Gaming & Technology

Gaming & Technology

Components of Video Game Design

Believe it or not, the first video games were developed back in the early 1950’s when computer scientists designed games and simulations for their research.  Video games as we know them nowadays, however, didn’t gain popularity until the 1970’s and 1980’s when arcade games and consoles were first introduced to the public. Games like Pong, Pacman, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, FIFA World Cup, All-star Baseball, and many others were played on popular consoles like Atari, Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation, just as they are today. 

These games, and allthe video games produced today, would not be available if not for the talent and skill of video game designers. Just like producing a movie or film, video game design involves many different parts, such as graphics, sound, plotlines, obstacles, written content, programming, and sometimes even actors,all coming together to complete one fantastic, cohesive final product.It is a field that takes clear communication skills, knowledge about the industry, and passion.

Video game design is a $60 billion industry, and the demand for game designers is expected to see rapid growth, especially with the onslaught of games for smartphones, for new and updated consoles, and a resurgence of computer gaming.

 

Specialties in the Field of Game Design

If you’re passionate about gaming and have an artistic flair for design, then this might be a career field you’d like to check out. Let’s look at the role of a ‘generalist’ designer first. The generalist (or game designer) is an umbrella title for the many specialties that make-up video game design.

Especially in smaller companies, generalists wear many hats, which requires them to fulfill a variety of duties. They have creative skills, technical knowledge in 3D modeling software, and a thorough understanding of gamingsoftware and computer hardware. They typically have years of experience, so this is not an entry-level position that you can step into immediately after college. Students who have completed focused coursework in game animation, motion capture, drawing, and scripting will have an advantage over others competing for the same jobs. Academic or practical knowledge of subjects outside of technology, including computer science, psychology, humanities, sociology, and fine art are also a big bonus for people entering the creative space of game design. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the field of video game design is growing, but competition for employment is high. To succeed as a generalist, you must have exceptional skills and knowledge that help you stand out in a crowded field. This begs the question, if you love a specific area of game design, why not specialize? Specialization in a specific area of design allows you to market yourself as an expert, and may open niche employment opportunities that are inaccessible to people with “general” skills. The process of constructing a video game requires contributions from experts of all sorts, which means that there is constant demand for designers with specific skills. 

To better understand the many specialties within the field of video game design, we have broken them down into seven general categories:  Game World, Storyline, Characters, Look and Feel, Content, Sound & Quality Assurance.

 

1. Game World

People in this area of video game design are generalists. They are typically responsible for designing entire worlds, and have job titles like: world designers, environmental designers, multi-player designers, online game designers, concept artists, and creative directors.

World Designers are responsible for each step in the development of a video game. Individuals in this role typically hold senior level and management positions because the job requires deep knowledge and experience in every step of the process. They will oversee everything from A-Z including the concept design, storyboarding, visual design, programming, and testing. Their responsibilities may also include direct oversight of the storyline/narrative, game level design, and all the minute details of the environment.

Environment Designers, also called environment modelers, are individuals who design the background and scenery of a game, which may include the architecture and landscapes, as well as all the interactions a character will have with the virtual world. They are highly creative individuals with extensive experience, knowledge and skills in 2D sketching, 3D modeling and software, architecture, fine arts, and history.

Multi-player Designers create player-vs-player collaborative games, fostering social interaction and competition. They typically have five or more years of experience and are highly skilled in the areas of programming, multiplayer systems, design packages, quality assurance, and communications. They must work well in a team environment, and have a thorough understanding of the overall process of game creation.

Concept Artists are highly creative individuals who produce illustrations of characters, environments, and other game elements from the vague ideas proposed by the game developers or creative team. The main goal of their work is to define a cohesive style that will permeate the entire video game. Their work typically beginsby presenting sketches of the concept to the team, then refining the drawings into sharply defined and well-developed worlds. Concept artists must have exceptional drawing, painting, and 3D modeling skills, including a strong foundation in color theory, form, and proportion.

Creative Directors are much like the producers of a film. They oversee the entire production process, from the original concept, to design, development, post-production, testing, marketing, and release. They are involved in every aspect of a game, and are ultimately the person held accountable for the success or failure of a game.

 

2. Storyline

People who work in this area of video game design are typically called level designers or mission designers. These individuals tackle the more detailed aspects of game design, such as the plotline and storyline, which includes all the different options of the storyline; routes and alternatives. They may be involved in constructing the narrative, developing characters, and making choices about dramatic events. They are imaginative and have a knack for writing and conceiving great story lines that will engage the audience and keep a gamer interested.

Level Designers are responsible for the design various levels of a game. Level design is an entry-level position that usually requires about one or two years of experience. A lead level designer will usually have between three and five years of experience. These professionals have strong drawing and sketching abilities, knowledge of 3D animation software, an understanding of architecture,and product design. They must pay close attention to detail – even the smallest details make a difference- have strong organizational skills, and knowledge of gaming softwareand technology.

Mission Designers create the concepts for the “missions” that take place throughout a game.Mission designers typically spend three to four years in the field of game design building their creative, writing and storytelling skills, before advancing to senior creative roles. They must have knowledge ofhow concepts and ideas intersect with code and development processes, work well in a team environment, and demonstrate analytical problem-solving skills when working under strict deadlines.

