Friday, November 24, 2006

What's a game designer?

I’ve spoken quite a bit on how to get a job as a games programmer. I’d also like to mention the position of games designer. The role of designers varies greatly from company to company. Some companies have no designers at all, some will have a couple, and some can have more designers than programmers. Designers spend most of their time building levels of a game, and also working on the games’ design.

Game designers spend most of their days building levels in a level editor. Editors normally come in one of three flavors, custom level editor, in-game editor, or an augmented 3D package (e.g. Maya with some custom bits which are specific to the game). Designers tend to need to work very closely with the art, animation and programming departments to ensure that the level is built correctly, and that all the required pieces get made. Also, depending on what the programmers have provided, designers may configure game logic using either a simple scripting language, or some more visual way of configuring logic.

Designers focus on things like:

  • Making the experience fun.
  • Making the game accessible to novice and expert players.
  • Building in ‘replayability’ so that people can play the game for a good duration.
  • Gradually ramping the difficulty of the game across the levels.
  • Perhaps integrating the gameplay with some kind of running plot.
  • Ensuring all the available systems get used in the game, so that no effort is wasted.
  • Helping to get levels to fit into memory or performance constraints.
  • Building main levels, but also building other things like mini-games, and bosses.
  • Depending on the company, the designers may also do other things like design and implement the functionality of the menu screens, or writing the dialogue scripts for the game.

Next time: How to become one…

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Getting a job, and how much it pays...

There are a couple of good articles on the GameCareerGuide website at the moment. Steven Messinger from Rockstar writes on how to get into programming games, and there's an article on the results of this years Game Developer salary survey.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Coding4Fun site

Microsoft has a great site 'Coding4Fun' which has lots of fun apps to write for people getting started with coding.

Actually though, there's a lot of cool stuff for people who are pretty good at coding too. There are tutorials on making web services, windows utilities and AV related programs. If you've got a bit of time, there's bound to be something worth tinkering with here...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Weekend Project - Microsoft Virtual Labs

Last weekend I happened across the MSDN Virtual Labs. Basically they have a bunch of tutorials on how to use .NET to do snazzy things. The cool thing is that the tutorial takes place by you doing ‘remote desktop’ control of a machine that’s all set up for the tutorial. This means that you don’t have to spend ages getting all the software set up, you just jump in, following the step by step guides, setting up projects, building web apps, configuring databases etc.

In a bit over an hour I followed a tutorial which had me set up a server database, a C# application which view/modifies the database, and a web app which did the same. To go from knowing nothing to having all that working in around 60 minutes is fantastic.

It reminds me a little of the film Amelie, where she leads the blind man along the street for a few moments. I’ve just been exposed to a load of information, which I can’t immediately recall, but I got a good feel for the landscape.

Lots of different types of labs are available. I didn’t see anything game related, but it’s good to know what kind of technology is out there for when you have to build other things like tools.

Ohh, plus you can enter to win an Xbox 360 if you take the survey after the lab. When I did it though, they had ‘technical difficulties’ with that part :(

Friday, November 03, 2006

Game Studio Express - Beta 2 Released

Microsoft have just released Beta 2 of Game Studio Express. It's the SDK which helps you make games for Xbox 360 Homebrew, and Windows.

I think it's fantastic that they're opening up the console to homebrew developers, and also giving so much help for people to get started. The one thing which irks me is that it only supports C#. Professional game development is currently C++ based, and I don't see it changing for a while. C# is a great language which is easier in a lot of ways than C++. It's great if you're just getting started, or you don't care about non-Microsoft platforms, but if you're looking to get into games, remember to work on your C++ too. Having an Xbox360 demo, but not knowing C++ well, is not as good as having a Windows only demo which is written in C++. C# is good to know too though, as it can be used to quickly develop tools.