Video Game Design: A Tutorial and Primer

In this tutorial I am going to give you some solid information on video game design. I will give you some resources you need to understand what it is and most importantly I will show you how it is done. Video game design has come a very long way in the past few years. It is an extraordinary pursuit, very interesting, and very exciting. If you are thinking about a career in design of video games you are in for a very wild and very fun ride.

First off we have to take a look at what we mean by "Design". Within the realm of making video games there are several different levels of game design and many different types of designers. There is of course the overall subject of designing games as a whole. This is the job of the video game designer. Let's look at this first.

The process of video game design starts out with a game designer. But this is only the beginning.

A video game Designer is a person who conceptualizes a video game. He or she figures out the game play, the look and feel of the game, the goal, etc. It is a job that rarely includes any game programming. Think of this as the person who invents a board game. This person comes up with the idea and might make some mockups but doesn't go into the factory to make the actual physical game. A game designer is much like this in creating the game but not doing the programming to make it a reality. A game designer is more focused on what the game is about and how it is played. This is often carefully laid out and very detailed in something called the Game Design Document (GDD). In this document many of the aspects of the game are explained and described.. It could include maps, drawings, stories, notes, music themes, game play, theme, and much more.

If you are interested in what a game designer does I have an article on what is a Video Game Designer.

Other aspects of video game design

Once the overall game has been designed and the GDD has been made it is time to make it a reality and this involves the design talents and disciplines of many different people. In this part of the tutorial I take a look at some of the other design aspects of making a video game.

An important thing to note is that the design of a video game is a collaborative effort and it involves many different disciplines such as graphic design, story telling, programming, game mechanics, airtificial intelligence, narrative and more. All of these various disciplines are brought together to create the whole game.

Graphic Design - This is one of the most important, and easily recognizable, design aspects of a video game. It is the part of making a game where we design how it will actually look when played on the computer or on a console system. And this discipline itself is broken into many sub disciplines. And there are many different tasks involved.

Video game Map

A video game is a world with many different components. The image at left shows a map of one level of of a particular game dungeon that I have designed. This map making is an important early step in game design. Often times a lot of this work will be laid out in the GDD.





Wire framing of a game

This image here shows a further development stage of a video game. This is called the wire frame. A game is designed first with all wire framing. It sets the main structures of the game including the terrain, buildings, rooms and more. This is where the game is given its 3 dimensional shape. Game developers will often take this level of a game almost all the way through to the end and actually play the game with just the wire frame. This enables them to troubleshoot and test the game at fast speeds.


The texturesAnd one of the most important aspects of design is the design of textures. This is where textures, colors and shapes are applied to the wire frame of the game world. This picture here shows a dramatic look at some various textures applied to a wire fram. You can see the textures of the columns, wall, ceiling and floor. A typical game has thousands of textures and this is a design discipline that is very complex and important.

3d Modeler and Animator - This is one of the aspects of game design that people are often most interested in. It is also one of the most challenging that requires a good amount of artistic talent and training. This is the design aspect where the characters, creatures and models are designed. These models are separate entities from the rest of the game world. The game is wire framed and created and these models are placed into it. And this discipline is very similar to game world design in that models are also first wire framed then textured.

Wireframe model

This image shows the wire frame design of a model dwarf to be used in a game. The red parts are the outer shell of the dwarf and the yellow lines show the bones inside the dwarf. These bones are important because the modeler will define how these move to get the model animated.




The textured skin of the dwarf

And as funny as it looks this is the textured skin that will be applied over the wire frame. This is the same process as in the making of the game world.







Other Design Disciplines

There are other types of designers that get involved in the making of a video game. These include:

Sound Designer: Sound is very important in a video game and the role of the sound designer is choose, compose, or find the sounds and music that will be in the game. This can be very challenging and it takes a real feel for the overall game and the various chapters, subparts and levels.

GamePlay Designer: This is a mechanics based discipline. The Game Play designer works on the mechanics of the game often described as the interactive elements of the game. These could include rules for motion such as gravity and rewards and punishments for the player, and the various interactive parts of the environment and how they work.

AI Designer (Artificial Intelligence) - This is a subm set of game play. Artificial intelligence is a new and very robust aspect of game design. Rougly it defines the intelligence in the game. This is something that doesn't necessarily require input from the player. As an example the player may face an enemy in the game. How will the enemy react? Does the enemy have a variety of weapons to choose from? Which ones will the enemy use? This is what an AI designer would figure out.

Video game design is a very complex pursuit that takes the collaboration of a lot of different people and designers. It is also something that encompasses a lot of change as the whole process of making a game goes from the intitial design stages to completion. If you are interested in game design you have a lot of options available to you.


Books and Further Resources


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.


Introduction to Game Development

Introduction to Game Development, Second Edition Welcome to Introduction to Game Development, Second Edition, the new edition of the book that combines the wisdom and expertise of more than twenty game industry professionals to give you a unique introduction to all aspects of game development, from design to programming to business and production. Organized around the curriculum guidelines of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), the book is divided into seven independent sections, each featuring articles written by the experts on those topics. Suitable for both an introductory game development course or as a reference for game developers and designers, the book offers coverage of all the key concepts and ideas that encompass game development, while providing real-life examples and practical insight. Fully revised for today's technology, this second edition features an expanded section on game design, a new chapter on game writing and interactive storytelling, and much more. And the accompanying CD-ROM contains all the source code, demos, art files, and other materials referenced throughout the book. Introduction to Game Development, Second Edition is a must-have resource for anyone who wants to understand the entire game development process.



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