The languages of Game Design

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If you want to be a game designer you need to be more than that. By more, I mean being a: friend, boss, 2D & 3D artist, composer, coder, level designer, writer, producer and much more… While working on Rhubber Man with a team of three people which grew on the Alt Ctrl Game Jam to FIVE I found myself in different roles. Among them were: art director, developer assistant, project manager, product owner… which are quite different positions from what I’ve seen from the corporate atmosphere of companies I’ve worked in. The work of these people is highly complicated and has evolved over the years into many separate fields which all posses a science of their own. A casual game designer knows game design, but only knows bits and pieces of everything else. Apart from the ability to create a game in your head, you need to have the skills to put that on paper and to explain your idea clearly to everyone in your team. But “clearly explain” can become a big issue here. Communication is vital in an indie game dev. team and in order for the game designer to be listened and understood he needs to speak several languages:

  • Coder Language: Game Designers don’t need to know many programming languages but they should try and learn the basics of the languages or engines which are used in the team. They should also try and recognize which engines could suit their coders better.  For example, before we started using Construct 2 I found about the game engine through LudumDare, got into it a bit and then explained the basics to my dear coder Helion. Today, Helion is light years away from me in Construct 2 but this is how it should be 🙂 Coders want simple and straightforward solutions, they are interested in the functions and features that a game will have. They don’t care about art, story or music. Yet once there’s a complete prototype they give valuable feedback on all the things they don’t care about 🙂

 

  • Art Language: These are the people who will listen to the game’s story. Artists are interested in transferring the feelings of the game designer in the game. If every thought is turned into suitable art then their mission is complete. They love to draw, make sketches, make errors and can be lazy at times. You can always go into details with them, talk about the smallest things such as a character’s eyebrows, muscle veins, texture details etc… Go really in depth with them, open your creative self and listen to their ideas. Artists care about art, story AND music!

 

  • Music Language: I consider myself weakest in this language although I have spoken in twice already with my dear sound engineer Bole. Don’t know how other game designers speak this language but I do with an almost finished product. I usually work on a prototype and sometimes show it to the composer, but  nice game-play with some art already implemented is as a far more suitable choice. Having this, the sound guy will fully understand the game and the feel, he will look at the colors, the characters and enemies and the game will speak his language instead of you. Two times have I done this(not to many times to generalize anything) and two times the music and sound effects did not fail.  Music people are also interested in the art and story. It helps them find the best suitable notes and mix them into something wonderful. The best way to talk their language is to know their language (have some musical background), but if you don’t then describe what players should feel in given moments. Should this be scary, should it evoke happiness or sadness? This is the essence of the music language.

 

  • Player Language: Maybe the last language in this list but a really important one. Presenting the game to your dev. team is one thing, presenting it to the players is completely another. The main difference here is that the other languages in this article thought you how to communicate separate areas of your game. Here you are talking about a complete product. Yes, you can have a development blog, show-off art and music, but If you’re constructing a smaller game you’ll most probably be presenting the complete game. In that case, people regard your game as a….well as a game! They won’t pay special attention to music, art or eyebrow animations (there’s that eyebrow again) but they will feel everything as a part of the experience. So what you should present is the experience itself. It’s the gameplay, the feeling of playing the game. Because this is what will make people try it, buy it, play it, enjoy it. Master this language and the players will be many.

As you can see, the life of a game designer can be hard but becoming a master game design linguist will ease project management, will ensure that all “sectors” of your team work flawlessly and will give birth to a game everyone enjoys playing.

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