Best place in SA to study game design

edited in General
Hey guys. Some of you might remember my story but I got a bursary to study computer engineering in the US. I've thought long and hard about this and decided that it's not for me and I've decided to come back to SA (you might think I'm crazy; Past me would think I'm also crazy). Anyways, I've learnt a lot about the fact that you should really do what makes you happy in life and I've decided I want to study game design.

Do you guys have any tips on what/where to study? I've heard a lot of good things about UCT's course but I'd prefer not to relocate (from PTA) unless it's really worth it. Something that I've noticed (please correct me if I'm wrong) is that a lot of the private universities' game design courses focus more on the art than the programming. I'm more technically minded (but still very creative) so I'd prefer a course with more of a focus on programming (and the other non-art aspects like game mechanics and level design). Wit's course (BEngSc Digital Arts) also looks really good and it seems to be exactly what I'm going for so I'll probably do that but I'm not a fan of the 1 hour commute times.

Any suggestions/input you guys have would be appreciated

Comments

  • The Wits course (as far as I am aware) has produced the most alumni who have gone into game development, certainly in the last couple years. The Wits faculty interacts regularly with the South African game industry, and we've had several Wits students intern at our studio (and currently employ one of the graduates). We have been impressed by the course and the students.

    We also employ two programmers who graduated from the UCT computer science course (a few years back). As I understand it UCT has a really excellent computer science course, but the game related parts of it are not focused at all on the creative aspects of game development (it's a very technically challenging course).

    I know Vega in Cape Town is starting a game development course, and I believe they have something in JHB. I don't think they've produced any graduates yet, but they have been interacting with the industry. I have no idea where in JHB Vega would be located.
  • Thanks a lot for the input. When you mentioned being impressed by the Wits students are you specifically referring to the BEngSc Digital Arts degree or both of their degrees in general?
  • My understanding about the Wits degrees, is that the game design module is available from two degrees, one of engineering and one of arts. I believe there's a whole lot of overlap in the course, though someone like @Bensonance would be able to fill you in better. But in general the game design course at Wits has impressed us (I don't know if one half is better than the other, but we've had interns from both sides and they've all seemed to be getting a good education).
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  • So the course is changing a lot all the time, and quite significantly. So my advice might be a bit out of date.

    The engineering side of the course seems alright, and gives you some low-level understanding of programming. You don't do anything more game-specific than the art side though. Plus, you spend so much time just trying to pass those damn hard engineering subjects. They're so hard you don't really have time to make games on the side, or spend a lot of time on your assigned projects.

    Even if you're technically-minded, I would probably recommend going with the arts side of things. You'll get a broad set of General skills, and the non-game specific courses you do can still help you a lot with games. Plus, you technically get the same amount of game-specific programming eduction (the engineers just get general stuff). Plus you'll have more time on the side to make your assigned projects better, and study technical stuff you're interested in.

    The Wits programme will have you making the most games of all the courses in SA during the four years. Plus, you'll have a general background in arts and writing.

    Generally, I think no course in South Africa is good enough for you to just let the curriculum be taught to you. There are holes in what is and can be taught to you, so you'll definitely need to be finding and researching stuff yourself.

    The most valuable part of the Wits course is that it's a community of people regularly making games. It's not high-quality or high-motivation, but it's rare to have that concentration of people your age and demographic doing the same thing as you. Helps you a lot

    Thanked by 2Elyaradine pieter


  • Generally, I think no course in South Africa is good enough for you to just let the curriculum be taught to you. There are holes in what is and can be taught to you, so you'll definitely need to be finding and researching stuff yourself.

    The most valuable part of the Wits course is that it's a community of people regularly making games. It's not high-quality or high-motivation, but it's rare to have that concentration of people your age and demographic doing the same thing as you. Helps you a lot

    If you want to make games, make games ;)

    But yeah, Wits has a really strong reputation and they've been outputting solid candidates for a number of years already. UCT produces really strong programmers (as Evan mentioned - they don't focus much on games) and Vega is only in its first year of the roll out of their game dev degree programme.

