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Starting a team as a Game Designer?

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I shall cut right to the chase here, and say that this is something that I am interested in doing. However, this is not that post. This is where I ask for opinions on what I need to do first, and hopefully it'll provide some answers for others like myself who would like to get into the designer role.

I'll pre-empt those that are going to say "Learn programming" or other "Learn another skill" posts. Other people have said that "Everyone can be a designer, not everyone can be a programmer" - this is something I highly disagree with, but for the purposes of this discussion - let's assume that it's true and I, and by proxy, other people, don't have the requirements to be something else.

When recruiting artists or programmers, you look for examples of previous work. This would work for a designer too obviously, and if the protential recruit has previously worked on a game in his role, then he can show off what he's done. The problem is with people looking to start in on their first game.

A programmer who hasn't worked on a game before can usually show work of other code he has done from a non-gaming perspective. The same can be said of artists. A game designer won't have this possibility - or not as a demonstrable item. There is documentation that he could produce (GDDs, High Concepts) but their worth is questionable without a finished game to accompany them, or at least some sort of prototype.

The question is therefore, how does a Game Designer prove his worth?

My initial thought is to produce the documentation I mentioned previously. A concept, high concept, Game Design Document (GDD) - whatever you can. I've heard it said that a GDD is worthless without a prototype or a finished game. This may be true from the standpoint of judging the worth of the game, but not in judging the worth of the designer. If the designer can produce polished, high quality, concept documents and such, then you know that he can do at least that. It is something that a Game Designer must be able to do from a professional standpoint, so having some to judge is a definite must.

If you produce documentation as a proof, produce several documents for different genres. If you produce 5 highly polished design documents for 5 well thought out RPGs, then it could be very good - assuming that whoever is going to look at them is interested in RPGs. However, if they want to make something different, then you're giving the impression that you are not suited to the task. Making design documents for widely varied game types - like designing a serious gruesome horror FPS, a sci-fi RTS, and a cute and fluffy casual sim game - shows that you have the ability to work with whatever genre is required whether you've implicitly designed in that genre before.


Beyond this, I am at an empasse.

Level designing for an existing game has been suggested to me. This is something I have obviously dabbled with, mostly with RTSs (Age of Empires II, Red Alert 2 & 3, Empire Earth) and some FPSs (Halo 3 / Reach) but to what degree is it worth pursuing? Game levels in various editors are relatively simple to produce, but I have trouble seeing their value without rigourous play-testing.

If I produce a dozen maps for various games, am I to leave it to the recruitee to judge if they're any good?

Do I need to host them online and get others to play them for me in the hopes of gaining some sort of feedback?

What of maps which do not score as high as anticipated, should I show different iterations and re-designs which lead to more enjoyable gameplay?


What else could I (or another designer) do in order to show off their ability without the option of producing a game by themselves?


Inevitably there will be people that suggest that I stop trying to be "the ideas guy." I am not looking for a cheap path to be carried by a team and provide nothing of any worth. I want to be a Game Designer, not an Ideas Guy. They are not synonomous. A good game designer adds value to the team, and I want to put myself in that position. You may believe that the others in your team can design your game without a dedicated designer - this could be true, and I wish you luck - this doesn't mean you should assume that all designers are just slackers, because we are not.

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If you're a game designer without the ability to make a computer game, you can probably still make a board game or a card game. The required design skills are largely the same across both mediums.

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If you're a game designer without the ability to make a computer game, you can probably still make a board game or a card game. The required design skills are largely the same across both mediums.


This depends on what you mean by "without the ability to make a computer game." Many game designers do not have the pre-requisite skills (in programming and artwork) to produce a game alone. The same could often be said of an artist. They cannot program, and therefore cannot produce a game alone. If you mean that if I can't make a computer game, then I shouldn't try, then I think you're taking the wrong message.

However, if you mean that producing a different medium of games (card games, tabletop games) could be used within the portfolio to get in to games design, then that's something I haven't considered, and I think it could work.

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If you mean that if I can't make a computer game, then I shouldn't try...
I did read your preamble/disclaimer tongue.png, yes I meant that:
Many game designers do not have the pre-requisite skills (in programming and artwork) to produce a game alone.[/quote]Game designers were still around before computers, so getting to know your roots might be fun and useful. You could try a challenge, like trying to reproduce the 'feel' of a video game in the form of a board game (pick one that doesn't translate easy, e.g. not a turn-based-strategy).
Obviously the two mediums are different and have their own conventions, genres and limitations, but it's still game design.

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In my humble opinion, design is an iterative process. Many things change in the process of development, and many gameplay features cannot be judged without a working demo.

E.g. Diablo was supposed to be a turn-based rogue-like game, until Blizzard convince the team to come up with a real time demo. After playing the demo, everyone ditched turn-based for real time.

So if I were you, I'll force myself to make a small simple game using the easiest programming language. How about trying Flash Actionscript? Flash is super easy to use. I wrote my first graphical game on it.

