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Whipwrek

Game Design in the Professional Field

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Hi guys, I have been a big fan of this forum both before beginning my career in game design and during it. I have a question about games design in modern professional environments and job roles. I work at a game developer studio as a game designer. I LOVE my job but I can't help feeling if I was employed by any other serious game developer my job role would be vastly different. I spend 50% of my regular day on jobs handed to me by programmers that seem to just be seen as simple jobs that merely consume a LOT of time on their part. It is almost as if they see my role as beneath them and I often feel as though I am doing their grunt work, work which I rarely have any input in as the design implimentation seems to have been defined by themselves at an earlier stage. And it's not just general design, but level design. My company does not employ a modular apprach to level (or even just overall game) design. A process that seems to be the norm across the industry now. It seems my company is still in the stone age where artists are making all the design decisions on levels, even if those levels were initially blocked out by designers. As we rely on our artists to impliment our designs as well as create them it is very difficult to manage the creation of a level. In any other studio an artist would create geometry that a designer could then impliment, position, set up lighting, check how it worked with the game flow then modify to balance accordingly. Well in my company I offer an idea to the artist who then impliments a geometry change to the level, with apparent effort, in a process that takes days just to fix a seemingly small issue. Am I suffering from poor team management skills on my part or is my company truly that far behind? Thanks for any input the community can offer.

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Your company doesn't seem that far behind. I agree the work flow is being handed around wrong in my opinion. Often times, the AAA-studios require level designers to also be artistic enough to draw out the level on paper before designing it, so having artists work on level design isn't uncommon.

If I were to run a company I would probably have designers design the levels in order of the story (in writing, such as "Level 1 - Forest. Level 2 - Moon."), and have dedicated environment artists or level designers specifically work on levels.

Level designers typically have the task of playing through a level hundreds of times and placing the items/geometry/enemies until they feel it is a fun-challenge. If you have artists working on levels they'll place stuff to look good and not necessarily to play well, whereas only a designer could make a perfect level but have it look utterly boring. It takes a good mix of the two while making a level to pull off something great.

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Quote:
Original post by programmermattc
Level designers typically have the task of playing through a level hundreds of times and placing the items/geometry/enemies until they feel it is a fun-challenge. If you have artists working on levels they'll place stuff to look good and not necessarily to play well, whereas only a designer could make a perfect level but have it look utterly boring. It takes a good mix of the two while making a level to pull off something great.


Thank you for your reply. This explanation seems particularly useful in terms of understanding how it is expected to work. I would be very keen to try Bungies approach to game design where the designer would create a "perfect level" and it would indeed look utterly boring but it would be then passed to the artists at a later stage. The artists would then make it pretty.

This seems more in line with say a company that employs the use of the Unreal Engine where artists create blocks of geometry that look as good as they can be and a designer pieces them together. Gears of War would be a dream project of mine as a designer based on Epics AI pathing, scripting and modular approach to level design.

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Whi wrote:

>I can't help feeling [that] if I was employed by any other serious game developer my job role would be vastly different.

Yes. It would. Absolutely. That would be true even if you didn't tell us anything about your current job. Every company does things differently.

>I spend 50% of my regular day on jobs handed to me by programmers that seem to just be seen as simple jobs that merely consume a LOT of time on their part. It is almost as if they see my role as beneath them and I often feel as though I am doing their grunt work, work which I rarely have any input in as the design implimentation seems to have been defined by themselves at an earlier stage.
>And it's not just general design, but level design.

This is normal for a level designer. If you're doing a good job of it, then that means you're indispensable, and you should be proud to be such a meaningful contributor. Rather than groaning and moaning about it.

>My company does not employ a modular apprach to level (or even just overall game) design. A process that seems to be the norm across the industry now. It seems my company is still in the stone age where artists are making all the design decisions on levels, even if those levels were initially blocked out by designers.

Have you had any kind of discussions with your superior about what you think would be an improvement to the process? If there is a problem with your company's process, you could be the key to improving it. But only if you do something about it. Rather than groaning and moaning about it.

>In any other studio an artist would create geometry that a designer could then impliment,

Maybe in some other studios. But not in all of them. Seems to me that the level designer should create the initial geometry.

>set up lighting,

I imagine the artists would be best qualified to handle the lighting.

>Am I suffering from poor team management skills on my part or is my company truly that far behind?

Your company, it sounds to me, is suffering from a level designer who doesn't communicate, who harbors resentments rather than working to solve problems.

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Thank you for your honest reply Tom. I'll forgive your assumptions at my lack of communication within my team as I think you'd find, in my work environment, if I was unable to communicate, especially as I mentioned with artists and leads, I would not be employed for very long.

None of us would be here if we didn't wish to improve ourselves as designers. Obviously I have a lot to learn about my field and I appreciate your insight into game design.

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I haven't been in the industry in quite some time, but I've seen the issues you seem to be experiencing with other designers (I was a programmer). I can't speak to your perception about grunt work-- everything's important, even the build monkey and archiving stuff. But your post makes me wonder what role you fulfill through the entire life cycle of the product?

It was my experience that designers were important in the beginning stages, but that a pure designer's role diminished as the product got closer to completion. Few people got to be pure designers, and many served product management, lead artist or lead programmer roles.

Quote:

Well in my company I offer an idea to the artist who then impliments a geometry change to the level, with apparent effort, in a process that takes days just to fix a seemingly small issue.


This is a huge pet peeve with me. Unless you know your artist needs training or you yourself have gone through the process, I would be very careful in assuming how much effort something should take. How Byzantine is the interface to the tools they use? What content management solutions do you have in place?

If you know of a better solution, you need to put that forth. If you don't know of a better solution and this is frustrating your efforts, why not form an informal team to look at the problem and research alternatives?

Quote:

Am I suffering from poor team management skills on my part or is my company truly that far behind?


I strongly recommend you be the agent of change. What can you do to support the product and the company and justify your salary throughout the full life cycle of your game? I'd imagine that you'd feel a lot better and win more respect if you took the view of both the artists and programmers and focused less on the interpersonal dynamics and more on reaching a solution.

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I've worked at a few game companies over the years, and the day-to-day role of a "designer" varies pretty widely from place to place (and from project to project). Some places are primarily driven by design, others by art or technology. The most frustrating thing is when everything is convoluted and inefficient, yet nobody will change because "that's how it's always been".

My advice: if your process is broken, fix it. Before it takes root and becomes culture.

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