This is just a little advice I wish I had during the DESIGNER course.
I am currently coming to the end of the designer course (diploma) and currently revising for the final exam. I started the course as an avid gamer with zero experience of the gaming industry or designing software. I was a little disappointed with the course as it started so promising with the Gamer Maker engine and I truly through I would be making games in no time. Unfortunately the designer course is more about documenting your work in depth rather than actually teaching you to make game. I can understand the importance of the documentation and often wonder if I would have been better doing a different course but that's in hindsight and it's a little too late to change! haha.
During this course you do touch on other gaming engines such as Unreal (assignment 9) and a whole heap of free software but most of this thing I have learnt has been through YouTube and not directly through the course. Don't get me wrong! the course has been very informative and teachers you how to document a game from start to finish and the processes that are involved have gone into a lot of detail but if you want to jump straight into designing game I would suggest another course, maybe the artist course or some type of level designer? even better try and get some experience as a tester first to see if the industry is for you...
I have complied a few notes that should help anyone either thinking of starting the course or for people whom have started the course hope it helps someone.
This course compromises of 5 main sections
1) tutor marked assignments (TMA) & self marked assignments (SMA)
TMAs are found at the end of each chapter of the book, they are like mini exams to make sure you are thoroughly reading each section. I advise to make notes and physically highlight important sections as the 3 main exams use this text. Make sure you do all the SMA (self marked assignments) as they help later on when needing quick ideas and help you build up a portfolio plus course tutors could call upon them to make sure you're completing them.
Assignments are found and must be started after you complete your first 5 portfolio projects (see below), I have put this as number 2 as i completely missed the assignments and didn't know they even existed up until 2 months ago, please remember to find and do these, they are found under the portfolio section on the 5th portfolio project. They consist of 9 assignments (make yourself familiar with UDK (unreal development kit, i.e youtube),World of Warcraft, Eclipse Origins 4 and become proficient with PowerPoint and Word)
3) Portfolio projects
The Portfolio projects comprise of 10 projects, make sure you have at least two (possibly three) solid game concepts here but don't make them too difficult. I made the mistake of trying to design a complex horror game and It took me ages to get away from the fact that it was too big of a idea to document, to which I had to simplify and move on. The second concept was a child's educational game which I started with a simple idea and grew from there.
The two concepts can be adapted to fit the projects (and assignments) so be ready to tweak your ideas and to modify them to fit the project.
During this section you will also have to use a pre-existing sci-fi t.v. program and design a game around it so make sure you are knowledgeable about your favorite si-fi program (i did Red Dwarf!)
As I've said i have only sat the first 2 exams so i can't comment on the 3rd but from my experience make sure you have thoroughly read through each section before you sit the exam. Make notes and highlight important sections in the books that you think might come up on the exam so they stick (I fluked through my first exam but really struggled with my 2nd exam and had to resit it 6 times mainly because I struggled with revision)
Each exam corresponds to each section in the book: i.e. exam one is section one, exam two is section two etc.
Since the course started I only went to one GameJam...People please please please go to at least one GameJam during the course...It really opened my eyes to the industry and how much work and time has to be put in to game making. I had to travel from West Yorkshire to Luton for the Jam which was expensive but worth the time.
Side note Try to get to know your team before you go to a Jam (i.e. emails, forums or even better group Skype). I ended up being put with another Designer which was nice because we bounced ideas off each other, an Artist who didn't know the software so couldn't really do anything, an Coder who was Bipolar and had mild autism who did NOTHING during the Jam and a Quality Assurance lad who did his best with what we produced. Still very worth while going to gain experience in the industry.
I think what I'm trying to say is make sure the course is right for you before you start and if you've already started I hope my advice makes sense to you!
Good Luck people