Game Design - A look at how it's done

It used to be a time where a video game could be designed and created by a single person. This person was often a programmer. Those days are a part of the past and game design has changed significantly.

How a game is designed now

The reason why you are probably reading this article is because you want to design a game. Don't let the previous paragraph discourage you . You can design a game on your own and do everything. There are lots of tools available to you that will help.
But what this article is about is the overall process of how major games are made and what it will teach you is the process for how to do it yourself - just on a smaller scale.


The Start of the Game Design Process

As in just about anything else a game starts with an idea. This could be any kind of idea. It could be a story, a description of the look, a place or world that the game is in, or something else. If you are new to game making you can keep this simple by creating a simple \idea like this:

Our main character wakes up in the middle of a labyrinth and he has to find (and fight) his way out.

There you have it. We have our root idea and you can see how this can be developed into a game?

And chances are good that you are really good at this aspect of game design. You probably have been playing games for years, talking about them and thinking about them a lot. But a good idea is useless until you put it into action and bring it to life! Lets talk about how you put this idea into life!

Developing the Idea and Choosing the tools

If you are just making a little game for yourself and your friends you can probably get some software and start right now. But if you want to learn how to design a game you have to move forward from your idea. This is typically done creating something called a Game Design Document. In this document we more fully develop many aspects of the game. It also helps to clarify what tools you are going to need to make the game.

The game design document is a very fluid thing and it can contain a lot of different things. These thing will vary a lot from game to game and from designer to designer. The important thing is to describe as much as you possibly can about the game, how it looks, how it works, what the story is, everthing!

The Game Design Document serves several very important roles. First off it tells everybody on the team what to do! The artists, programmers, developers, writers and everybody else can refer to this document and understand what the overall goal is.

A second big benefit to the game design document is that it will help you to fully flesh out your game. As you write more and more about it more questions are going to come up! There is tremendous value in this. The document will include more and more information that is important. And it will bring up questions to you that you didn't know existed! It helps you develop the game more fully.

Thirdly - the Document will help you along the way during the game making process. It is a living document which means it will change as the project develops. Solutions will be found, compromises will be found and further questions will be brought up. This is a terrific thing!

Let's start designing!!!

What the world Will Look Like

Designing a game characterAt this point we turn over some of the process to the visual artists and they will begin designing the look of the game. This process takes a lot of time and an artist could go through many variations on much of the game. But this step might be what is considered a lot of fun. And it really is the beginning of a transformation. You are taking what is up until now just written words from an idea and you are beginning to breathe life into these words by making them visual. Words to pictures!

In the picture on the right a game artist is starting to conceptualize what one of the monsters in the maze will look like.

This artwork is not just for what the player and the characters will look like. The whole world has to be designed and this means the levels, the outdoor areas, the walls, floors, furniture icons, heads up display and well everything!

designing a game levelIn this picture you can see that the artist is starting the level design. This will be one level in the labyrinth.

Everything is first done on paper then the transformation is made to the computer.

While all of this is going on there is a lot of other things going on too. The writer is writing out the story and refining it and writing the conversations and various other things when it comes to interactions with npc's . And the Game design document is being modified, changed, and improved.


Now we turn this into a video game

What I mean is that we now have to transform all of this work into a game you can play on the computer, a console, hand held device or something else. There are a lot of aspects to this but I will give you the basic run down by pointing\ and explaining the two major parts of this step in the process of game design.

Building the World and building the Models

There are two major aspects of game design in this step of the process. You have to build the physical world that the player will play in. In the case of our example here it is a labyrinth. And you also have to build the models that will go in the game. These models include the player, the monsters and NPC's and objects that will be ineracted with such as chests that will open, switches, weapons, armor and more.


Designing the World -

The whole world is created in a series of steps just as we have been taking steps in making the game this step also requires a variety of steps to flesh out the game into its full blown version.

take a look at the picture above of a room in the labyrinth with some red lighting and some columns. You might be wondering how this was done right? The designer uses a design program to first create a wire frame of the room. In the wire frame the basic shapes are all laid out.

Here is a picture of the wire frame of this room. It is a bit further back and you can see more of the room. There are columns and an altar and more. This is an important stage in the design of the game. And game designers will actually do some game playing in the game when it looks like this. This way they can get a look at how the characters will move in it and see what parts need work or can't be accessed etc.


Now all of this stuff needs something called "Skinning". This is where textures are applied to all the surfaces and it is a very big part of game design. There are specialists who spend all their time creating and managing textures. It is also a common practice to take pictures of textures in real life like carpets, grass, sand etc. and use these in the texture library.

In this picture we see the beginning steps in the skinning process. The walls, floor and ceiling have been given a dirt texture. This is a simplified view of skinning but you get the idea. Skinning can get very complex. Very rarely is a whole wall just one texture.




You might be asking: Ok, I get it but exactly how do they do this wire framing and skinning? The picture here gives you a good idea.The designer uses a design program to draft everything much like an architect would design everything. The picture shows a mock up with random skins of how the room looks. The other three quadrants in the picture are top side and front views. The designer draws out these lines as if using a paint program and tells the program what is solid and what is not. For example he would define the columns as solid but he would also define the empty space in the room as empty!

