Monday, November 21, 2011

A Look at the Different Skills and Professions Involved in Game Design

The computer games industry is booming. Even when it seems as if every other industry is either in recession or crashing altogether there are more video games being sold than ever before. The big blockbuster games that come out can expect to make a lot more money than even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. So as game sales go through the roof game design becomes an ever more in demand profession.

It is diverse as well, there are as many different types of profession in a game design studio as there are in a movie studio (and without the medieval hierarchy, I'm talking to you Christian Bale). And unlike the movie business there aren't the same economies of scale that mean movie production outside of Hollywood are disproportionately expensive. There are game design studios around the world producing high quality games with production values as high as any in Silicon Valley.

At the core of video game design is programming. Very often a game design studio will license established software such as game engines, physics engines or artificial intelligence code from what are called 'middleware' developers. This is because it can be a laborious task to produce this kind of comprehensive software from scratch. It's a bit like the car industry. Many different brands of cars with different designs will have the engines from the same few companies like Volkswagen or Ford.

These middleware companies are often substantial companies in their own right and need a full studios worth of coders, programmers and designers. Many of these companies produce fully fledged games to exhibit their technology. Id games are probably the most famous of these. Their Quake and Doom engines were successful games in their own right but much of the companies profits would have come from licensing their engine technology to smaller game design studios.

Still, even in these game design studios they still need programmers. The code of the engine needs to be altered to fit the purpose of the specific game and to work with any other software like, physics engines or artificial intelligence, that the game design studio may have licensed or even produced themselves.

When all the engines have been built and the game code fully developed the physical appearance of the game needs to be created (of course, the programming and art are worked on at the same time but the art depends on the engine and not the other way round).

At the beginning of a project traditional style artists and graphic designers will produce what is called concept art. These are created to establish the style, tone and overall look of the game. There might be many designs put forward before a final decision is made on the appearance of various characters and environments. They still may change in the course of the production but they give 3D modellers and animators somewhere to start from.

Modellers produce 3 dimensional versions of the characters that will appear in the game and map or level designers create 3D versions of the environments in which the game will take place. In 2D games such as platformers there will still be level designers but they will work with different game design software. 2D characters are called sprites and still need to be animated but the process is a little simpler and more akin to traditional cartoon style animation.

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