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GCG: 'On Game Design: The Designer'

In today's Game Career Guide feature, Jason Weesner follows up his History of Video Games by
May 29, 2007
Just where does the spark of inspiration for video game design originate? Building upon his recent feature covering the history of video games, Crystal Dynamics' Jason Weesner now explores game design inspiration in the latest feature on Gamasutra sister educational site Game Career Guide, hitting the high level points of what a video game designer is, and starting down the road of practical design. In his introduction, Weesner breaks down what it means to be a designer, and what elements need to be considered when designing a new video game concept: “There are many types of designers: set designers, fashion designers, graphic designers, etc., etc. All of these professions are linked by a common concept of creative "design" which is the ability not only to conceive of an idea, but also to conceive of its implementation, execution, and application in a collaborative manner. We'll come back to each of these elements in greater detail, but, for now, we'll just concentrate on a larger, more fundamental concept which is "communication". In short, a designer's job is to effectively communicate the elements of an idea. In relation to video game designer, here's a quick example of the various communication processes: Let's say the designer came up with a jump mechanic for the game's main character. The first step of communication is to get it through the creative approval process by answering some basic questions like: Why does the game need it? How does it add to the gameplay? What makes the mechanic interesting? Once the idea for the game mechanic is approved on a creative basis, the designer next has to communicate the idea to the code and art departments. A programmer will need to know how the jump works (interaction/controls, physics, distances, modifiers, etc.) and what tools the designer might need for tuning and implementation. Art will need to roughly know what the visual expectations are for the jump (variations on the jump, specific animations, interactions resulting from the jump, etc.). The culmination of the communication process is communicating the original idea to the end user. Is the jump mechanic intuitive? Does it require a tutorial? Is the jump mechanic responsive? If, at the end of the day, the player can't use the jump effectively, then all the previous processes have failed at some level. I know that last part sounds a little doom and gloom, but once you have some understanding of the elements of video game design, you'll be able to clearly see how most failures in bad games are due in large part to poor design. There's a lot more to the process of communication, but you should be able to see from these examples that implementation, execution, and application are all dependent on good communication.” You can now read the full Game Career Guide feature on the subject to check out further in-depth discussion, including detailed interviews with such industry contributors as Yars' Revenge designer/programmer Howard Scott Warshaw and personal insights from Weesner's own experiences in video game design (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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