 

3. Characters

There are five main job titles that deal directly with character development for video games. They include, character artist, combat systems designer, animator, motion capture artist, and character rigger.

Character Artists are given the task of taking an idea from concept to a fully developed character. Like concept design, character artists give concrete form and personality to the ideas presented by game developers. After several rounds of review and revision, the two-dimensional sketches are used to create fully-functional 3D characters with the look and personality that makes them memorable.There are several essential skills to perform well in this job, which include artistic ability, 2D illustration and 3D modeling knowledge, a basic understanding of the physiology of animals, and the human form.

Combat Systems Designers are responsible for the aesthetics of armor and weaponry, battle tactics and action, combat mechanics, and other player-vs-player (PVP) engagement game elements that collectively make a gaming experience more engaging and visually authentic. Other common functions of a combat system designer include collaborating with other design teams to match the appearance, movement, and abilities of a character with the overall narrative.

Animators are an integral part of a video game design team – they play a lead (and support) role in virtually every aspect of production, from creating sharply defined and well developed worlds to ensuring the realistic and fluid motion of characters. Their role comprises the heart and soul of a video game – without their combination of technical and artistic skills the video game cannot effectively bring the storyline to life. Vital skills and knowledge are needed in areas of storytelling, movie production, lighting, texture and movement, sound, motion graphics, and 3D modeling.

Motion Capture Artists record movements from live actors using digital cameras and computers. The actor’s motions are translated into 3D characters by animators and motion graphics designers who will also edit the texture and lighting to make the movements lifelike. To be employable in this role, you will typically need a degree in computer animation, media arts, or communications.

Character Riggers are responsible for the construction of the skeletal framework of a video game character, which is used to enhance the expressiveness of a character’s facial features and fluid movement of the body. Using artistic talents and technical skill, the character rigger will assemble a computer generated three-dimensional wire frame of the character, using tools such as Motionbuilder or Maya, complete with joints and limbs that rotate and pivot. Character riggers typically work hand-in-hand with animators who will bring the character to life with natural movements and expressions.

 

4. Look and Feel

The look and feel of a video game is usually in the hands of a cinematic designer or FX artist (effects artist). FX artists work with VFX supervisors and other team leads to create physically accurate simulations and photo-real effects. These professionals work to solve challenges affecting the overall look of a shot, turning ideas into concrete game visuals and effects. This area of game design is vitally important to the realism and quality of game play.

Cinematics Designers integrate segments of animated storytelling throughout the narrative of a game, to enhance the plot and character development. A cinematic designer collaborates with writers, creative directors, producers and animators to blend cinematic elements into a game. Cinematic elements include recorded dialogue, sound effects, scripting, custom animations and cutscenes.

 

5. Content

The most common job title for someoneresponsible for the scripting and content of a video game is game writer. Game writers play an integral role in game design, especially in the early conception phase of production where research and planning are most intense. Common tasks of a game writer (or script writer) include: understanding the narrative and incidental writing needs of the game, collaborating with mission designers to fuse their ideas with the storyline, proofreading and rehearsing with actors and directors, and communicating directly with the cinematics department.

 

6. Sound

A sound designer, who may also be called an audio engineer, is typically responsible for recording and crafting audio to sync with animations in a game. Sound designers work withsound effects, music, ambient sound, and voices to make sure that audio assets complement the visuals. They may go into the field to record real-life audio that may suit the game, especially when sounds of vehicles or weapons are needed to enhance cinematic qualities of the story.

 

7. Quality Assurance

Game testers, also known as design analysts, software quality assurance engineers, beta game testers, or video game testers are asked to discover and document defects, bugs, or glitches with video game software. These functions are a critical part of the software testing and quality control process. Game testers are provided with a near market-ready version of the game and asked to explore the game thoroughly. On the surface, this may seem like the best job in the world – an easy and fun job that allows you to play video games all day. But the requirements of this role are actually quite demanding. A game tester must be highly technical and have critical evaluation skills, expertise in computing, and analytic ability. They must have gaming experience, familiar with game formats, and have excellent writing and communication skills to produce detailed reports. 

Most everyone at some time or another has played or watched a video game, but very few have contemplated everything that goes into making the game exciting to play. The video game industry is a $60 billion-dollar business that is still growing rapidly, and consumption is not expected to slow. As demand remains high, it’s expected that the number of jobs will increase, but that does not mean that competition for employment will lessen. Competition for jobs is still expected to remain high. If a video game design career is in your future – in any area of specialization – it’s best to start building experience early, and to learn programming skills. Look for networking opportunities and embrace learning opportunities with gaming software. For more information about a video game career, visit our page about How to Become a Video Game Designer.

  • Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn Pomroy

    Journalist, Artist & Lover of Puppies | Kathryn is a writing junkie and coffee aficionado who attended Arizona State University where she earned a blue belt in Shotokan-ryu Karate, graced the local stage as a ballerina, and graduated with honors with a degree in journalism.