Early in video game history, game designers were lead programmers and often the only programmers for a game, and this remained true as the video game industry expanded in the 1970s. This person also sometimes comprised the entire art team. This is the case of such noted designers as Sid Meier, John Romero, Chris Sawyer and Will Wright. A notable exception to this policy was Coleco, which from its very start separated the function of design and programming.
As games became more complex and computers and consoles became more powerful, the job of the game designer became separate from the lead programmer. Soon game complexity demanded team members focused on game design. Many early veterans chose the game design path eschewing programming and delegating those tasks to others.
With very complex games, such as MMORPGs, or a big budget action or sports title, designers may number in the dozens. In these cases, there are generally one or two principal designers and many junior designers who specify subsets or subsystems of the game. In larger companies like Electronic Arts, each aspect of the game (control, level design) may have a separate producer, lead designer and several general designers.
Game design starts with an idea, often a modification on an existing concept. The game idea may fall within one or several genres. Designers often experiment with mixing genres. The game designer usually produces an initial game proposal document containing the concept, gameplay, feature list, setting and story, target audience, requirements and schedule, staff and budget estimate.
Many decisions are made during the course of a game’s development about the game’s design; it is the responsibility of the designer to decide which elements will be implemented, based on, for example, consistency with the game’s vision, budget or hardware limitations. Design changes may have a significant positive or negative impact on required resources.
The designer may use scripting languages to implement and preview design ideas without necessarily modifying the game’s codebase.
A game designer often plays video games and demos to follow the game market development.
It is common for the game designer’s name to misleadingly be given an undue amount of association to the game, neglecting the rest of the development team.
Funding game publishers must be taken into account, who may have specific expectations from a game as most video games are market-driven — developed to sell for profit. However, if financial issues do not influence designer’s decisions, the game becomes design- or designer-driven; few games are designed this way because of lack of funding. Alternatively, a game may be technology-driven, such as Quake (1996), to show off a particular hardware achievement or to market the game engine. Finally, rarely a game may be art-driven, such as Myst (1993), mainly to show off impressive visuals designed by artists.
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