    But, ultimately, it really will be about what you put into any programme you join. You could join UCT but still not be a strong candidate in the end if you don't create a portfolio or practice your skills.
  • edited
    FWIW, there is some more discussion here that might have something interesting for you @charly.
  • For game programming, not game design, I suggest that you take a general computer science course and teach yourself game programming on the side. CS degree will give you strong foundation in logic, design patterns, algorithms, functional math, continuous math, shader programming, etc... But that is only for game programming, not game design. For game design I suggest the following book: The Art of game design-book of lenses, by Jesse Schell.
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    I'd just like to echo @EvanGreenwood's praise of the Wits course graduates. We've had employees from both tracks (art and engineering) and were very happy with both of them. We'd still have one from each track if Evan hadn't stolen our artist ;)

    I can't comment on the design aspect, but from both an art and programming point of view, these grads have been great. They're well rounded and extremely flexible and a pleasure to work with, soaking up new ideas and new tech like sponges :)

    So yeah, it looks like something you can commit to, and you want a qualification that prepares you well for the industry and leaves the door open for other opportunities, it seems you can't go wrong with Wits.
    Thanked by 2dammit EvanGreenwood
  • I am one of the students studying at Vega JHB enrolled in their Game design course, so I will tell you about what I have experienced so far, the game design aspects of the course is a decent split between art and technical details, the lecturers for both sides are competent and professional, they are willing to help and provide reliable information and advice to specifically cater to you that being said there are caveats to it, as a part of Vegas identity as a school of brand and communication you will have to attend lectures on subjects such as Brand and Marketing and Critical thinking, you will be expected to write exams and do reports for these subjects as well, I know there are a few students who dislike this as they aren't directly related to game design, however they do have their roles, both subjects will most likely be valuable should you choose to go indie.
    So far the pace of work has been steady but nothing too serious, I don't know if that will change with next years group of first years.
    On a final note be mindful that what you learn at Vega are components and building blocks, it is up to you to put these together into a game.
    If you would like to know any specifics feel free to ask me bear in mind I have little to no knowledge as to what will be covered in the later years, however I do know that the lecturers know, I believe they prowl these very forums as well, if you are interested I can try find their usernames so you can badger them for info.
    Anyway I wish you the best of luck and I hope you find a course suited to you.
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
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    @NoSpoons: I'd be keen to hear who the lecturers are, see what games they've worked on, find out what they plan to teach and why they think that the syllabus they've put together is the right way to go.
  • @Elyaradine I'll attempt to refer one or both of them to this post :P
  • @NoSpoons: I'd be keen to hear who the lecturers are, see what games they've worked on, find out what they plan to teach and why they think that the syllabus they've put together is the right way to go.
    I'm Bob. One of the lecturers for the vega game design degree (Its a Bachelor of Computing and Information Sciences in Game Design). From my own background, I come from a mostly broadcast (advertising) background with having spent large quantities of my personal time developing art assets for Mods (discovery mod for freelancer probably being the best known one).

    Our course as mentioned earlier has a strong brand and marketing spin on it as well as gamification. It's a 3 year degree which covers both Programming (C# and unity) and the art stream (Both 2D and 3D). The course is very intense and frankly @NoSpoons doesn't know what's coming.

    To give you an idea of what I mean about gamification. In second year students get a subject called "Brand Challenge" where a real client presents a real brief and game design students will have to work in teams with brand strategists, copy writers, graphic designers, multimedia, photography to try solve these challenges.

    Our projects are team based as often as we can have them so that students who lean more toward arts/programming can bring that skillset to the team.

    The course only began this year so we do not yet have any graduates.

    As for why we've structured the course this way. We want students to be making games as soon as possible, game jams will become compulsory for students from second year onwards to create as large a portfolio as possible.
    So while our teaching is very game design specific, the degree is quite broad giving the largest variety of career options available.

    As for why our course (I'm speaking from the art stream here) is the way to go. Our animation tasks are mostly informed by the Algonquin school of animation (in Canada) tasks and the curriculum. Having taught the Algonquin curriculum for 6 years prior, I've taken what I believe to be the best parts of it (very traditional approach) and tweaked it slightly to make it fit better within a gaming space and branding space (for example, toning down the advanced acting components).

    If you have any further questions please let me know.
  • Hey Charly

    Currently i am in second year game design for the engineering side. I thought a brief overview of what to expect should you choose to join us would be helpful.

