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  • So You Want to Be a Game Designer

    [09.15.06]
    - Marc Mencher
  •  Tools of the Trade

    As a game designer, all of those tedious high school and college English assignments may finally pay off. Virtually every job listing for a game designer requires “strong technical and creative writing skills.” Necessary skills also include a “vivid imagination,” “creative problem solving,” and “organizational skills.” More tangible tools required include a working knowledge of writing software, such as Word, and project management software, such as MS Project. Some companies also want the designer to be familiar with software design programs, such as 3D Studio Max for world building. Designers also need a grasp of programming to understand the technical obstacles that game programmers face.

    Let’s take a look at each of those requirements:

    Good grammar and excellent writing skills. With the advent of e-mail, many people who were already on the bubble when it comes to writing skills just completely fell apart. But game design is a job that requires serious writing skills. So, start working on them today. If you’re still in school, start paying attention in your English classes. If you’re already out of school—and you don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” or “its” and “it’s”—then you should consider taking a continuing education class. Good writing skills are absolutely fundamental to being a successful game designer.

    You must be able to create a massively detailed document detailing every part of the game imaginable. This requires the ability to visualize the game you're designing. Can you imagine exactly how the player object will move, react to control input, react to things in the environment? It's not enough to write: "Pressing the jump button makes the player jump." You must be able to effectively describe to the programmer via the document, how the player will jump. How fast? How high? Can the player perform actions during a jump? What happens in condition X? What happens in conditions Y and Z?

    Art and programming skills. A game designer must possess a total understanding of the graphics side of development. An understanding of programming is also essential especially in order to write custom scripts for character/unit behaviors, for level scenarios, and to tweak controls. An understanding of user interface design, game player psychology, and other intuitive subtleties come in handy as well. And, to construct game levels, it certainly doesn't hurt to be experienced with 3-D modeling software either.

    In short, the ideal game designer needs strong skills from both sides of the fence—artistic and programming. But, if you're headed to college, Computer Sciences (CS) may serve you better in the long run rather than Graphic Arts. With a CS degree, when you get out of school, you can use your programming skills to start creating your game design ideas. If you're lacking in art, you can get help easily. But, even without good art, you can prototype your game ideas.

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