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…


xino said...

do designers really have to create levels?
don't you mean they can just design them, like the concept or floor plan?

Mark Pope said...

A senior designer, who's worked up through the ranks, might be able to just do a high level design and then hand it to a more junior member of staff for implementation.
For new people who become designers though, they will find themselves building levels. They usually will have a good amount of input on how the level is built though, so there's a lot of fun in the job.
Making games is a lot of fun. There's fun in the designing, but also fun in the building. It's one of those 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration things - it take a lot of work to build a game.