Ok, What about the models, figures, characters, monsters and heroes in our game?

These are created in a different program then imported into our game world. These are done with a 3d modeling program such as milkshape, Blender, Sketch up, or 3Ds MAX (an industry favorite)

designing the modelAnd this part of the process is very similar to world design. The designer first starts out with a wire frame of the character or object like the dwarf shown here. All the red lines are the outer shell of the dward and you can see it is broken down into a series of triangles. Each triangle will later be skinned!

And you can see the yellow lines inside the dwarf? These are the bones and they determine how the dwarf will move.

The blue circles are the joints.

And the designer can tell the bones and joints exactly how to move and how the skin moves with it. And there you go. Once the model is skinned and its behaviors assigned (run, jump, swim, swing weapon, etc.) it is imported into the world we have made .

This is just an overview of a complex yet rich and rewarding process and I have tutorials that actually show you how to do all these things. Just browse through the table of contents to find what interests you. And if you are interested in the whole process you might want to start at the very beginning of the Game School.

More Recommendations

There is a lot to game making and you can see this means there are lots of opportunities. You could be a designer, a graphic artist, a computer artist, a programmer, texture designer, and well lots more. I highly recommend that if you are serious about game design you start with a book or two. It is a great investment it what could be a remarkable career. Just imagine actually making games for a living :) Lots of people do it and you can too!

Hot Jobs in Video Games Hot Jobs In Video Games (Young Adult book)

Every kid knows playing video games is fun, but making them is serious business! Cool Careers for Gamers offers readers an introduction to the world of game development by profiling professionals with jobs kids can relate and aspire to. How about making sure golf superstar Tiger Woods looks as lifelike as possible, or picking out songs for a new iteration of Guitar Hero? Someone has to do it! This book shows that the challenge of creating games can be just as much fun as playing them.


Video Game Design Revealed

Video Game Design Revealed (Revealed (Charles River Media))

Whether you are a professional game developer working in an established studio or a creative thinker interested in trying your hand at game design, "Video Game Design Revealed" will show you the steps and processes involved in bringing a video game from concept to completion. Beginning with an overview of the history of video games and an examination of the elements of successful games, the book breaks down the video game design process into its simplest elements and builds from there. You'll learn how to take an idea and tweak it into a viable game based on the genre, market, game style, and subject matter, moving on to creating and organizing a timeline for the production of the game. Once you've mapped out your game production plan and gathered all the information you need, you'll learn how to choose the development platform and other technologies that best suit the game you've designed, add sound and graphics, and apply game mechanics such as whether the game will be single-player or multiplayer and what levels and objects to add to your game to make it challenging and interesting. "Video Game Design Revealed" concludes with guidelines on how to compose a proposal to be used to present your idea to the game industry as well as tips and information on how to find and contact game studios, publishers, and investors to help you make your game design a reality.

Game Development Essentials: An Introduction Game Development Essentials: An Introduction, 2nd Edition offers a thorough and insightful introduction to the game development industry, with industry updates that will keep readers current and well-prepared for a career in the field. The book begins with a highly informative chapter on the evolution of game development, providing a historical context for later chapters, and moves on to examine content creation and the concepts behind the development of story, character, environment, level design, user interface, and sound. With the same engaging writing style and examples that made the first edition so popular, this new edition features expanded coverage of today's hottest topics - such as next-generation platforms (Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii), level design, interface design, project management, serious games, game accessibility, and online social networks. New game-related technology, development techniques, and the latest research in the field make this an invaluable resource for anyone entering the exciting, competitive, ever-changing world of game development.

Game Programming for TeensGame Programming for Teens, Third Edition Do you enjoy playing video games and want to learn how to create your own? "Game Programming for Teens, Third Edition" shows you how to design and develop a complete video game from start to finish, no prior programming knowledge required. You'll begin by learning the basics of BlitzMax, a simple cross-platform game programming language that can be used on Windows, Mac, or Linux operating systems. Once you understand how to write the programming code, you'll begin to incorporate all the graphical elements of games including varying colors, loading and displaying images, and creating scrolling backgrounds. Finally, you'll learn how to add sound and music, use keyboard input codes, and even integrate artificial intelligence. New skills are taught step-by-step, and each chapter builds upon the techniques you learned in the previous, so by the end of the book you'll have built your very own fully functioning video game. And the CD-ROM contains all the source code, art and sound files, and demo versions of BlitzMax and the other programs used in the book. So don't just play video games, build your own, with "Game Programming for Teens, Third Edition!"

The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design goes way beyond the basics. The authors, top game designers, focus on creating games that are an involving, emotional experience for the gamer. Topics include integrating story into the game, writing the game script, putting together the game bible, creating the design document, and working on original intellectual property versus working with licenses. Finally, there's complete information on how to present a visionary new idea to developers and publishers. Got game? Get The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design.




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