    The engineering degree is done through the school of electrical engineering and so you are expected to pass electrical engineering subjects as well as game design. In first year the only game design subject is an intro course in game design which the artsies take as well. This course covers key concepts of game design and is really helpful in expanding your knowledge of how to make a well designed game. The big problem that some engineers have with first year is that there is no coding based courses as the practical components are board games. However making these board games definately cement the principles of game design that we learnt.

    However as previously stated you will have to do engineering subjects like maths, physics, mechanics and electronics. These subjects are incredibly difficult to some and as @Bensonance said you spend the majority of time trying to pass these courses.

    Second year is where it gets good though. You learn unity and make some pretty awesome games. In terms of technical ability, engineers tend to be better coders ( though this is not always the case ). This is due to the multitude of practice that you as an engineer would get from your second and third year subjects. In terms of game design in second year, you have an intro to unity course, some group projects and you also do some 3d modeling if im not mistaken.

    Also as a small plus when you finish the degree, if you spend a further 2 years you can get an electrical engineering degree. Its great for having a definate fallback incase you have trouble getting work in the industry initially.

    All in all this degree is not for everyone. You will however definately be a great programmer at the end of the course and you will have an engineering degree which looks great on a cv. Mix that with the experience and the networking potential that comes with it, and i think Wits should definitely be high on your list.

    P.S. i apologise for my grammar and or spelling in this post as I'm typing this quickly
  • @NoSpoons and @Krohlm

    Thanks for letting us know about what the Vega course is about!

    I don't know what the marketing side of the Game Design course is about, but I definitely think understanding marketing has a place in game design, particularly if you're planning on creating independent commercial games.

    I can understand how students might dislike these courses (back in the early 2000s I went through a similar course myself), but I'd wager that the students who aren't interested in how to build a brand or how to communicate the values of a product will become the game developers who are the most confused when no-one cares about who they are and no-one wants the games they make.

    And I don't think that's because understanding marketing will help you sell an unappealing game, I think that's because understanding marketing will help you design a game that is appealing. I think it's because you have to understand what people want to design appealing games, and that takes a certain set of skills that a pure game design courses don't usually teach.

    Again, I don't know the details of what the marketing side of the Vega course is. But I'd agree with @NoSpoons assessment that these skills could be super valuable should those students wish to go indie in the future.
    Thanked by 2mattbenic charly
  • edited
    @EvanGreenwood I had almost the exact same thought process as you, however as I did state that I think marketing and subjects of its nature are important, I know of a few students who are more than happy to work as parts of a team rather focusing on coding or art, and thats cool too, it really depends on what the individual is looking for as an end goal.

    Anyway @Rcon26 did remind me with his post that the Vega degree also delves into science (and math perhaps?) in later years, to what extent I'm not sure, but i'm excited to find out :P
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • Sorry for the powerful nerco here guys. It looks like my MGSA emails end up in my spam box.

    I applied for the digital arts engineering degree at Wits and got accepted. I did my application essay on balancing unbalanced mutiplayer game mechanics in the context of Overwatch.

    Thanks for the input @Bensonance. Did you study the degree at Wits? Are you still studying? From what I saw at the workshop, it seems like it's a degree where the lecturers are genuinely passionate about what they are doing. I'm happy to see that.

    Thanks @mattbenic I'm glad to hear that the degree actually prepares you sufficiently to be working as soon as you've got your degree.

    Thanks @NoSpoons for the input. I'm going to be studying at Wits next year but I'll keep Vega in mind.

    Thanks @Rcon26 for giving me an insight as to what it's like to study there. I'm excited to be starting next year. I'm looking forward to see how challenging the degree is.
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • @charly Congrats on getting in - I'm sure you'll enjoy it :)

    Yup I was in the pilot graduating class 2012-2015, on the arts side. I also lectured and did the curriculum for 3rd year Game Design in 2016. Not studying anymore - making Semblance with our studio, Nyamakop.

    The lecturers are definitively very passionate and helpful. They are also brilliant academics, and well-read and played on games :)

  • TomTom
    edited
    Hello all,

    I realise this thread is from 2017 but I wanted to revive it to ask for some advice from the people involved in this discussion.
    I am currently working as a process engineer in Cape Town but I hate every second of it and I desperately want to make a career change. It has become clear to me that would like to work in gaming industry. I have passion for games and I honestly can't think of anything more self-fulfilling and awesome than working to create games. I'm 27 so I hope it's not too late!

