Monday, 23 January 2012

Elements of game design, part one: Game Designers

Admittedly over the years I've played games I have at times entertained the idea of being a gamer designer. At one point me and my friend attempted to design a game together, creating characters, story, purpose and settings. This never became more than some sketches and notes but it was fun non the less. Letting your mind run through ideas of how you design and realise a whole world inside a game that others could enjoy was a hell of a lot of fun, but game designers don't do just that. They are apparently in charge of alot more than that, from creating a feel and flow of a game to talking to publishers and keeping the worker bees going.

Since my younger musing I haven't given much thought into becoming a game designer, it seems very high up in the game development pipeline and probably not something that you just fall into. In order to find out what it takes to be a game designer I read an interview with four of some of the best out there.

Name: Chris Avellone
Company: Obsidian Entertainment
Best-Known Works Include: Planescape: Torment (PC), Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (Xbox, PC)

Name: Cliff Bleszinski
Company: Epic Games
Best-Known Works Include: Jazz Jackrabbit 2 (PC), Unreal Tournament (PC), Unreal Tournament 2004 (PC)

Name: Ken Levine
Company: Irrational Games
Best-Known Works Include: System Shock 2 (PC), Freedom Force (PC), Tribes: Vengeance (PC), Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich (PC)

Name: Akira Yamaoka
Company: Konami
Best-Known Works Include: Silent Hill (PS), Silent Hill 4: The Room (PS2, PC, Xbox)

These game designers have worked on games that I have really enjoyed over the years, so it was great to read about what responsibilities and input they have on the games they make.
Game designers play a massive role in the production of a game, they are largely involved in directing a game and supervising day to day running of the project. There are a lot of professions in game designing, like planning, character design, background design, programming, etc. And each field has its unique requirements. To be generic, a game designer has to think of how to entertain the players.

On a day to day basis, it's a combination of writing, playing, and working with the talent available. They have to come up with a general idea of what a game system is going to be. They have to create game systems that interact in an interesting manner but also create a universe. So it's technical as well as creative. They have to take everything they have and figure out how to create a compelling universe. It's not enough to just create cool characters or systems it has to all merge together in the end to make a complete gaming experience.

When asked "How does the reality of being a game designer match up with what your expectations of the job were in the past? Was it about what you expected?" The game designers answered:

Chris Avellone:It's pretty much the same as doing pen-and-paper design, except you have to think more visually and you have to be much, much, much more detailed in your designs. Oh, and it's a lot more fun than I thought it was.

Cliff Bleszinski:You go from being a 16-year old kid sitting in your mother's house doodling and making what you think is cool at the time. Then you wind up getting a sense of the big picture and what gamers want, and what's considered hip. I turned 30 this year, and I talk to 18, 19, 20 year olds and I already realise there's a very significant gap there between what they like, and what I like and grew up with. Ultimately you have to make the games that you want to play, but you have to be also aware of the big picture and adjust for that. That's the biggest difference between being young and wanting to be a game designer, and being older and getting a perspective. You have to find a balance between those two.

Ken Levine: I remember being really surprised to learn about how technical game design was. A lot of people tell me: "I've got a great idea for a game." Frankly, who gives a crap? A great idea is meaningless. A great idea that leverages your existing technology, gets the team excited, is feasible to do on time and budget, is commercially competitive, and, last but not least, floats the boat of a major publisher... Now you have something.

Akira Yamaoka: There was not much of a difference between my expectations and the real world of game designing...although it was surprising that you have to communicate with a lot of staffs outside development, like sales and marketing department, etc., in the course of game production. I realised that many people in different fields are involved, from when a game concept is born until the fans get the finished products in their hands. The scale of a game project is enormous.

I think this is a fantastic insight into how game designers have to approach their work. It isn't all about having a fantastic idea for a game that you think will be awesome. You have to stay in tune with current games, affairs and trends. You have to realise what is possible within time, money and personnel restraints. You have to know what looks good, whats fun to play and if people are even going to want to play it. You come up with a whole world that flows and feels right and then your team flesh it all out and make it all real. Game designers don't just come up with a basic plan and hand it out and expect people to be able to create it, they are an integral part of how it develops and moves. I was surprised to learn however that game designers are even involved in the marketing however, but they need to know how a game will be received and sell it to the public and publishers.
It sounds like an intense and busy job with a large skill base required to know whats possible, whats not and the ability to imagine a game's world.
This seems like an interesting job that shows just want is involved with game design.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a fantastic insight into how game designers have to approach their work. It isn't all about having a fantastic idea for a game that you think will be awesome.
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