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What is a Game Designer?

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

Hi all, Lovely to be speaking to you today! I'm a designer/developer from Big Brain Games and Diana has asked me to talk to you all about a specific job role, The Game Designer. There are many roles when creating a game and even more when you are making a Video Game (I'm sure they will be covered in future blogs). There are also different types of designers during game production such as system, game, level and even sound but I'm here to discuss exactly what a game designer is, what they do and how they are different from a developer (they are different believe it or not).

What is a game? First off, before we talk about what a game designer does, we should first establish what a game is. Any guesses?... Yeah that’s right, it’s actually a very complex topic to break down, a game is an agreement between the game designer and the player. The game designer will give the player something to do, and the player will do that while obeying the rules of the game (most of the time).

Rules are just something that govern the game world, some rules may come to mind when you think about some of the games you have played, ‘ you can only move x amount of spaces during your turn’ or ‘you must pick up a card if you cannot place one down’. The same applies to video games, the only difference is they are digital.

What is a game designer? A game designer is just one of the many roles in game making. They are seen as visionaries and world builders, it is the game designer's job to tell the player a story or show them a new world, and most importantly ensure the player has fun. They take basic ideas and form them into an experience that a player would enjoy. Throughout production they have a hand in everything, they oversee the design process of the game in its entirety, everything from what the game looks like to how the game feels to play. I'm just going to list some of the roles they cover as there is a lot:

  • Visuals/Art - What does the game look like, what style is it, what era is it from? They will work extensively with game/concept artists to establish what the game should look like.

  • Sounds - What will the player be able to hear in the game world? Sound is a very important part of any game, especially the likes of horror games. The player should be able to close their eyes and get a basic idea of what the world could look like from just the sounds alone. Game designers will work closely with Sound Designers, Engineers and Technicians for work like this.

  • Rules - What is and isn't the player allowed to do in the world?

  • Win/Lose state - How does the player win the game? Do they have to collect a certain number of coins or beat a boss and claim the land? This can also just be reaching the end of the narrative. What happens if the player does not win the game, Can they lose? What happens when they lose?

  • Obstacles - What is in the world to stop/slow the player and their progress? This can consist of both story and mechanics. An obstacle could be a locked door, a basic enemy or even a boss/bad guy from the story. Game designers will work with Level designers for this.

  • Story - This doesn't just have to be the story that the player's character is following. It can also refer to the world itself, What is the story behind the world? If it's dystopian, what happened to cause it? Designers will work with narrative designers and story writers for this.

  • Environment - This can tie into the story and refers to the world in a physical sense, does it take place on earth? Is it from a different time period? Did it follow our way of evolution or have they advanced? What does it look like? What happens in it?

  • Progression - The player must win or lose the game but what happens along the way? This can tie into both story and general mechanics, designers will work with other roles such as level designers when planning out game and level progression.

  • Mechanics - What tools does the player have to interact with the world? This can be anything from the ability to walk and jump to more complex systems such as stealth mechanics (the ability for the player to hide from other aspects of the world such as AI).

  • Character - What characters are in the game? This can be the main character, side characters, NPCs (None Playable Character) and Enemies. What purpose do they serve in the game, do they help or hinder? What do they look like? What is there backstory? Game Designers will be working with artists and possibly narrative designers for this.

  • Admin - The less interesting part for most, but important nonetheless. The Game Designer is in charge of the paperwork. They must make the GDDs or Game Design Documents, a cookbook that contains every aspect of the game and how to rebuild it if necessary. They must schedule regular meetings with the team to ensure that production is going smoothly, deadlines are met and if there are any issues that may need addressing.

Sorry for the long list but a game designer has so many responsibilities and requires a very large and diverse set of skills, the most important being communication. As you can see from above the game designer is there every step of the way making every decision regarding the games future and in order to do this they must be able to communicate with every other department on their team. Some could argue the Game Designer is one of the most important roles when making a game but a game designer is nothing without their team, it's the team that brings the designers' visions to life.

Is a Game Designer different from a Game Developer? Game design and Game Development are terms you see switched out all the time in industry but they are in fact different roles. Game design is seen as more of an art form as the game designer is the visionary behind the game. They concept/design everything from game story, mechanics, characters and environments. A developer on the other hand is the driving force behind making the designers' concepts a reality. Both design and development work hand in hand and Designers and Developers work very closely throughout any project to ensure that production is consistent with the concept. A developer can usually be found doing everything from arranging visual aspects of the game on screen to programming mechanics that enable the game to be played. They bring the game to life. They have a list of other roles but I won’t get into them too much, some of which include:

  • AI - Artificial Intelligence, usually used for any character that won't be played, not true AI but a set of instructions that the computer can use to drive the other characters.

  • UI - User Interface, Anything that is on screen that is not directly in the game world, everything from user menus, health bars, minimaps and subtitles. (these can bleed into the game world but I won't cover that in this blog)

  • Game Logic - How the game functions fundamentally, are there puzzles? Do the doors open? Are there enemies?

Just like a Game Designer, A Game Developer must also have impeccable communication skills as they will be required to work closely with every other department to ensure the game is built the correct way.

I’m very sorry guys about the long read and the walls of text but as you can see a game designer is a very large and complicated role that takes a lot more explaining than I have managed to get down here. I've tried to keep it light where possible without leaving out anything important. I hope you've enjoyed the blog and that hopefully you have learned something about my job and how I function when making games. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments and I'll try to answer them. Until next time…

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