    I wanted to ask you guys how you would recommend I start. I have no experience creating games and I have only basic programming skills (I am self-learning Python at the moment) so I really am starting from scratch. I also don't yet have clarity on what it is exactly that I would like to do in the industry (I just know I want to be in it). I figure that the best step would be to start a course to firstly give me the broader overview and then the skills to dive into what appeals to me most. I have looked at the courses mentioned in the thread above and have the following questions:

    Vega (Cape Town)
    - A couple of years have passed since the thread so maybe now there is more clarity on the quality of this course. Is the course any good? Can anyone who has done it provide any feedback? Can any employers in the industry vouch for employees that are graduates from Vega? I'm looking for feedback more specifically from the CPT school but feedback on the others will be appreciated.

    UCT
    - It seems to me like this is a computer science course with some game production courses bolted on with the focus being more on the programming than game creation. I'm not necessarily interested in become a hardcore programmer so perhaps this is one to avoid?

    WITS
    - Unfortunately won't work for me as I will have to relocate which right now isn't an option. But out of interest, is this still the most reputable place to study game design/production in SA?

    Any advice or insight into other options would be much appreciated!
  • edited
    Welcome to the forums, @Tom!

    I'd recommend grabbing some game engine and tinkering around with it, following along with various online tutorials (there's a huge wealth of them at this point), and taking this on as a hobby. It might be that even as a hobby, it offers you a creative outlet and brings you joy, and maybe that's enough!

    The most popular engine among folks on MGSA and in SA in general is Unity3D, which strongly favours your learning to script using C#. Other recommended engines include Unreal Engine and GameMaker. However, they all have strong online communities full of people asking and answering questions of all kinds, so you'd have a lot of support regardless of which you choose.

    --
    If you very much want to study at some kind of school in CT, and are not able to study full time (I assume you're working during the day), I believe Friends of Design has evening classes. My (very personal) understanding of the course is that it gets your feet a bit wet doing a bunch of different game-related things, including game design, programming, and 2D and 3D art. That said, I don't believe that they really prepare you for working in the game industry. They've pitched their course as more about "game technology" -- I believe they're primarily looking at teaching people who have existing skills in other fields (e.g. advertising or web dev) some game tech to allow them another avenue to pitch/deliver client projects.

    --
    Either way, after that you might have a better idea of whether this is still something you wish to pursue as a profession, and if so, on which skills you'd like to focus your efforts.

    Beyond that, I don't really know. :D There are folks who do well for themselves doing service work for other game developers (locally and internationally), which typically requires you to have a speciality that you can sell. Otherwise, there are unicorns who are very inexperienced and don't really shine at any particular thing, but somehow put together a magical combination of interesting and desirable things that they gain a following of players despite making what others would call "ugly" or "un-fun" or "not-even-really-a-game" games. This is both exciting and terrifying, depending on how you look at it. :P

    You're welcome to ask more on Discord: https://discordapp.com/invite/xBCnEYy . I think "what do you recommend I do" is very personal and nuanced, and in some ways is better suited to a chatroom than a forum.
  • I ended up going with Wits. I don't think I can add much regarding the specifics already mentioned in this thread but I'd highly recommend it and especially since you're coming from a technical background.

    Like most, I was initially put off when I heard that the first year game design modules consisted of only making board games but I really enjoyed that approach and wouldn't change it if I could. This means that the first year is very academic/theoretical in terms of game design with plenty of writing. I enjoyed it as it really gave me a solid academic understanding of the components of game design and how to critically analyse them.

    If you go the engineering route, that is a beast by itself which you can't underestimate. Though, don't listen to people who say it's not possible or extremely difficult. If you put in hours consistently to stay on top, it's not an issue. There's also a practical component to some of the modules which can be fun.

    Obviously this is just my experience and we all have different preferences when it comes to what works best for us.

    Unfortunately I didn't finish the degree as I decided to rather pursue a career in medicine but I still plan on getting into game dev as a serious hobby after I'm done with my degree.
  • Thanks for the feedback @Elyaradine. I will definitely play around with Unity3D. I guess it is possible to teach yourself almost anything using what's available online and I think you're right in suggesting this foremost before spending money and committing to something that doesn't turn out to be for me.

