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  • Types of Game Designers

    [01.17.08]
    - Brenda Brathwaite

  •  Senior Designer
    Senior designers will be expected to comfortably perform any of the tasks above if called upon to do so, and they'll have a proven track record with all of them except, perhaps, level design. I've known quite a few designers in senior positions who worked with level designers, but didn't do the level design themselves. A senior designer has shipped a few titles and probably has experience as lead on at least one of them.

    Junior Designer
    A junior designer generally works under a lead or a senior designer, learning about game design through practical experience. Until you work in the industry -- and it doesn't matter where you study or what you worked on -- you don't know what it's like to be in the industry. It's important to do your time at the junior level, too. When I got into the industry, there was no school that offered game design, or anything like it for that matter. I learned by watching what others did, and pitching in when they let me. I apprenticed. When it came time for me to be the designer on the Wizardry series, I felt excited, honored ... and intimidated. I can't imagine having to jump into a role like that without some kind of warm up.

    People also step into junior design roles if it's their first time on a new system or a new genre, like making the jump from PC to console or RPG to FPS. It's just a matter of getting your feet wet.

    Game Designer
    It's the job title we have when we're not working in one of the positions above or we are working all the positions above. Game designers go between so many of these roles that perhaps it's not the term that's general, but the people who are able to fill the role. We're generalists: specialized in multiple things and able to do what we need to do when we need to do it (or maybe I'm just fancying that we are). On the other hand, depending on the size and type of the project, there may be only one designer involved. In this case, you're not really a lead (who are you leading?), but at the same time, you're doing it all.

    Design Director or Creative Director
    This is the boss level of game design, where you are setting the creative course for more than just a single project. You may be setting it for the company or a division of the company. It's an amazing role, and the individuals who fill it are often the best and brightest in the industry. They have a proven track record, multiple successful titles under their belts, and often 10 or more years' experience in the industry.

    I was interviewing for a DD position at a couple of companies when I accepted the professor job at Savannah College of Art and Design. I guess that will bring me to the last entry on my list, one I hadn't though of before just now.

    Game Designer as Teacher or Researcher
    This is what I am now.

    My classes are games, and the lectures are the narratives. The assignments are the missions (they're all games, too), and the grades and the games my students create are their rewards. I approach course design exactly like I approach game design. I'm not just waxing on here, either. I've actually turned all my classes into games of a sort, and I am actually ranked and evaluated upon their design at the end of every quarter. (Seriously. Students evaluate every course, and I read every evaluation.)

    If games are about learning and are, in fact, great for learning, then teaching through games is also ideal. If you haven't read Raph Koster's book A Theory of Fun for Game Design, you really should. Follow that up with Prof. Jim Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.

    That's not to say I don't lecture. I do. But after the lecture, there's application, and in that application there's always a game. Usually, we're creating it to show the principle or the mechanic or the method in action.

    I put as much time into designing my design courses as I would a game of the same size, in fact. I have particular goals for the "players." I want to see them enjoy themselves, and when I find a particular player that doesn't seem into the game, as it were, it will puzzle me and cause me to think on it until I figure out either a way to get the player interested or accept that I can't reach everyone every time. I get absurdly interested in certain student projects, design my own projects right alongside them, and find teaching a whole lot like the process of mentoring a junior designer, except that you mentor them five or ten at a time as opposed to one or two. I think this comes from who I am and where I come from -- a game designer from the industry. So, it's all I really know, and it's what I do.

    Brenda Brathwaite teaches the Applied Game Design course at Savannah College of Art and Design. She also consults in the video game industry. A version of this article originally appeared on her web site and is reprinted here with permission.

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