Blog / Game Design / How to Get Your 1st Game Design Job: Passing Game Design Tests (Part 4 of 4)

How to Get Your 1st Game Design Job: Passing Game Design Tests (Part 4 of 4)

How to Get Your 1st Game Design Job: Passing Game Design Tests (Part 4 of 4)

All right, we’ve reached the last post in our 4-part series!

Assuming you’ve applied for the game design position you want and you’ve passed the interview, the next step you’ll need to take a game design test.

In our final article of the series, “Applying to Your First Game Studio,” we’ll dive into the process and helpful tips for what to do when a studio sends you a game design test.

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this series, I encourage you to start at the beginning. 

  1. Refine Portfolios, Resumes, and Cover Letters for Results (Part 1 of 4)
  2. Where to Apply and How to Increase Your Odds (Part 2 of 4)
  3. Dealing with Interviews, Feedback and Rejections (Part 3 of 4)
  4. How to Pass Game Design Tests (Part 4 of 4) <- This Post

This is a big topic and will change a lot depending on the company, position, and the people involved. The challenges of game design tests can feel overwhelming, but some basic understanding will go a long way.

My experience with game design tests comes mainly from systems design, but you can apply the same principles while tackling design tests in any game development position you’re interviewing for.

I will provide general design test examples for junior, mid-level, and senior/lead game designer positions later in the post so you have better context of what to expect.

So, let’s dive into it.

What is a Game Design Test?

The point of the game design test is to for you to showcase your skills, your understanding of design tools, and your thought process.

The design test might be a written “paper test,” or it might include technical skills depending on the role (scripters or level designers might build something in an editor, for instance). Either way, the main focus is your design process.

What’s important is showing what you can do, and applying your skills to a realistic situation. Aim to build something cool, but allow for some buffer time in case it takes longer than you expect. Managing time is important for any designer.

Most designers assume the studio will expect you to turn in a full game design document. However, when answering a design test, you want to focus on the essential elements that make the design stand on its own. You won’t be there to explain your thought process while they review it.

What Can You Expect in a Game Design Test?

No one expects you to make a Rolls-Royce in a couple of weeks. Think of your project like this replica Flintstones car instead: communicate a clear design vision with the tools and schedule you have available.

Game studios tend to send you a design test early on into your interview process, sometimes before you even have a chance to talk with anyone from the development team.

Typically the studio will give you one to two weeks for a design test, and often even ask when you want to begin. If something comes up and you need to take a bit longer, make sure you communicate and let them know (this action demonstrates your communication skills).

Even though you have more time than an in-person skills test, be realistic about what you can do. You aren’t expected to have a full understanding of their game’s limits or to build something that takes weeks of polish and iteration.

Simply put, here are the 3 important elements a studio expects you to demonstrate in a game design test:

  1. Your skills as a designer 
  2. Your understanding of design tools
  3. Your thought process

My Process for Success at Game Design Tests

First, I’ll start by saying that I’ve been told I go a little overboard on design tests. Studios know you have other things to do, and won’t expect you to work on their game development task for 40 hours.

But my thought process (especially when trying to break into the industry) is that design tests are an amazing tool for honing your skills. Even if you don’t pass the studio’s test, there’s a wonderful silver lining:

  • You level up your skills 
  • The tests become easier with experience
  • You become better at doing more in less time

I’ll go through my process assuming I have about a week to finish the test in my spare time. Remember to adapt according to the time you have available, and what works for you.

Day 0 – Have clarity before you jump in

Don’t jump in and start developing the first thing that comes to mind. Take the time to understand what is expected, and clearly define your goals.

Write these goals down as clearly as possible. If you need to make some key assumptions, write these down as well. This will help guide you in your design, and also help the people who review your design understand where you’re coming from.

It is also okay to ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand their expectations. These are all fine questions to ask, for example:

  • How long is this expected to keep players engaged?
  • What is the overall tone for this quest?
  • How many players should this level support?

Day 1 – Brainstorm different ways you can approach the test

Once you have your goals and expectations, start by coming up with a few different directions you can go in. Don’t focus too much on limits yet, just brainstorm ideas that fit your goals and see which one you gravitate towards.

Days 2 and 3: Build a foundation

Once you have a direction in mind, it’s time to get to work. Start building out the foundation and most important parts first. You don’t want to get caught up in unimportant details then run out of time to show your key feature.

This also means that if your key elements don’t work, you have time to tweak them or pivot to one of your other ideas.

Day 4: Don’t overwhelm yourself, keep it rough at first

After the core elements are done, I like to set the test aside for a day. Use this time to recharge, plan any nice-to-have supporting features, or to start writing any documentation that is needed.

You don’t want a lot of detailed documentation, just the basics so that anyone can pick it up and see what you made without any trouble. This could be as simple as a list of the core concepts, alongside any player controls needed to use your work.

Some studios might also ask you to explain your design process or why you made certain decisions. If that is the case, make sure you don’t forget to include it, but otherwise I wouldn’t try to focus on it here.

Day 5: Polish your design

I dedicate the next day to polish and nice-to-have features. If these end up being a lot of work then I can quickly cut them without harming the core of my design test.

Focus on finishing touches. Yes, this frog seems perfect already, but why not give it a tiny hat?

Make sure you don’t break anything here and be disciplined about only adding things that are really worth it. You don’t want to overcomplicate things.

If you are working in an engine, I HIGHLY recommend making a build at this point just to make sure everything is working as expected.

For this who are unfamiliar: In game development, a build in this case is a compiled and ready to go version of the game, rather than trying to transfer raw assets or code.

Day 6: Explain yourself

Next I finish writing the design doc. This is where you will list your goals, plus any explanations needed for your design.

