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  • Types of Game Designers

    [01.17.08]
    - Brenda Brathwaite

  •  Content Designer
    Content designers are involved with the world's narrative in some way or another. They may write the story, the NPC or PC dialog, the missions and the in-game material to support the story (such as books in a library or writing on a cave's wall or other historical things).

    With the rise of persistent worlds, content designers are more in demand than ever. RPGs have always needed truckloads of content, and now that these worlds have been made seemingly endless, the need for more content is ongoing. Content designers might also be called upon to create massive stocks of items, creatures or spec other assets of that type.

    Content designers shouldn't be confused with game writers, although they often are. They are not one and the same, although one person may do both things. It's quite possible that a content designer could design the overall mission flow of the game while a game writer crafts the scenes, text and dialog that pushes that mission along.

    Game Writer
    As I eluded to in the last paragraph, game writers are different from content designers. Content designers may or may not write the text and dialogue for the actual missions they create. Game writers write (and hopefully write well). It is not a field that just any old writer can step into either. I like how it's put in the book Chris Bateman edited, Narrative Skills for Video Games . To paraphrase: Writers in other mediums don't have to come up with 30 different ways to get an NPC to say to a player, "Dude, I told you all I had to tell you. Move on." Game writers and content designers are usually one and the same. They don't have to be, though, hence this extra section here.

    System Designer
    System designers focus on one particular system within the game, sometimes in conjunction with others. For a fighting game, for instance, a system designer might focus on any one of these systems: avatar creation, fighting, crowd dynamics, training or leveling. Their attention might be focused on something smaller than a system - such as all the weapons within the game, the range of spells or the types of characters that the player can create. It all depends on the size of the game and the team. Sometimes, just a few designers will do it all. I've worked on a team where I was the only designer. I've also been one of six system designers on a large Xbox 360 project.

    Technical Designer
    Technical designers are part programmer and part designer and are responsible for actually implementing a lot of the gameplay. They are often the middleman, so to speak, between the programming and design departments. Over the years, languages have evolved to allow designers the ability to tweak a lot of the gameplay without inadvertantly tweaking the programming department in the process ("Hey. Can you change this thing for the tenth time today?"). Lua and Python are the most popular scripting languages used right now, and many companies have their own propriety language, too.

    Technical designers can cross over into the realm of system design, too. I've worked with a technical designer who was excellent at stats and programming macros in Excel. He could give me a pretty precise idea of how well balanced a game was based on existing play before the new data had been put into use. According to a friend of mine who specializes in technical design, knowledge of probability and stats helps here, too.

    UI Designer or Usability Expert
    The job of the UI designer is to create the interface for the game to make sure the player and the game communicate well with one another. It could go without saying (but it won't): a good UI designer makes sure that it's easy for the player to use the game and understand its commands. He or she also ensures that the player gets consistent feedback throughout the game. This role has become quite interesting in recent years. Games like Fight Night 3 incorporate crowd movement, ringside announcements, and avatar movement into the interface to make sure the players receive exactly what they need to when they need to know it. There's not even a HUD in the game if you don't want there to be.

    As games seek to expand beyond their traditional markets, usability experts are increasingly entering the field and improving designs we all take for granted. I still recall the conversation that a fellow game designer had with me about her parents' first foray into a virtual world. She'd set up accounts for them in her favorite MMO, only to discover they couldn't play the game. Why? They couldn't figure out how to walk in a virtual world. There are literally millions of people out there just like them.

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