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Job Roles: Game Design

The game industry has matured over the last 30 years as the scope of games has rapidly expanded. Game teams can now number more than 50 people, and as such, job roles have begun to fragment into more specialised areas. Read through the job role descriptions to find out exactly what each one entails. If you are looking to enter the industry there are additional guidelines on where you need to concentrate your creative efforts to increase your chances of success in our Getting the Job section.

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Game Design Overview

Design is one of the most exciting and dynamic sectors of game development because it places you at the very heart of the game experience. You have the chance to create each moment and manipulate players' emotions, while driving their reflexes to breaking point. The nature of game design is changing all the time, with generational leaps in hardware and the constantly shifting demands of the gaming public.

It's also incredibly demanding and requires a particular sort of person to take on the role. Much of this is down to the creative aspects of the job. You essentially need to be able to create new worlds for the player to experience. However, the role also requires a fairly high degree of technical nous in order to cope with toolsets that can be very complicated.

Most complex of all will be the players' responses to the situations they might face. A Game Designer needs to be able to predict and cater for a baffling range of outcomes for every situation, yet keep the game consistently entertaining and enthralling.

If you're not scared off yet, then hopefully the rest of this section should help unravel some of the mysteries surrounding game design as a career. It's worth bearing in mind that a typical game designer has some crossover ability or responsibility in several of the following areas, especially as they gain experience. However, it's quite likely that a newcomer to the industry will start off as a Junior Level Editor.

Level Editor

Level Editor Although this is often the entry point for designers, it's an extremely important part of the development process. The Level Editor is the person who actually places the items, enemies and interactive mechanics in the game world. In a typical game this might include monsters, health pick-ups, weapons and / or special items. However, it goes much further, since the editor is ultimately responsible for the timing and choreography of the level itself. There are so many decisions to be taken when editing a level: for example, how many enemies should the player have to fight through before you offer them a health pack or special power-up? Or maybe you want to generate tension by having a few enemies attacking in a slightly unpredictable way.

Careful and skilled use of the available gameplay options will have an enormous impact on the quality of the final game. This is where you will learn a huge amount about the art of game design. You will discover how to pace the gameplay to keep the experience varied and exciting.

It is also a very technical job. As a Level Editor you will be ultimately responsible for the script that runs the level, the triggers and rules that cope with the actions of the player and the responses of AI entities in their vicinity. This requires a very clear and logical brain, as well as the creative and imaginative mindset that puts the fun and excitement into the gameplay.

Level Designer

Level Designer This is a step up from Level Editor. The Level Designer creates the layout of the level, usually starting by drawing a map of the area and then actually building it in 3D, albeit in a very rough but completely playable form. This grey box mesh will eventually be handed over to an artist to completely overhaul into the visible art mesh that will be seen in the final game.

The Level Designer is usually responsible for defining the actual content of the level. This might include where the big fights occur or the puzzles that must be solved. Clear objectives and understandable geography are a vital part of level design. If the player gets too many objectives or doesn't know what to do next, then it is usually down to the designer to rectify that problem and sometimes this will entail changes to the layout of the level.

Of course, all this has to be achieved within the technical constraints of the game engine. No game engine is infinitely powerful - no matter what claims the creators may make - so the designer must ensure that only relevant areas are visible or active at any given time. The Level Designer will need to have an in-depth knowledge of these constraints and have a suite of solutions on hand to deal with them.

There is one more skill that a good Level Designer will need - level editing. Most designers will also edit their own levels. In a typical game development, a designer will design and build several levels, handing some of them over to Level Editors to complete, but retaining editorial control over a few.

Game Designer

Game Designer This is the big one. The crux of the industry and one of the most exciting jobs there is! It's about creating worlds, manipulating emotions and defining the experience that you want the player to go through. This is a job about ideas - the actual content and theme of the game, the actions and abilities that the player will have available, the mechanics they will be able to use and the challenges they will face.

However, a good Game Designer needs much more than just raw creativity and imagination. The role requires enormous discipline and the ability to understand the needs and demands of the entire audience. You need to strike the balance between creating a game that you want to play versus the game the audience want. It's a difficult task and constantly hits you with contradictory demands.

Game design actually covers two different strands - development design and initial concept design. Of the two, the initial concept design is the one that most people expect to be doing: actually coming up with ideas for brand new games. In truth, this is only a small part of the designer's life. You will spend much more time working on the development design, where you will go into enormous detail about every action, ability and mechanic of the game.

In many respects, the term Game Designer is not so much a specific job performed by a given person, but more a general task that is performed by the senior members of the design team (Level Designers and Design Manager). So, good communication skills and an excellent attitude to teamwork are vital for this role - as, in fact, they are for all the design roles.

Design Manager / Lead Designer

Design Manager The Design Manager is the person who is usually mainly responsible for the gameplay of the final game. It is their responsibility to take on all the ideas from the design team (and indeed the whole development team) and choose the best for the game. Naturally, they should be able to generate many ideas and concepts themselves.

Design management is only partially a creative role. The actual management side is crucial to the team and the game itself. As well as being responsible for the schedule of the designers on the team, the Design Manager will be in constant communication with the art and technical leads, ensuring the requirements of the game are understood, approved and enacted by all departments.

Furthermore, the Design Manager will be a principal point of contact with the publisher and will have to balance the desires of the development team with the requests of the producer (who will usually work for a completely different company - normally the company actually paying for the game to be developed). So some pretty good diplomatic skills are required for this role, as well as a deep understanding of the art and science of gameplay itself.

Further Specialisation

Depending on the type of game you end up working on, there may be some additional specialist design roles, for example, AI Designer or Script Writer, that require some very particular skills. It is well worth considering whether or not you could offer a dev team something of this nature in addition to your general game and level design skills, since this could raise your value as a prospective employee.

Resources

For application advice and information please see Getting the Job: Game Design section.