If there are parts that you expect would need extra iteration, or even if you think your design falls short of your goals, it’s okay to call these issues out. It’s better to show you understand the goals and recognize problems than to hope the reviewer doesn’t notice.

You’ll often be given a clear maximum length, but even if you aren’t, it’s best to keep it short. Clear and concise communication is a valuable skill to have in the games industry.

I try to have this finished and ready to go by the end of the day. The last thing I’ll do is make sure everything is ready to turn in, but I don’t actually turn it in yet.

Day 7: Last check & play your design

This is your chance to go cross your T’s and dot your I’s and add any finishing touches. We have all noticed something we missed right before a deadline, so set day 7 aside to take this into account.

You shouldn’t be doing much work here, just last-minute things. Read through your design doc carefully, make writing tweaks, and do last-minute tests of your build if you have one.

Really, Day 7 gives you time to relax, play with what you created, and enjoy it before sending it off.

Additional recommended reading:

If you’re reading this post, then you’re most likely looking to get in the industry. Here are a few posts that dive into the fundamentals that I recommend you to checkout.

Video Game Mechanics Examples

How to Become a Video Game Designer

How to Make a Game Design Portfolio (That Works)

Here are Some Examples of Game Design Tests

Keep in mind, these are general design test questions to demonstrate the context and difficulty of the tests.

Level Design tests would be far more concrete and include creating some spaces inside Unreal or another 3d tool to demonstrate your awareness of space, leading the eye and gameplay.

Note: Feel free to share your design test answer in the comments below, I’d love to see them!


 

Please keep all responses to about one page of text. Please feel free to use any visuals, videos or illustrations that would simplify your answers and keep your responses brief.

Junior-Level Position Design Test

Part 1 – Character Design:

You’ve been handed responsibility for coming up with a new skill for Pikachu in the new Pokemon platformer.  He currently has thunderstrike (calls down lightning directly down on him, dealing AoE damage) and quick step (Teleport forward a short distance).

    • What skill would you add to this kit and why?

Part 2 – General Design:

You’re working on Stardew Valley: The Expansion.

    • What feature would you add to the farm to make interacting with the villagers more rewarding?
    • Why would you add it?
    • How would you sell this to a lead designer?

Part 3 – Systems Design:

You’ve been handed responsibility for creating a new weapon in Call of Duty.

    • What kind of weapon do you pick and how do you balance it against the existing ones?
    • If you had to cut another weapon to replace it with your new weapon, which would you pick and why?

Mid-Level Position Design Test

Part 1 – Character Design:

A creative director hands you the concept for the main hero of an action adventure game. Their name is Chef Chette Casserole. The key art consists of the chef sitting in front of a fully stocked kitchen full of sharp and diverse cooking tools. The director says that the chef will be accompanied during the game by different cooking ingredients brought to life. 

    • Please design the core combat features of the chef, along with two one-sentence theme proposals for their companions. 

Part 2 – General Design:

Chop & Cook, the game you’ve been contracted to support, has been required by the publishers to pivot from a game about hunting beasts to cultivating and cooking plants. The previous core loop consisted of heading into a forest, hunting a variety of beasts and butchering them for ingredients, before mixing and roasting in camp for nutrition.  

    • Please redesign this hunting loop to fit the new vegetarian theme. 

Part 3 – Systems Design:

Design the core loop of a farming sim, along with an explanation for how you would expose hooks and integrate it into the reward system of a typical RPG. (jRPG or Action RPG system examples are perfectly fine)

    • Please clearly communicate how you would create effective integration between the combat gameplay and the simulation elements. 

Part 4 – Critical Thinking:

Choose your favorite major release from the past year. Breakdown what you personally enjoyed and separately, what you believe the core players for this genre enjoyed.

    • What worked and what didn’t? 

Lead / Sr. Level Position Design Test

Part 1 – Character Design:

You are in charge of a team of 3 junior designers who are responsible for creating the enemies for your new Magical Girl Beat ‘em up side-scroller.

    • How do you communicate the core principles of enemy design and how do you prioritize their work?

Part way through a milestone, one designer’s work is far below par.

    • How do you handle this situation?

Part 2 – General Design:

You are in charge of explaining a controversial new system in the latest hit game Cult of the Lambs. The team is unhappy with the sacrifice mechanic after a junior designer demonstrated the feature using members of the programming team as placeholder names during the demo.

    • How do you handle this situation?  

Part 3 – Systems Design:

You are responsible for specifying the details of how the itemization / reward system will work for the new smash hit, Barbie: The Movie (The Game). A core element of the gameplay is both cosmetic focus and a substantial amount of gameplay around Barbie’s professional career and Ken’s startup career as a TikTok video editor.

    • How do you design a system to cater to both?
    • How do you explain the details of this system to a colleague who isn’t familiar with either character or TikTok?

Part 4 – Leadership:

The former lead designer quit for his dream role at Hello Kitty Island Adventures.

    • How do you approach introducing yourself to the current team?

You know at least two members were gunning for this position themselves before the company hired you.

    • Does this change your approach?
      • If so, how?
      • If not, why?

Final Thoughts

Now you should have a decent idea of what to expect from a design test, and a look at what my process is like.

If you are looking for more examples you can find some online and try your hand at them, or come up with your own. Just a reminder this doesn’t need to be perfect, no one is expecting you to have something ready to ship.

You’ve made it to the end of this article series, and are clearly dedicated to entering the game industry. If you haven’t already started, then go out there and apply!

Good luck and maybe we’ll be working together soon.

And if you any questions or thoughts about designer tests, feel free comment below!

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