What does a game designer do in the video games industry?
He defines the scope and purpose of the game, creating the setting and the narrative beyond it. He establishes how many players are going to be, who they are, and how they connect. He defines the rules: how to play, how the different elements interact, and when the game must end.
You may think that game designers compose mechanics while artists take care of the aesthetics, but this is not correct. Their roles are interdependent. The best results in video games come when design, art, and engineering are all driving the game towards the same target.
Every game designer must have an artistic vision, just as an artist who wants to be involved in making games must have a piece of knowledge about the basics of game design.
What is a game?
To explain how art and programming combine in game design, we must first define what a game is.
It may seem a straightforward question, but we know that “game” can refer to many different things, from Tennis to Chess to Monopoly and Soccer. What all these activities have in common? Well, they all have four necessary components:
- A goal: a mission or purpose that players must achieve.
- Obstacles that make it challenging to complete the mission.
- Strategic decisions to take
According to this definition, though, job interviews or get on time at an appointment would also be game. What they miss is fun.
Fun is the essential element of games and can be a very personal concept, ranging from living out an alternate fantasy, feeling a thrill, experiencing camaraderie, mastering a skill, exploring the unknown, being creative, or express yourself.
In video games, different kinds of fun can interfere with each other, slowing or hindering the game. For example, some games are driven by a great narrative, while in others, two many fictional details could harm the gameplay. It is essential to be specific and create a target experience.
Art and design must aim in the same direction
While we quickly understand that art can affect gameplay, it is less evident how simple mechanics such as enemy movement patterns can set the tone and give personality to characters.
Together, artists and designers must ensure that the mechanics of the game are implying the right thematics and vice versa.
If the art and the mechanics aren’t supporting the same theme, the gameplay could feel surprisingly unnatural. Consider, for example, bushes stopping bullets, or open doors that you cannot walk through.
Create the tension
When you create a goal for a game, you want to make it clear for the players how they are progressing. Clear visual indicators and checkpoints can be crucial, as well as a climactic arc, leading to a dramatic tension towards the final resolution.
Get the right satisfaction
Challenges make a game fun, but they can also be very frustrating. It’s the job of the game designer to guarantee the right amount of frustration, providing both the obstacles and the tools to help the players to overcome them. Consistent design, together with clear expectations, makes the game feel fair. On the other hand, when a game becomes unpredictable and inconsistent, players cannot learn from their failures and start to feel helpless.
Balance luck and skill
Challenges are deeply related to the concept of luck versus skills. Whether in some games the dice roll determines the winner, in highly competitive ones, very little is left up to the random chance, and the outcome mainly depends on the skills and abilities of the player. It is essential to have the right balance of both.
In conclusion, we may say that a Game Designer is the result of the intersection between an artist, a writer, and a programmer. He must have a complete artistic vision, be able to write the rules and supervise or even contribute to the technical programming phase.
His job is not so much about coming with new ideas, but rather about being able to look at all the information available and pick out the best solution to a given problem, or put them together in a cohesive way and good playing experience.