So Design. Yes… Design. Where most people who want to make video games want to end up. And nothing wrong with that!
So lets run down some of the positions, shall we?
1) Creative Director
This is the top guy for designing. He’s the one who says “Lets make a game about ZOMBIES!” and then comes up with all the justification as to why, and why making a 1st person zombie vs Kardashians game is The Bomb and why people will want to play it. This individual sets the company goals in terms of what kinds of games it’s makes, how they are going to look, what the target demographic is, and is, in general, the holder of the high level vision of what the game needs to be.
2) Lead Designer
The Lead Designer is the guy responsible for the one game he’s on. Every design decision on that project rests with him. He’s the guy the lead artist collaborates with in order to ensure they get the look he is looking for. This guy carries The Vision about the specifics of the game around with him, and is constantly reviewing everything implemented to be sure that it conforms to that vision. The lead Programmer and Lead Artist are his partners, and they are there to provide him with that which he feels he needs for the game (and sometimes they are there to say No to him, when his requests are outside of the realm of their ability to provide.)
3) Lead Level Designer
This is kind of a genre specific kind of designer – it’s for games that have world navigation in them. He’s building out the architecture for a level, with a view to what the game play is going to be in that level. So he’s both world building, placing models supplied by the 3d modeler, and also designing the flow of how the player/s may be navigating that level – what events might take place, where, and where the camera might be when that happens. He’s part scripter, part game designer and part architect. And it’s not just FPS or 3rd person games that have this position – RTS games have it, even Tower Defender games have it.
I include this as a separate position simply because with the proliferation of FPS teams, it’s a pretty common one to have.
4) Lead Combat designer / UI / Game Genre Specific area
There are usually always area’s of specificness for each genre type that may well require a specific lead. Games like Uncharted, for example, will have a combat designer, as do games like Call of Duty. Mobile card games have a UI flow designer. Games like Rez have a sound flow designer. The Sims have Object Designers, who decide what features an object in the game will have, and how they will satisfy the sims needs.
Every game has different requirements, and each game will need different leads covering those requirements.
5) Lead Story designer
Like Level designer, it’s worth calling this one out as a specific discipline. Narrative games are built around story (Uncharted, Halo etc) and as such, the story is tightly woven into what the game is. Some places tend to use story as just glue for the next shooty bit, but some integrate properly. MMO’s also have this issue – new quests and story driven aspects need to be woven in and as a result, someone needs to both be creative and come up with what the intention is of the story telling aspect and also ensure that everyone else understands that and follows it.
They will also be writing cinematic scripts, directing the voice talent and even potentially directing the motion capture actors.
6) System designer
A system designer is someone who takes a reasonably isolated system and basically, designs it. So, for example, a Quest system designer for an MMO will look at what is already out there, look at what the design doc says about Questing (which usually isn’t that much) and will then sketch out what Quests are, what they could be, the component parts of a quest, how they interact, how they are communicated to the player, how they played by the player, how they are considered complete, and what effect it has on the player once that is accomplished. They will sketch out ideas for tools to help design quests, and then write all this up, for use by coders and content creators later.
System designers may handle multiple systems in a given game.
7) UI designer
UI flow is a massive thing these days, what with so many games – mostly mobile – being UI only – card games and the like, and it’s very definitely a specific discipline. UI is more than just “What we put on the screen to show the player his score” these days. It involves the entire flow of screen to screen, what information is where, when it’s presented, how it’s presented, how it’s hidden and so on.
Companies like Apple exist purely on their UI display systems; IOS is superior to Android for exactly that reason.
8) AI designer
The AI designer is more than you might think. They design the behaviors of the game objects – which can be more than just “This npc goes here and does that”. It can involve creating day / night objects, objects to handle weather, objects to make the world turn, objects to handle gravity etc etc. The AI designer also deals with designing what the bad guys in the game can do, as well as the players abilities. I can jump – can the enemy? If they can, how high? Can they jump up on walls and ledges? How do they track you through the world? Can they see you? What about hear you? What do they do if they do?
AI designer has to cover a LOT of bases.
9) Environmental (level) designer
This was a big position at the FPS shops I worked at. Part architect, part game coder. Visual flow and game flow were paramount in the level designers position. Sometimes they’d be building cinematics, sometimes multi-player maps, sometimes boss fight spaces, sometimes run and gun situations. It was always different, and level designers are constantly trying to find new ways to have new experiences for the player.
The biggest problem with level design was (and is) building puzzles. Most of the time, when this happens, the player ends up playing the level designer, and what his solution to the puzzle he’s built is, rather than playing the Game.
The next post is the last part in this series. Production, Story, Audio, translation, QA and other misc jobs.