    My initial thinking was to quit my job (it's really doing my head in) and perhaps study full time which is why I was looking at the full-time courses offered by the likes of Vega and UCT. I did look at Friends of Design while I was doing some research but I didn't mention it in my initial post because you need to submit a portfolio of work to apply suggesting to me that it's not a course for total beginners but for people looking to hone their existing skills. But, definitely something to keep in mind for the future.

    It's all up the air a bit for me at the moment which is why I thought I'd reach out.

    @charly - Thanks for the feedback. Wits does sound good but not an option for me as I'm not in a position to uproot (at the moment). Believe me, I know how hardcore engineering can get, took me 5 years to do my process engineering degree at Stellies ;)
    Good luck with the medicine career.
  • @Tom: I had a look, and Friends of Design doesn't have a part time games course. Sorry for the misinformation!

    There are so many tutorials all over the place though. There are official "premium" Unity ones that are available for free for the next couple of months because of COVID-19 lockdown. I haven't seen any of them myself, but I imagine they'd be pretty good. Otherwise there are plenty of YouTube and Twitch streams.
  • @Tom, If you're an process engineer I assumed that you studied some form of BSc (Eng) or BEng or BTech. In which case, you are more than equipped to teach yourself game dev - if you're willing to put in the graft. Make something in Unity, join game jams. This is honestly the best advice I could give you.

    Some of my background, I studied electrical engineering at Wits. Then while doing my masters, I helped with tutoring the first year of the game design course at Wits. I've worked a couple of software engineering jobs before being a tech lead at 24 Bit Games. Also helped Wits for two years with their advanced game design honours course. I've since started my own contracting gig. I wasn't taught game dev or design, but studying engineering gave me the tools to learn.
  • edited
    Hello everyone .

    I just wanted to find out about the arts side of the Digital Arts course at Wits . I'm currently in Grade 12 and I'm planning on applying for that course for next year .

    Do you have to be a specialised artist or is it okay if you aren't an artist at all ? Cause I'm not very good at drawing and I'm wondering if this will have a negative effect .

    Any advice or insight will be highly appreciated , thanks :D

    I have also just been informed that you need to attend a compulsory workshop . Do you think the workshop will still be compulsory with this corona pandemic ? If so do you guys have any insight with regards to the workshop ?
    Thank you very much :D
  • @ArcticThunder in terms of their requirements, I'm not sure as I went the engineering route. As long as you have some sort of art background, you'll be fine. You'll bring your portfolio with to the workshop.

    Like pretty much any first year university module, they assume very little prior knowledge. Everyone from the Digital Arts department is really cool and passionate about what they teach. Listen out for details on how the workshop will work. I did mine in the July school holidays. If you haven't heard anything and can't find who to contact, let me know.

    I'm not sure if you're aware of this but the engineering and BA degree are exactly the same in terms of the game design you learn. In engineering, the rest of the curriculum is made up of electrical engineering modules. For the BA degree, it's made up of BA/art modules with some modules dealing with art in the context of game design.

    Is art what you specifically want to do? For both routes, it's an awesome experience and you'll get to know the other people really well with everyone becoming one big family. Lecturers/tutors included. The BA and engineering students take all their game design modules together so you'd even be working on projects with them which definitely adds an interesting perspective.
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  • Hi everyone,

    I know it's been a few years since this thread was made but I just finished my first year in computer science and realised I would prefer to go down a different route and wanted to look into doing game design. I wanted to find out if SAE or AIE would be good schools to go to as an alternative to going to Wits or UCT?
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  • UltraMel said:
    Hi everyone,

    I know it's been a few years since this thread was made but I just finished my first year in computer science and realised I would prefer to go down a different route and wanted to look into doing game design. I wanted to find out if SAE or AIE would be good schools to go to as an alternative to going to Wits or UCT?
    Funny, I was in the exact same position after doing ComSci in 2019. I eventually chose the Vega Cape Town course mostly because it's a BCIS degree (closer to ComSci than to a BA, I enjoy programming more than essays).

    Here are my thoughts after 1 year. They may not accurately represent the course because 2020 was a dumpster fire of note.

