Just recently, a person I know expressed interest in being a game designer. They were curious about the steps I had taken and the things they could potentially do themselves to see if they would find the profession suitable to their liking. I immediately set to work on a very “condensed” list of steps this person (or any person) could potentially take to see if they enjoyed the game design process and to learn a little bit more about games and gaming in general. This list is not exhaustive, and is certainly not the only route one could take. Mind you, it’s been 5+ years plus for me in the trenches, not just learning but working professionally in the biz. Add another 1.5 to 3 years of school to that and you’ve got the equivalent of my experience. So be forewarned, the next paragraph or so is meant to be that amount time condensed into little more than a 30 minute conversation.
Steps to take to really get into game design (or to just pass the time ).
1. Read this book. No really, it’s worth everyone’s time, even those people who aren’t game designers or maybe even artists/engineers. For designers and working game development professionals, this is a must.
Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton and Chris Swain – I think there is a newer version in print but both will work. There are lots more books on game design, I personally find this one to be a good starting point. I highly recommend picking up many more!
2. Now PLAY some games too, even ones you don’t like. Play all kinds of games, not just computer/video ones. Play board games, card games, yard games, social games, games that are ugly, games that are pretty, games you wouldn’t normally play. Helps for inspiration and being a better designer! Apply what you learned in the book. Pick out the formal elements, identify the players resources, etc.
3. Design a board game! This is harder than it sounds! Go through the book above and do some of the exercise’s; that will help with this. Get paper, pencils, cardboard, dice, anything you can find to accomplish this. Doesn’t have to be pretty, just has to work!
4. Play test your game! Get more than just a few people together to play your game you just made. Have written instructions for them, and try to take at least one opportunity to play with them and one opportunity to just observe. The most important element to successfully designing/making a game is observing the many different experiences that others have with your creation. After completing this, go back and make changes to your game and repeat the process.
5. If you’ve made it this far, it’s time to start using the computer! (no joke, the paper stuff comes first because its fast and easy to redo/tear apart. In theory you should design EVERYTHING on paper first, then make it on the computer). Grab the following program and start playing with making 2D sprite based games! Just about any computer should be able to run this. Do the tutorials first!
a. Game Maker 8
b. A good example using the above software is Hero Core
6. Game making is hard! Remember to keep things simple. Getting too detailed or focusing too much on one thing will hold you back. Try to make things quick and dirty so you can change them, update them later. Finding the “fun” is all about iteration and play testing with people other than yourself. But you should know that by now if you read the book above!
7. At this point you can either stick with Game Maker or move onto something a bit more flexible/detailed. I recommend using Flash and getting to know the underlying code called Action Script
8. ARTISTS NOTE: Adobe Photoshop is one of the most powerful programs on the planet. It’s also handy for designers. If you want to start texturing things or just monkeying with your 2D sprites I would recommend getting a copy and playing with it. The free programs that are similar are listed below.
9. Time to dig into the 3D!!! Industry standard is Maya by Autodesk. They have updated their software to be a limited 30 day trial…which sucks…so I recommend getting an older (non time) based PLE edition so you can really learn your stuff. The older one is just as good/same as the new one. This is great because any level designer needs to know this program. This software lets you build objects and environments in 3D. There are tons of tutorials online.
10. Congrats, you’ve graduated from the minors and are now playing with the big boys! Time to start working with some more complicated “all in one” game making software that is currently tearing up the charts and making hit games. These should be free.
From here on out it just gets more specific – If you want to do more code related work, get your hands on the C++ stuff that Microsoft has to offer. There are several free versions that you can cut your chops on if you need/want to do that kind of thing. If you want to be more artistic, then learn things about bump mapping and play with programs like Z brush or Mudbox. I don’t have the time but it would be nice to know what all those artists are talking about in the cubicle next to me.
I will stand by this list however. There are a few key things in here that most professionals often forget to do or have not done in their careers. It’s a shame but it happens.
A couple more notes:
Don’t stop reading! This shouldn’t be the only book you read on game design. There are plenty of other books to read. If and when you get into the biz, continue to read! There will always be new and crazy methodologies for learning things about the game business. A good website for this is GamaSutra.com
There are many different types of designers in a large company. Sometimes there are system designers, level designers and even combat designers. This highly depends on the company and the number of people working on a game. Level Design is my favorite because it requires you to be a attentive and knowledgeable about all aspects of the development process (code, art, etc). 😉