Game design

From Academic Kids

Game design is the process of designing the content, background and rules of a game. A document which describes a game's design used during development may also be called a design document. Professional game designers specialize in certain types of games, such as board games, card games or video or computer games.


Key concepts


A game's theme or setting is what the game is about: the armies of a chess board, the marine stuck on an abandoned lunar base, or entrepreneurs making money through property. Although not essential, most games have a theme of some sort, and it is often the starting point of the design. A strong theme is considered a core part of the marketing strategy for a commercial game and will often be conceived in a marketing department before being passed to game designers to create a game, particularly with licensed properties.


Gameplay is what the player does during the game. Gameplay is at the heart of the design process and is usually extensively tested and refined. The aim of the gameplay is to make the game enjoyable to the player or the spectator. There are a wide variety of methods for achieving gameplay and designers are constantly inventing more. Gameplay is interactive and usually challenges the player in some manner.


Presentation is the how the game and its theme are realised, the look and feel of the game. Although the final presentation of the game is not usually created by a designer, the game design will inform the presentation, and the designer's opinion is usually sought.

Video/computer game design process

Missing image
This early version of the design document for Scooby Doo: Mystery of the Fun Park Phantom shows the dynamic nature of game design. As the cover of the 100+ page design document shows, it was originally planned to be called Scooby Doo: The Mystery of the Gobs o' Fun Ghoul.

The game designer starts with a concept, which may be handed to one or may have been created by oneself. One may start informally by discussing the game idea with others or may start writing immediately. Either way, one of the first tasks is to create an initial game design (or proposal, depending on the circumstances). The initial design needs to be approved and then full-scale production can begin.

However, just getting a game idea or design approved can be a tedious process. If the initial design is rejected, the designer needs to try to figure out why it was rejected and make changes to appease stakeholders. The process of submitting a design, getting rejected, tweaking and resubmitting can take weeks, months or even years. Often, a game design never gets approved and the designer has to attempt a different idea altogether. But when a design finally gets the "green light", it isn't over.

When full-scale production begins, the initial game design gives the production team (programmers, artist and one or more producers) a "jumping off" point for development. Artists generate concept sketches and programmers will develop several prototypes to test out various game concepts. During this time, the game design will evolve, change and grow drastically, and it is the game designer's job to document it all.

But it doesn't end when the early production phase is over. During development many discoveries are made (for example, a way to render larger scenes) and shortcomings have to be dealt with (for example, the inability to calculate inverse kinematics). All these discoveries alter the game design and must be documented. The game design is a "living document" and the game designer is its heart and blood. Making and managing all the changes is difficult and can be cumbersome, so the designer must be adept at prioritizing and tracking changes. Additionally, since changes can be made in any place of the document, the designer must be vigilant in keeping the team informed of these changes and must be ready for any anger or criticism levied at them from the outcome—many hundreds of hours of work may be discarded from subtle changes to the game's direction.

The main weapon in a game designer's arsenal is a word processor. With this application, the designer will hammer out the game design as it goes through its scores of revisions, growing from a few sparse pages to a mammoth tome, cross-referenced and indexed. Samples of artwork, graphs and tables make up some of the content, but most of the document is text which the designer generated.

The game designer must be diplomatic. During development, many members of the development team will offer suggestions or request changes (actually, a good game designer will solicit comments from the team). When many suggestions for one aspect of the game are made, the designer must choose which one is most desirable. They must be diplomatic in announcing their decision so as not to offend those who proffered the unused choices. Like in most endeavors, a coherent team is vital in game development and the designer can't afford to offend those who may play vital roles.

Diplomacy is also important when dealing with the client, who may be upper management, or, in the case of a third-party developer, the game publisher. If these stakeholders are not satisfied with aspects of the design, the designer must diplomatically resolve these issues, balancing satisfying the client with keeping in features that he or she wants. Upsetting any one of several possible stakeholders could lead to removal of the designer from the game.

If the designer is not the sole designer on a game, one must exercise diplomacy when discussing features with other designers. Conflicting ideas can easily escalate into heated arguments when passionate personalities are involved.

Game designers must be creative individuals with broad backgrounds. A wide frame of reference is used to generate new ideas or entertaining content. Because of the demands of the market, designers are often required to design games based on licensed properties or IPs—some of which may have little game potential (for example, Cap'n Crunch breakfast cereal). In these cases, the designer must exercise great creativity and patience while forming a game that is fun and interesting.


See also

External links

Game design newsgroups


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