Nearly all of us have played video games as children and some of us continue to do so as adults. But have you ever wondered how such a complex piece of software is made? What kind of knowledge and skills are required to make a “good” game? Well, if you have ever wanted to get into the game of making a game, maybe you would want to look at game design as a career. Interested? Read on!
What it is, what it isn’t
Game design is the craft of knowing how hurling disgruntled birds on a stack of pigs can actually be fun for millions of people on the planet while making a franchise worth billions of dollars. Well, kind of.
Academically speaking, you could say that Game Design is an art and a science. It is the art of envisioning the storyline, content and rules of a game; while it is the science of examining the psychology of the player and his relationship with the game. In short, game design involves figuring out what will get a player hooked to a game and what won’t… and creating games that will work.
So who is the mastermind that uses game design theories to create a successful game? (drumroll please): the Game Designer!
A Game Designer is someone who has a vision of what the game is as it goes through iterations during its development cycle. Any game you see in the market is usually the brainchild of a Game Designer. You could say that he is the one who makes sure that a Half life game plays and feels like a Half life game. He doesn’t design the artwork or do the programming: he is to a game what a director is to a movie—he can make or break a game concept.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, Game Design doesn’t just mean designing video games for PC/Consoles... it could also mean designing board, card or live action games. Game Design is also used by companies to ‘gamify’ less interesting activities for their employees or customers.
Myths and Expectations
So, first things first: Game Design isn’t Programming. Game Design isn’t Character Design or Animation. Game Design isn’t Story Writing for Games and Game Design surely isn’t Game Testing. If you have been a die-hard gamer and you think you would want to make games because you can play games—you would be disappointed to know that it doesn’t qualify you to become a Game Designer. Yes, being a gamer does help. However, a Game Designer has to enter the industry with minimal bias towards all kinds of games; Games that are played by players from varied age groups, genders and geographies; on varied platforms and with varied play times.
As a Game Designer it’s unlikely that your first project will be a God of War 4 or a similarly huge AAA blockbuster title. It’s likely, that at the start you may be working for studio as a Trainee or Associate Game Designer. Most Game Designers have to start off on smaller design tasks like balancing how much gold a player gets in a certain area of a game or designing levels in projects before they are given the responsibility of envisioning the entire game. Let’s face it, you are new and a lot of time and money is at stake.
State of the Gaming Industry
The gaming industry in India is about to hit a boom. However, the production houses in India are mostly into smaller scale projects on platforms like Web / Mobile / Flash / HTML5. But no need to be disheartened, there are some bigger studios who work on cutting-edge 3D games for PC / PS3 as well. And the rest of the studios have essentially applied the Indian IT industry model of taking outsourced projects to sustain their businesses.
At the same time, the global gaming industry is pretty much awaiting a massive change. Social gaming on Facebook has already jumped the shark. Mobile gaming is gaining a stronghold as smartphones become cheaper and more powerful and more and more people are connected via 3G. Today, India and China are seen as the next targets that need to be specifically cracked. While publishers may argue that localized games and content are needed to pierce such a tough market like India with such diverse demographics, there are designers who say that there is nothing that can be called “Games for India”. Games are games. When my mom played Temple Run, she didn’t look at the obvious references to media like Indiana Jones or Uncharted, and still she plays it much better than me and enjoys the game fully. The reason being, the game didn’t alienate her. So, such a market barrier can be resolved by making the game more accessible.
The Position of a Game Designer
So, what is it that a Game Designer is supposed to do? Well, the Game Designer is like the MBA of the gaming industry. An MBA graduate goes through 36 subjects over 2 years ranging from Mathematics to Economics to Taxation laws. The same holds true for a Game Designer. Apart from knowledge of designing games, a Game Designer is expected to have understanding of Art / Aesthetics, Programming, Project Management, Culture, Languages, Sound Design / Music etc. You will be the only person who will have a complete vision of the game in the team and you will have to work with Programmers, Artists, Project Managers and even other Designers to bring the game to life. Knowing a thing or two about such topics removes unwanted friction in communication. And since you are a creative person, it is desirable for you to also have a reasonable amount of exposure to varied media such as Movies, Music, Comics, Anime / Manga, TV Shows etc. At the end of the day, making games is a business and you are supposed to make a game that people will be willing to pay for. Games are cultural products and you cannot even accidentally offend people of a certain country because you didn’t know something in your game is considered distasteful in their culture—cultural awareness is necessary.
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