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Getting the Job: Game Design

Getting into the game industry can be very difficult, even with good skills. The guidance and advice section will give you more direct advice on what you'll need to be good at and which areas to concentrate on in order to significantly improve your chances.

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Game Design Overview

See the job role sections below for specific details about getting each job:

Level Editor

As most games use custom tools written by the development studio, most of your training will take place on the job itself. It is not necessary to have traditional artistic skills and as a Level Editor, you will not be asked to use 3D art packages to edit the physical level environment.

There are many level editing tools available with games these days, particularly on the PC; first person shooters are especially well served in this area. You should be able to try your hand at level editing within either pre-existing levels that you have stripped out, or in some basic level layouts created yourself with the construction tools.

Best Tip
Try not to concentrate too heavily on FPS games as your sole source of home level editing experience. While a great start, they only represent a single genre. Try different types of games: you might be able to find some puzzle, racing or skateboarding games that offer level editing facilities. Play with as many as you can.

Every one of these will add something valuable to your skills as a level editor and ultimately as a game designer. At the end of the day, that will make you stand out more than the next CV to land on a prospective employer's desk; and that is half the battle in getting your first job.

Level Designer

A high degree of gameplay knowledge and understanding is vital for this role. This will give you the critical and analytical skills to work out why some game levels are works of genius and others are merely passable.

3D modelling skills will be very important. You will need to be able to actually build your level in 3D. This will require a good working knowledge of basic mesh editing. Advanced modelling skills will not be necessary - remember that you are only building the basic framework: all the detail will be created by a dedicated artist at a later date. A good imagination and a high degree of spatial awareness are the core skills of the Level Designer.

Best Tip
Very few people actually send samples of level design with their job applications; this is especially true of 3D level layouts built in Max or Maya. This is a pity because it is exactly the kind of thing we want to see. Any applicant who builds a few example levels and sends a nice set of screenshots or even a video flythrough from that level is going to raise the profile of their application a great deal.

Game Designer

This is one of the most difficult areas to define a skillset for. In many respects it comes down to game knowledge - you need to have played games from every genre and every era. But a willingness to branch out and the self-confidence to create is essential - the world does not need any more game designers who actually just want to remake their favourite game.

You'll have to be a resilient character who can withstand a lot of criticism, but who also knows when to listen to differing opinions and take on board other peoples' suggestions. Communication skills are vital: those fantastic ideas of yours are worthless unless you can present them in an exciting and clearly comprehensible manner.

Experience is essential in this field. It is very unlikely that you will be hired as a game designer if you have no previous form or professional experience. At the end of the day, it is personal skills that will allow you to flourish as a game designer. Imagination. Creativity. Confidence.

Best Tip
As with all roles that carry a large degree of authorship over public-destined artwork, the most important thing to do is to balance the amount of novel and radical concepts (which some players might find confusing or alienating) with some more traditional and familiar elements. Getting this balance right should enable most people to gain a foothold, a degree of understanding of your games, yet be constantly surprised and entertained.

Design Manager / Lead Designer

In many respects this is the Game Designer role plus a whole lot more: more confidence, more experience and those all-important management skills. You'll need a very diplomatic personality, be able to cope with demands from all corners and be able to switch between a game design and a personnel management mindset in an instant.

Management experience is obviously a bonus but this should be either from a creative field or coupled with actual game development experience.

Best Tip
Long-term experience of game development is essential. Both a strong desire to take on the challenges of management and a willingness to step back from some of the more hands-on elements of game design must be demonstrated in the candidate's application.

Submission Guidelines

This following list is a guide to the sort of samples you should try to assemble when applying for a design role. Whatever you do, remember to be selective and send only your best work. Swamping a prospective employer with large quantities of old and new work can make your submission look inconsistent and patchy if the older stuff is of a lower quality. Don't worry if you don't have all of this stuff, just provide a few good items from this list.

  • CV - in the standard format.
  • Professional work (if you are industry experienced).
  • Practical examples - level designs for existing games (for example, FPS games).
  • Sample models/artwork.
  • Sample documents.

Professional work can be provided as screenshots and supporting material (with obvious respect to legal and confidentiality issues). This support material could be documentation, maps and plan drawings or actual models. Professional work should always be accompanied by a detailed description of what you actually did on the work in question. It is anticipated that most areas of a finished game will be collaborative, so highlighting key sections and areas of your responsibility is vital.

Practical examples could be your homemade levels for published games. Ideally, work of this kind will include the playable level (obviously you'll need to hope that the actual game is available to the person reviewing the application), as well as some brief documentation illustrating the key design features and decisions behind the level. For example, the original concept and how it changed and evolved during its creation, what things you discovered didn't work and what actions you undertook to rectify those problems.

Sample models and artwork are not expected to be of the quality required by an Artist applicant, but examples of your level modelling could be extremely useful. These could be presented as actual model files (for example Max or Maya) or via a good series of still images and screenshots that illustrate the layout and views within the level. Initial maps and diagrams can help us judge how well you plan and present your work.

Sample documentation can take many forms; below you can find a few examples. The most important thing to remember is that quality, not quantity, is the most important factor. Keep each sample document short - 3-4 pages at most, and be selective with your work. Just a few of your best items will show your abilities in the best light.

  • A short design overview for a new, original game. This could be anything from a small, free download arcade or puzzle type game to an epic fantasy adventure. The important thing is to get only the most critical information across in a short space (3-4 pages).
  • A critical analysis of an existing game - this is not a review, this is a far more sophisticated and observant appraisal of why a game works very well, or why it falls flat on its face. You can assess the entire game in broad strokes, or choose a single section or level to cover in detail.
  • A level design for an existing game, presented as a map and walkthrough. Be sure to capture the atmosphere and play style of the chosen game. Try to stay within the size limit of 3-4 pages. Stick to the point: long descriptive passages explaining the emotional state of the player are unnecessary.

Do not send a full game design document. It is very unlikely to be read in its entirety and it can be extremely difficult to find the crucial information that the employer will be looking for. Therefore it is likely to be ignored.

Finally, be a designer! A trap that a great number of people fall into is confusing game design with script writing. We often receive a so-called game design that is, in fact, nothing more than page after page of often confusing and hackneyed narrative. While it is important to be able to contextualise your game designs within a narrative framework, you must allow the game-play itself to play the most prominent part!

If you are particularly keen on storytelling, then consider creating a specific game narrative work sample of 2 or 3 pages. Explain how the narrative will relate to the gameplay and theme of the design. Unless you are applying for a specific scriptwriting role, remember to ensure that your full application achieves a balance of game design and narrative design.

Resources

For more information on specific job roles, see our Job Roles: Game Design section.