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What is Video Game Design

Video game design is the craft in the game development process that focuses on designing play through fantasy and mechanics, while using rules and systems to create challenge in opposition of the player’s goal in the game.

This fundamental purpose of aligning the player’s desires and fantasy with the experience the game designer intends to create is at the heart of every great game and transcends the mediumsbe it digital, card, board games and beyond.

The word game design is synonymous to video game design unless explicitly stated otherwise because the current market share domination of the digital medium.

Game design can be broken down as the following:

  • Gameplay is the interaction between the player, the mechanics and the systems
  • Game mechanics are anything that the player uses to interact with the game, or that the game uses to interact with the player.
  • Systems are the wheels that spin inside the game, either in response to player actions or on their own.
  • Core loops are the repeatable sequences the players engage in that make up the gameplay

A video game designer is the shepherd of the game’s vision, designing the gameplay with mechanics, systems, and content through the lens of the player’s experience.

Professionally, in a game studio setting, the different types of game designers work closely with other members of the development team such as artists, programmers, and producers to ensure

  • Timely delivery
  • Balancing the gameplay experience
  • Incorporating player feedback
  • Staying up-to-date with the gaming industry
  • Bringing their own creative ideas to the table

How to become a game designer professionally?

In order to become a game designer professionally, you first have to make sure game design is something you like to do

The best to do that is to go make an actual game. You can take the Build a Game Challenge where I give you templates and instructions on how to build a playable virtual tabletop prototype.

Once you confirm that here are the next steps:

Get interviews by passing the following talent filtering point in the sequential order as you move closer to job offer:

  1. Game design resume & cover letter  – These are the initial touch points when recruiters are filtering for candidates.
  2. Game design portfolio – Before you get any reply, your portfolio has to catch their attention and show evidence of what they filter for.
  3. Game design tests – Studios tend to send design tests before you even speak with anyone from the dev team.
  4. Game design job interviews – in the following format and sequential order:
    1. Questions and answers – they ask question, you answer. Prepare yourself with these game design interview questions.
    2. Live mock design session – Simulate a scenario where you can demonstrate how you identify and solve design problems. (harder to fake)
    3. Group interviews:
      1. Skill fit interview: A group of game devs working on the project will interview you to see if your skills and experience fit their context.
      2. Cultural fit interview: The game devs your position will work closely with will interview you to see if they like to work with you.

game design hiring filter process

Your first job will most like be one of the  general entry-level game design positions:

  • Assistant game designer
  • Associate game designer
  • Junior game designer

Of course, there’s more than one way to be a game designer.

sub disciplines of game design GDS

Below is a list of different types of game designers’ disciplines and their contribution to the overall experience:

  • Narrative design specializes in ensuring the environment, character and quest content matches the story and theme of the world.
  • Level design focuses on making interesting challenges and clear flows for the player to take as they explore.
  • Mechanics designers specializes in creating features which allow players to affect the world, enemies and allies around them.
    • This is my specialization
    • Here that’s a beginner’s guide I put together on what is video game mechanics.
  • Combat design specializes in using animation, timing and visual effects to clearly communicate success and failure in combat.
  • Systems design specializes in creating interlocking parts to encourage the players to grow, explore and experiment.
  • Balance design specializes in ensuring the game balance is healthy and that diverse play styles exist at a competitive level.
  • Sound design specializes in making the experience feel natural, comfortable, scary, or mysterious.
  • Content design, for example, is a catch-all term for designers who fill in the game after the core is built.

… and so many more, depending on the size, culture, and context of the studio and game you’re working with.

From experience, many people I’ve encountered think the hard part of making a game is designing it.

While the design is hard, design is only one of many disciplines that work together to produce a game in the process of game development.

The holistic process of “game development” includes every role:

  • Game designer
  • Game programmer
  • Game artist
  • Game producer
  • Marketer
  • Architecture & tooling engineer
  • QA engineer
  • Playtest coordinators
  • Community manager
  • Investor
  • Social media manager
  • and more…

Video game development is about the process of producing the entire game.

However, the definition of the term game development is also interchangeable with the definition of game programming.

So if you’re a game developer you do the coding in the process of making the video game.

difference between game developer and game programmer

Video game design is focused specifically on the kind of emotional, technical, and intellectual experience you want the players to partake.

Many disciplines use game engines, but game designers will often get deep into scripting, logic, behavior trees, and balance numbers and visuals while communicating their ideas to the players in.

When I was younger, I believed that you had to do everything to be a game designer.

There’s a seed of truth there – but knowing the right terms will help you focus in on the design role that fits you the best!

The design team will work with the creative director to define the sort of experience they want to create.

Early on the design team will work with the programmers to define the genre to build and the features to build for the game.

Then as the features come in, their job is to test, experience the features and provide feedback to the rest of the creative team.

So if we were to put all the roles in the context of the game development iterative process, here is how I would visualize it:

game development roles in the context of the the game dev process

This can come in the form of personal conversations, emails, zoom calls, discord or slack messages — at the end of the day the communication, not the form is the key.

