" What game-making role is best for me?"
If you want to make games, but aren’t sure of what role suits you best, you can consider the following.
The size of game teams varies greatly; successful games have been made by single developers (Stardew Valley comes to mind), and some of the AAA titles out there have more than a hundred people working on them.
There are literally hundreds of different job roles in the game industry worldwide, so I won’t even try describing them all; I am going to write about the conventional roles here. If you want guidance on specific roles, you can contact me for guidance.
Also, there is a lot of multi-tasking and cross-skilling in game development teams, particularly in smaller teams. It is not uncommon for a level designer to also create environment art assets in 3D, like I did for my first game at VFS.
Game design is the art of applying design and aesthetics to create a game; it creates rules, objectives, challenges (and sometimes narrative) to define what a game is, and how it is played.
The game designer need to have a fairly good idea of how the game is going to look and feel from the perspective of a player (this almost always changes somewhat during the development process).
Within the discipline of Design in games are several roles such as Game Design,Game World Design (also called Level Design), mission design among many others. The game designer is usually responsible for creating the documentation of a game such as Concept Documents and the Game Design Document, and for updating/maintaining it. The game designer is NOT the one that decides what needs to be made (in most cases), but works within a set of creative constraints such as genre, platform, target market and theme/fiction among others. Here’s a great Extra Credits video that explains the role of a game designer really well:
So you want to be a game designer
To be a designer, here are some of the qualities needed:
> Basic interest in, and knowledge of history, art principles, philosophy, psychology
> Good verbal and written communication skills (being good in English helps)
> Conflict resolution skills (will be a comm channel between the artists and programmers)
> Basic art skills for creating mockup wireframes (must know Photoshop/Gimp)
> Creative confidence and a flair for presenting and convincing people
> Knowledge of diverse game genres
Also read: How do I get a job making video games?
Game programmers build the codebase that runs the game. They are guided by the game design documentation, they create the functionality of the game using the art and UI assets which are provided by the artist(s). Large game teams creating complex games may have several programmers working on different tasks such as the game engine, gameplay, AI (artificial intelligence), user interface (UI), graphics and network among others. Smaller teams may have one programmer doing several of the above mentioned tasks.
Game programming is a very specialized kind of programming which requires:
> A high level of technical knowledge
> Creative problem-solving ability,
> Good understanding of games in general
> Communication skills
Game programmers work closely with designers, artists and testers to create the game. It can be demanding and tiring work; it is quite common for programmers to work long and gruelling hours, and even on weekends in cases where the game release date is coming closer.
Game artists create the art assets that are a part of the game- the characters and their animations, environments and backgrounds, weapons and props, as well as user interface elements like buttons and head-up display elements among others. They also create all the marketing assets such as game tiles, logos and banners for the game.
Game artists can generally be classified into 2D and 3D, but there are many that are good at both! Larger art teams have specialists for concept art, character design, character modelling, rigging and animation, environment art, lighting, shaders (these folks have art+coding skills), production art and user interface among others.
Creating art for games is significantly different to creating standalone digital art, or even the animation and VFX industry. This is because the assets have to be used in-game, and have to be created keeping game performance and game file size in mind.
Game artists need to work within the same creative constraints that the rest of the team does; art assets have to be created on a strict schedule and handed over to the game programmers to implement into the game. They work closely with designers and programmers, and it’s quite common for them to have to re-work many assets once they are implemented in the game.
GAME QUALITY ASSURANCE (TESTING)
QA is a vital part of the game development process, even though it’s not as well-known as the previous three disciplines. Before release, games are put through a rigorous process where they are tested thoroughly by a team of QA folks. There’s a detailed test plan and schedule, and the tester’s job is to play the game as thoroughly as possible, testing all possible scenarios to ensure that everything that can go wrong (Game bugs, crashes and usability issues) can be identified and fixed before the game goes out to players.
As an example, mobile games need to be tested for a ‘Call interrupt’ scenario where the player gets a phone call while playing the game; it may need to pause automatically and resume normally as soon as the call is complete.
Getting a job as a game tester is a great way to get a foot in the door without any prior experience in game-making; I personally know several people in senior programming, design and production positions that started their careers as game testers. As a matter of fact, my own career started as a QA intern at Piranha Games, Vancouver!
So how do you know what game creation role is best for you? For those who aren’t sure, a good way to find out is to just jump into a game project with your default choice. Once you’re knee-deep in the process of making a game, you will be able to see what else needs to be done and what you like doing/are good at doing. For this, a small indie team is ideal.
For further help and guidance on which role is best for you, I am available for one-on-one counseling sessions.