember, if you get laid off or the company goes under, you want to have more than just the shipped game to show. You want design docs, models, screenshots of the tools you wrote, etc. Make sure that you get those assets and regularly ask your company for permission to show that stuff. By the time you’re laid off, it may be too late.
Finally, if any of you ever teach at a game design program – remember this. Get a mandatory portfolio development course implemented in the curriculum. My goal for this talk is to make sure that someday, there’s no reason for me to give it at all anymore.
And that’s about it. I’ll open the floor to Q&A now, but don’t worry if you don’t get your question answered. Just come up to me after the talk. That’s the whole reason I’m here!Also, please don’t forget to fill out those evaluation forms before you leave. Your reviews of these talks determine next year’s programming, so this is your chance to make your voice heard. It also determines whether they’ll ask me back to talk again!
Oh, and P.S. – We’re hiring.
Minkoff getting noticed-gdc_final
Getting Noticed<br />Why you need a portfolio site and how to make one<br />
“I want to make games”<br />“I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes, but I never get any responses.”<br />
Make a game!<br />Designers - Buy a game with an editor and start making levels.<br />Programmers - Make a tech demo or utility.<br />Artists and Animators – Draw concept art, make models, textures, etc.<br />Sound Designers - Compose music, re-foley an existing game.<br />Writers - Write scripts.<br />
Make a game!<br />Designers - Buy a game with an editor and start making levels.<br />Programmers - Make a tech demo or utility.<br />Artists and Animators – Draw concept art, make models, textures, etc.<br />Sound Designers - Compose music, re-foley an existing game.<br />Writers - Write scripts.<br />
Conclusion<br />Figure out what you want to do.<br />Specialize. <br />Make a game or at least make game-related content. <br />Make sure that content is in the genre of the positions you want to apply for. <br />Make your site easy to maintain and navigate by using software and hosting options like wordpress and youtube. <br />Put ONLY your best work on your site. <br />Any executable or downloadable level should be accompanied by screenshots and video. <br />Put your work in context. <br />Get your site seen.<br />