However it happens, the game designer is still responsible for making an amazing, memorable and focused experience.

Afterward, the game designer will shepherd the feature the rest of the way through the game by

  1. Taking player feedback
  2. Making small changes themselves
  3. Explaining larger changes to the leadership and programming teams
  4. Being a cheerleader for the ideas of both the team and themselves

Finally, if a game is a success, some designers may interface directly with the community to gather feedback, explain their thinking and try to ensure the long lifespan of the game.

Now, if you become a director-level game designer, your role is more closely associated with the vision of the product than other roles, but even so, the fundamentals are the same!

A lot of your time will be spent achieving buy-in and alignment, not just generating ideas for others to implement!

The Funsmith Tavern

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Each Friday, get a shot of 2-min TL:DR update in your inbox on the latest

If somehow it turns out this isn’t for you, unsubscribe any time.

EXPERIENCE & BACKGROUND:

[STUDIO] Blizzard Entertainment: Content, mechanics, and systems designer

(Creator of Apex Legends & former Creative Director at Respawn)

[GAME] World of Warcraft: MMORPG with 8.5 million average monthly players, won Gamer’s Choice Award – Fan Favorite MMORPG, VGX Award for Best PC Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Video Game.

  • Classic:
    • Designed Cosmos UI
    • Designed part of Raid Team for Naxxramas
  • Burning Crusade:
    • Designed the raid bosses Karazhan, Black Temple, Zul’Aman
    • Designed the Outlands content
    • Designed The Underbog including bosses:
      • Hungarfen, Ghaz’an, Swamplord Musel’ik, and The Black Stalker
    • Designed the Hellfire Ramparts final bosses Nazan & Vazruden
    • Designed the Return to Karazhan bosses: Attumen the Huntsman, Big Bad Wolf, Shades of Aran, Netherspite, Nightbane
  • Wrath of the Lich King:
    • Designed quest content, events and PvP areas of Wintergrasp
    • Designed Vehicle system
    • Designed the Death Knight talent trees
    • Designed the Lord Marrowgar raid
  • Cataclysm:
    • Designed quest content
    • Designed Deathwing Overworld encounters
    • Designed Morchok and Rhyolith raid fights
  • Mists of Pandaria: 
    • Overhauled the entire Warlock class – Best player rated version through all expansion packs
    • Designed pet battle combat engine and scripted client scene

[GAME] StarCraft 2: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Diablo 3: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Overwatch: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[GAME] Hearthstone: Playtested and provided design feedback during prototyping and development

[STUDIO] Riot Games: Systems designer, in-studio game design instructor

(Former Global Communications Lead for League of Legends)
(Former Technical Game Designer at Riot Games)

[GAME] League of Legends: Team-based strategy MOBA with 152 million average active monthly players, won The Game Award for Best Esports Game and BAFTA Best Persistent Game Award.

  • Redesigned Xerath Champion by interfacing with community
  • Reworked the support income system for season 4
  • Redesigned the Ward system
  • Assisted in development of new trinket system
  • Heavily expanded internal tools and features for design team
  • Improved UI indicators to improve clarity of allied behaviour

[OTHER GAMES] Under NDA: Developed multiple unreleased projects in R&D

Game Design Instructor: Coached and mentored associate designers on gameplay and mechanics

[STUDIO] Moon Studios: Senior game designer

(Former Lead Game Designer at Moon Studios)

[GAME] Ori & The Will of The Wisps: 2m total players (423k people finished it) with average 92.8/100 ratings by 23 top game rating sites (including Steam and Nintendo Switch).

  • Designed the weapon and Shard systems
  • Worked on combat balance
  • Designed most of the User Interface

[GAME] Unreleased RPG project

  • Designed core combat
  • High-level design content planning
  • Game systems design
  • Game design documentation
  • Gameplay systems engineering
  • Tools design
  • Photon Quantum implementation of gameplay

[VC FUNDED STARTUP] SnackPass: Social food ordering platform with 500k active users $400m+ valuation

[PROJECT] Tochi: Creative director (hybrid of game design, production and leading the product team)

  • Lead artists, engineers, and animators on the release the gamification system to incentivize long-term customers with social bonds and a shared experience through the app

[CONSULTING] Atomech: Founder / Game Design Consultant

[STUDIOS] Studio Pixanoh + 13 other indie game studios (under NDA):

  • Helped build, train and establish the design teams
  • Established unique combat niche and overall design philosophy
  • Tracked quality, consistency and feedback methods
  • Established company meeting structure and culture

Game Design Keynotes:

(Former Global Head of HR for Wargaming and Riot Games)
  • Tencent Studio
  • Wargaming
  • USC (University of Southern California)
  • RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • US AFCEA (Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association)
  • UFIEA (University of Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy)
  • West Gaming Foundation
  • Kyoto Computer Gakuin – Kyoto, Japan