We spoke to Datascope Recruitment, an award-winning recruitment agency, about their advice for games students submitting programming demos.
1. Which tools/platforms should I use?
Regardless of the platform(s) you wish to write games for, your demo should run on a typical Windows PC with the minimum of hassle. It’s usually safe to assume Windows 7 or 10, with an i5 and no dedicated graphics.
For mobile games, it may be a good idea to supply an emulator and instructions as necessary - you can’t assume that the person reviewing your demo has the same phone as you! Similarly for web-based games, make sure you describe which plugins are needed to run it - try to avoid using anything with security issues that is being phased out!
2. What should my demo actually be?
This is your opportunity to shine! What are you interested in, and what can you show off? 3D graphics, physics, AI, networking? It sounds obvious, but the more impressive your demo is the more it will stand out. Having said that, it probably shouldn't be at the expense of your formal studies or your entire social life! Even games companies like to employ people rather than coding machines.
A playable game is not necessarily the most desirable kind of demo, particularly if it's 2D. Games companies see plenty of Pong and Tetris clones and tend to be underwhelmed, although by all means try writing a version of your favourite classic game as a learning exercise before trying something more ambitious. 3D graphics will impress most companies much more than 2D, and a demo showing a set of clear, well-implemented algorithms which you have had time to polish is generally better received than a complete 2D game.
Use your imagination, but bear in mind that you're applying as a programmer, not a games designer or artist, so while wonderful new game concepts and beautiful artwork are great, they are certainly not necessary or expected. (Arguably your coding skills stand out more if the artwork you use is deliberately plain!) If you need textures, explosion noises and the like it's fine to use other people's stuff provided it is in the public domain or you have their permission. Make sure you say what's not your work, and it’s good manners to credit the original artist/author(s).
3. How should I present and submit my demo?
A good idea is to consider the demo as a presentation (particularly if it's not a complete game) and lead the user through the various visualisations. This avoids the user having to use lots of different controls in order to see everything. Remember your demo needs to make the best possible initial impression on its own because you won't be there to explain!
Sound - include sound effects if you wish but remember that annoying sound or music is worse than none. Arguably time spent learning the intricacies of a particular sound system could be better spent elsewhere unless you want to specialise in audio programming. If you do include sound, mention that you have it (perhaps by having an obviously visible option to switch them off) because in a work environment the person running your demo might have the volume turned down.
Display - offer a choice of screen resolutions, colour depths and windowed / full screen mode when the demo first runs or as an option accessible from within the demo itself. There is no need to make a user change their desktop display settings if at all possible.
Instructions / explanations - include a readme but display brief instructions (the controls at least) - in the demo itself, either during or before it starts. Most people will try and run the demo first then look at the readme file later. (Do you ever read the manual before trying a new game you've just bought?) A readme is good idea as well because you can use to explain the techniques you are trying to show, in addition to reiterating the controls and requirements.
Source code - it can be a good idea to provide this so that it is available for clients should they wish to look at it. They are very unlikely to wade through it all so consider also providing extracts of the best and most interesting bits!
To submit your demo - the best manner is to send a link from which we can download it, e.g. from Dropbox or Google Drive. Try to avoid emailing the files directly, as this will often set off email security!
4. Anything else?
Send an email over to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if we can hook you up with one of our specialist programming recruitment consultants to offer some personal advice!
And make sure you check out the Datascope Recruitment website for more information on graduate recruitment.