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The gaming industry is at full swing; video games are enjoyed by people of all ages, allowing players to step into an alternate world and become superhuman soldiers, expert tennis players, and world saviors.
Video games are extremely complex, in storyline alone, and there are millions of lines of code that develop every aspect of the game. From maps to characters, these games fulfill a reaction for every possible action that a player may choose. These worlds are courtesy of video game designers, who are responsible for the content and environment of every video game.
A video game begins with a concept. A proposal is drafted by a team of game designers, who address important details such as target audience, requirements, deadlines, and budgets. Video game designers make that concept of gameplay and layout come alive, often through experimentation with several themes and genres, as well as developments and improvements on existing games.
This can include:
All of this is created through computer software in which the designer will input computer scripting, which is then processed by the software to generate commands, events, objects and characters that players interact with.
There are many types of game designers who focus on a particular aspect of gameplay. Most designers will spend at least some of their time as testers, where they can experiment with coding and watch others’ mistakes firsthand. Lead designers are the coordinators of the team and are responsible for communication inside and outside of the design team, as well as making important decisions. A game mechanics designer works on the balance of the game and its rule system. Lastly, an environmental designer is responsible for creating the different scenarios and environments of the game.
A game will undergo millions of changes throughout its making, and game designers are required to constantly recheck and recode thousands of lines of code. A designer can also be called upon to develop a game to focus on a particular aspect, such as market, design, technology, or art.
Games that are market-driven are designed to make a profit, and therefore their progress is limited to consumer demand. Most games are developed in this manner. Games that are design-driven allow the designer to take full reign of the game and its aspects. Many games are not developed in this manner because of monetary restraints. Games that are technology-driven are created in order to highlight a technological achievement or to market gaming consoles and engines, such as high-quality graphic displays. Rarely, a game will be art-driven, where a game is focused on visual effects and impressive designs created by artists.
Game designers typically work for gaming companies such as Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, etc. They typically work in an office or studio-like setting amongst other designers and programmers. This environment can get very stressful, especially when one is dealing with a looming deadline, or dealing with a server crash.
Post-secondary education is often required to hold a position as a game designer. Typically a designer can seek education at local technical schools in the subjects of computer graphics, animation and software design.
Having a passion and a love for video games is essential. Game companies are looking for designers who have invested time into gaming, who love playing games, who are familiar with different gaming consoles, and who understand what makes a good game good. Active players will be able to bring innovation for improvements, as well as make fixes to currently ineffective and unattractive design elements.
A designer is an inventor of sorts. An alternate world is their creation, and its success depends on the power of the designer’s imagination. A designer must also be able to think on their feet and have advanced problem-solving skills. Video game design is not an exact science; it is prone to bugs and problems that must be quickly spotted and fixed. This area calls for quick adaptations and constant innovations as technology improves and video games are able to be more accurate and realistic. The designer creates this world through lines of code, and therefore must be knowledgeable in the field of computer programming and software creation.
Working well in a team, especially when working for large gaming companies, is important in order to meet deadlines and launch the game on time. A designer must also have excellent communication skills in order to persuade fellow teammates of an alternate method that is more efficient, or introduce new methods that may prove to be useful to the game design. Designers must also be able to work together in order to create concepts and parts of the game that are all fluid with one another, as if there had been only one person who created the game based off of his/her vision.
Breaking into the gaming industry requires many qualifications that developers insist on when hiring. The top qualities are a genuine interest in gaming, good problem solving, analytical skills and patience, ability to manage time well, work as a team member and company loyalty.
What is it like to work as a video game programmer? It is considered by many game-playing children to be a dream job. Is it actually as good as it sounds? It certainly is an interesting life. However, as with anything else on this planet, there are both positive and negative sides to working as a video game programmer.
Pete Low is a Games Designer at Chunk, a digital content agency based in Glasgow. Here he explains what he does for a living, and why he loves his job after 17 years in the games industry.