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  • Top Ten Tips: Design

    [03.19.09]
    - Tim Lang
  • [In the first of a series of practical Game Career Guide features, Spin Master Studios' Tim Lang discusses the top ten tips that'll set you on the way to becoming a great game designer.] 

    1. Write a game design document.

    Game design documents are at the heart of game design. Every game designer writes some or all of one during development. Since the written word is one of the most important tools in the designer's toolbox, it's worth it to know how to write well.

    Although there are many different books on the subject of writing, the only real way to get better is to keep writing. Check out Gamasutra.com's series called Anatomy of a Design Document for some more info on writing a GDD.

    2. Build a 3D level.

    Building a level is where the rubber hits the road in game design. This is where 90 percent of the game mechanics, game art, inventory systems, scripting, coding, and AI are finally placed.

    Level building is so fundamental to game design, it's almost impossible to get a job without having one in your portfolio

    3. Write a game script.

    In this case, scripting means coding. There are many good reasons for a game designer to do some scripting.

    Since designers should always be intimately familiar with the gameplay, having them do the scripting really speeds up iteration of game elements. Plus, it gives designers a good frame of reference when talking to programmers.

     4. Make a game, or a mod.

    Getting on a mod project is a great way to learn the team process of building a game. In a game studio's eyes, a designer who has been "in the trenches" is ten times more valuable than one that hasn't.

    Mod projects are the closest thing to a real development team you can get without actually being paid for it. And, on occasion, mod projects get picked up and published by real game publishers.

    Of course, there's no better way to get your feet wet than by trying to do it on your own.

    There are a bunch of inexpensive game engines and tools out there you can try out, in order to make a full game yourself. Garage Games' Torque Game Builder and Torque Game Engine are two of the most popular.

    5. Learn to mock things up in flash.

    If a picture is worth 1000 words, a moving picture is worth 10,000 words. Designers love text. It's easy and fast to write down your idea for a game mechanic, level, or system. But is it the best way to communicate your idea?

    Probably not. George Lucas has used moving storyboards (called animatics) to great effect in the development of the Star Wars series. Similar to George's animatics, it's easier for developers to understand an idea if they see it working in Flash rather than reading about it.

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