The process of making games is not as simple as one might think. It takes more than just a good idea. Games are made up of many elements that must work together as a whole and it is the role of the game designer, to strive toward that goal.
The Game Designer
According to game designer and author Tracy Fullerton, the role of the Game Designer is to be an advocate for the player.
What exactly is an “advocate for the player”? The game designer needs to ensure that everything implemented in the game meets the needs and expectations of its intended players. Sounds easy enough, right?
The problem that game designers sometimes face, is that they are not part of the target market for which the game they are designing is intended. For example, maybe you have come up with a game aimed at 2nd graders to help teach them math. Chances are there are not many 2nd graders on your game production team needing help with math, though that math one may be debatable.
The point here is that game designers need to ensure that the game will be fun to play for their target market and that no unnecessary elements are added to the game that will alienate, confuse, frustrate, or bore their players.
Think Like a Game Designer
Everyone working on a game production team should think like a game designer when it comes to being an advocate for the player.
Game Production Team
In the early days of the video game industry, many games were made by a single individual. Today, however, games are just as large as an endeavor as making a feature film and require a team of dedicated individuals each with specific roles.
While everyone on the game production team should think like a game designer, the actual title of the game designer is usually reserved for one or two individuals who are responsible for conceiving the main idea of the game.
Game designer’s tasks include:
- Brainstorm and refining game ideas
- Creating game prototypes
- Preparing all documentation on the project and updates
- Making decisions on the direction of the game
- Playtesting and revising each iteration of the game
- Creating game levels or working closely with level designers
- Communicates the vision of the game and ensures the entire team works towards
Some of the tasks originally assigned to the game designer have recently been given to the more recent role of the game director. You might have heard of the title of production manager or producer and the game director takes on all the same responsibilities, however, they are often far more involved in the development process than the traditional producer would be.
The main task of the game director is to keep the flow of communication within the development team, ensure that everyone is working towards the main vision of the game, and know the production in terms of deadlines and budget.
Game directors will often have previous experience as a game designer and will take their experience with them as they work with a new team in the development of the next big project.
A level designer as the title implies is responsible for creating the level. This entails everything from the goals of the level, the challenges the player faces in the level, the size and length of the level, and the behavior of the resources in the level.
Often the game designer takes on the role of lead level designer or sole level designer in smaller productions.
The game programmer is responsible for implementing all the technical aspects of the game. In many cases, you might have a designated programmer for, say, the weapons system while another one might be focusing on character controls and behaviors.
While the tasks might be different among programmers, they all should work together ensuring each system is compatible with the others and adhere to a set standard when it comes to documenting their code.
All the visuals in the game, from characters, world objects menu graphics, cut scenes, and cinematics all fall under the responsibility of the visual artist.
There are many titles for this specific role, anything from environmental artist, character designer, animator, 3d modeler, and graphic artist, just to name a few. Regardless of their official title or how many are on a specific development team, they all need to work together to ensure a consistent style throughout the game.
Early video game developers gave little thought to the overall user experience i.e., UX. Granted there was little to think about, after all, you had a start screen and maybe a few dialog boxes to read through.
However, in today’s immersive and vast game worlds, players must keep track, of inventories, quests, weapons, health and so much more. Having a system in place that is both simple and intuitive to use can make or break a game.
Thus, comes the role of the UX designer, they are responsible for ensuring a smooth user experience for the player. This means they need to identify the best placement, order, and functionality for all elements that the player must interact with. There is a lot of player psychology and playtesting that goes into good UX design.
Furthermore, UX designers are not to be confused with user interface or UI designers. UI designers simply design the graphics used in the interface of the game, the menu buttons health bars, etc. Often UI design is either assigned as a task to visual artists or one of the responsibilities of the UX designer.
Quality Assurance Engineers
When you were younger did you dream of getting a job as a game tester? Awe, the life to be paid to play games.
The stereotype of the 20-something making money playing games is far from reality. Typically, if there is a beta test call for a game, the game has been tested long before it ever gets to that stage.
Quality Assurance Engineers or QA Engineers are more than just game players, they not only play the games they try and break them, documenting every detail as to what the player actions are, what the game is doing, any bugs they might encounter, and possible causes for the issue. QA engineers need to have a basic understanding of the game mechanics to diagnose any problems.
Some companies solely focus on QA for game production and work with game studios for testing throughout the game production.
Regardless of whether there is a dedicated QA engineer on the team or not, all members of the game production team should be testing the game throughout the production process.
Game production can be a massive undertaking and depending on the size of the game it may require an even larger team to develop.
Depending on the type of game you are making you might also require:
- Writers to create rich narratives, scripts, and or quests
- Audio / Video Specialist to create custom soundtracks, record voice-overs, film cuteness, or motion capture.
- Field masters to share detailed information about a subject. For example, if you are making a cooking game and know nothing about cooking you might bring in a chef to share their knowledge.