    Pros:
    - In the City Centre
    - Awesome people and a good place to work, feels very "Student-y"
    - A really passionate and dedicated Module Director
    - The Gamejam club is really fun
    - Monthly MGSA meetups are hosted at Vega (global pandemic permitting)
    - The course is programming focused but has a lot of other stuff as well (game design, maths, brand and marketing, narrative for games, 2D animation, 3D animation, and drawing.) There's a lot of stuff to learn, and when everything needs to come together for a project, knowing a little about a lot can go a long way.
    - Vega does this Brand Activation thing which I haven't done yet, but it looks cool.
    - The course will teach you the skills that you need to build a portfolio before going into industry (from what I've read that's pretty important.) IT WILL NOT BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIO FOR YOU. BE EXTRA.

    Cons:
    - You have to deal with Vega. They can feel very "corporate," like Spacer's Choice from Outer Worlds and can often have horrendous communication issues.
    - We were RIDDLED with lecturer issues. No programming lecturer for the first few weeks and when we get a lecturer he's really bad at lecturing. Then he leaves 2 weeks later, get a new lecturer for another week before he leaves, and then covid hits. And then we get an AMAZING lecturer and she leaves at the end of the year (we miss you Kirsten!) I also see they have an opening for the position up on LinkedIn, so I really hope it gets resolved this year... Similar things happened in our Game Design course.
    - Some of the modules have HUGE flaws with regards to assesment of the content you've been taught. I'm pretty sure this is getting fixed by the module director next year. It's still possible to do really well, but man... Be ready to work hard.
    - It's too expensive. You get minor discount for first year based on how well you did in certain subjects in matric, and a sizable 20% discount in second and third year if you maintain a 75% average. The course is R115 000 a year (fucking yikes, right?) that gets chopped to a more managable 92 000 if you hit that 1st class average (it's also a great motivator to work hard.)
    - For some reason lot's of games are banned on the Wi-Fi. Like what?? Hello?? Aren't you people running a Game Design and Development course and hosting Gamejam sessions weekly?? Do you really think we'll waste our time playing games or "hog bandwidth"?? Isn't this a tertiary institution and not High School?? (This is obviously a personal frustration, but still...)

    Applications for Vega are still open, I'm Delirium (Jean-Luc) on the MGSA discord if you wanna chat more. I'm also really looking forward to trying to "level-up" the course next year by doing tutoring, getting the different years to work together, and being heavily involved with the Gamejam club, so it'll be cool to see you there!
    Thanked by 2UltraMel watman
  • @Derilium

    Thank you for replying, I don't currently think Vega is an option for me, mainly because of the price of the degree so I was hoping to get more information on SAE and AIE but thank you so much for giving your input of Vega :)
  • edited
    @UltraMel If you're able to and you've already finished your first year, I'd suggest finishing your computer science degree while participating in game jams and making lots of small games in your own time.

    SAE and AIE's websites don't exactly inspire confidence.

    [edit] I just wanted to go into my reasoning a bit for my recommendation, because I think that's arguably more important.

    In terms of finishing the comsci degree, it allows you access to opportunities for employment outside of games. This isn't about "settling". The factors that will allow you to get a job in games include ones that you can't control, and often comes down to timing/luck. We're just not always hiring. It would be much less stressful to be able to hold down a "boring" -- but at least stable -- job as a programmer in another industry while continuing to improve your game portfolio in your own time for when job openings do get posted.

    Another thing I think is worth considering is that courses in maths, computer science, physics, even graphic design and animation (depending on the institution) have a long established curriculum that is built upon decades of study. Game-specific courses typically haven't lasted that long, keep changing lecturers, and don't really have a solid, "core" curriculum that everyone can agree on. When you study one, I think your experience becomes much more dependent on who was lecturing at the time than in the other more established subjects. For that reason I'm personally much more fond of the structure at Wits or the Open Window, where you're still primarily doing computer science, or primarily studying animation, but where there's a game elective for getting you some game experience. (And making lots of small games regardless of whether you're in a game course, or even at a school.)
  • I know this discussion was posted a few years back, but I recently graduated from a BCIS degree in Game Design and Development at Vega, Johannesburg.

    If anyone is interested in finding out what the degree entailed and what to expect, please feel free to e-mail me at dylan.james.ramsden@gmail.com.
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