Monday, February 06, 2006

So You Want To Be A Game Designer? - Jan 28th, 2006

...but have no experience.

Unlike programming and art, game design is a difficult area to break into. This is due to design being one of those skills that is hard to demonstrate. There are a lot of courses that deal with game programming and game art - but finding a good game design course is difficult.

The best way to learn is on the job - but it’s a catch 22 situation. Unless you have experience it’s hard to be hired - and usually the best way to get experience is to work for a game developer. So, if you want to be a game designer but have no experience what can you do?

Create a Portfolio

Like most jobs, the best way to show that you are good at something is to have an example of what it is you do. Game design is no different.

You need to be able to demonstrate that you can:

  1. Communicate an idea in a clear and concise manner with no ambiguity.
  2. Come up with game designs that fit a given theme.
  3. Design a playable level or feature of a game.

1) Communicate an idea in a clear and concise manner with no ambiguity.
The best way to do this is to create some sample game design documents. Check out the Design Web Sites links below for more information on how to write a good game design document.

An overview game design document is more than enough and can be under 10 pages. Remember, keep the design document brief and to the point.

2) Come up with game designs that fit a given theme.
Create sample game design documents that demonstrate you understand the game’s theme and that you know how to use this theme in the design. If the game is an FPS set in Ancient Egypt make sure that the weapon design reflects the theme. A Staff of Ra, for example, would be a better weapon design decision than a shotgun.

3) Design a playable level or feature of a game.
The most important thing you can do is to demonstrate that you know how to design a great game. The best way to do this is to make games - and these do not have to published games. Don’t fret if you have zero programming knowledge or art skills.

The more examples of completed playable game demos you have the better. These can be simple card games and board games (made from paper and cardboard), levels from Unreal, Quake or any other first person shooter, Real Time Strategy game missions or skate park levels from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It doesn’t matter what they are - the more you have, and the greater the variety, the better.

If you’re using an editor to make a level, plan it out on paper first so you can demonstrate your thought process from idea to implementation. Focus on creating a good single player level with an interesting scenario and interesting encounters.

If you’re making a paper card or board game, don’t get hung up on pretty graphics. Just text and simple shapes are fine – it’s the game design that matters! Don’t forget to write up some simple and concise rules to explain how the game works.

In Summary

Write sample game designs.
Make games.
Read about game design.
Play games.

Again, I can’t stress the importance of creating a portfolio of work, even if it is unpublished. The majority of game design applicants I see rarely have sample design documents or sample demos. If you have these then you’re way ahead of the pack.

Useful Resources

Books to read:

Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping and Playtesting Games by Tracy Fullerton
Game Design Theory and Practice by Richard Rouse III
Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design by Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams

Game Design Sites: – great resource on making games. - article on writing game design documents. - another article on writing game design documents.

Programs, Tools and Resources:

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 – both have a built in game editor that allows you to build your own skate park.

Blitz3D, BlitzPlus and BlitzMax – these are easy to use programming languages, ideal for getting a simple game prototype up and running in no time at all. BlitzMax and BlitzPlus are ideal for 2D while Blitz3D is great for 3D games.

PopCap Framework - visit to join their program and download their programming framework. You need to know the C programming language and you’ll also need a C development environment. - site dedicated to game editors for Half Life, Half Life 2, Unreal and Quake 3. - Unreal Editor links site. - a list of links to game creation utilities. Some require no programming knowledge at all. - check out the Free Stuff section for examples of simple card games for inspiration.

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