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how does a Game Designer prove his worth?
I am at an empasse.
What else could I (or another designer) do in order to show off their ability without the option of producing a game by themselves?


This is a classic problem. You have to prove that you are worthy of the trust, that you are someone worth having around. You have to lay an egg before you can be regarded as a chicken. You have to hatch from an egg in order to be a chicken in the first place.
This is, essentially, a creativity problem you have to solve.
You have to find a creative solution to this problem. Nobody can hand you an easy solution. If you are a worthy game designer, you have to prove it.

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Don't create maps for games, create mods for games. Take something like Warcraft 3, an RTS. A mod would be DOTA. DOTA is totally different from the standard W3 gameplay, yet it was made entirely using the W3 graphics and logic. DOTA has turned out to be so popular that Valve hired the developers, and as I understand it they are now working on a standalone DOTA game.

Tower defense games also started of as SC and W3 mods.

Wasn't Counter Strike a mod of Half Life?

You want to create an RPG? Use an RPG maker to do it. No programming required. If you don't want to create your own graphics, I believe W3 has all the elements in place within its map editor to create a decent RPG.

And finally, you can use GameMaker to create games without programming.

There are many ways to create games without programming or even working on art. You just need to try.

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It's not that teams don't need designers, it is that there is an aboundance of designers in a team already. I have lead several projects and I can't remember a team where at least 50% of people there were not at least good designers (in addition to their primary specialization). If you can get an additional below average programmer, he is a valuable asset (any half decent programmer can produce additiona code). If you are able to get a good designer he is completely useless (you only need one, the best one, designer; more disigners than one are not needed at all except really huge projects). What you would want is an excellent designer, just good is not enough (because you have more of those you need already).

There comes also synergy. If you have two designers, one is good but also understands programming and one is very good but does not understand programming, which one would be better for the project? Which one would be able to convey the information to the team better? Which one would be able to understand what is possible and what is not better?

Next comes the money. The more people the more mouths to feed. Are you ready to feed an additional mouth? If the team is big, why not, just one additioanl is not a big deal. But if this is a 4 team project can you really afford a dedicated designer that produce no code nor art?


Perosnal advice: as everyone already said, try boardgames, you can do these all alone with literally 0 skills in prgramming, 0 skills in art, 0 skills in music and 0 skills in marketing (there are publishers). All you need to do is to make a great game design, write down the rules and make an ugly prototype using crayons and paper and scissors.

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Game designers were still around before computers, so getting to know your roots might be fun and useful. You could try a challenge, like trying to reproduce the 'feel' of a video game in the form of a board game (pick one that doesn't translate easy, e.g. not a turn-based-strategy).
Obviously the two mediums are different and have their own conventions, genres and limitations, but it's still game design.


I do like this idea as something that I - or anyone else - could do without looking needing a lot of outside help (though a lot of the initial ideas I have would require some artwork). It's probably something I'll be looking more into tonight and over the next few days.



In my humble opinion, design is an iterative process. Many things change in the process of development, and many gameplay features cannot be judged without a working demo.

E.g. Diablo was supposed to be a turn-based rogue-like game, until Blizzard convince the team to come up with a real time demo. After playing the demo, everyone ditched turn-based for real time.

So if I were you, I'll force myself to make a small simple game using the easiest programming language. How about trying Flash Actionscript? Flash is super easy to use. I wrote my first graphical game on it.


I agree that design is an iterative process. Even during the initial development I frequently make changes to the gameplay as I envision it, or discover different twists.

I specifically wanted to avoid the path of saying "learn a programming language." At least you went the route of being helpful in your post rather than belittling. I'm looking for alternatives to programming. There are simple games, but programming them if you have no experience in programming is not a simple undertaking.

Thinking logically, if we take a game of Tic-Tac-Toe (or O's and X's), I think it would be safe to say that almost everyone would know what the game is and how to play it. But logistically, how many people would know how to program it?

You could make a simple grid, allow the player to click and it draws a X, then an O, then a X, in each corresponding cell. Pretty basic.
Then you include a button to clear the grid.
Then you add a Win-Variable check.
Then you add an option to play against the computer.

If you have a design document for the idea of this Tic-Tac-Toe game. A mentally stimulating logic puzzle. But they have a half-finished, frustratingly slow version prototype (due to inefficient code). You end up dismissing the game because the prototype was poor, rather than because the gameplay was poor.

If you take a much more complicated game: a 2D sidescroller, or a larger puzzle game, or an RPG, then they become much much harder to programme, especially for anyone with no coding experience.

If I have an idea for a roleplay game, I've written the design document, included UI designs, combat and other gameplay mechanics, storyline, narrative - it is still 'worthless' without a prototype? Without a high level of programming capability I'm more likely to screw up my idea than to do it justice.



You have to find a creative solution to this problem. Nobody can hand you an easy solution. If you are a worthy game designer, you have to prove it.


I am definitely working on it, and I'm not looking for an easy solution, but in order to know what I need to do, I need to know more about what people want. If everyone came back with the idea that every game designer needs to be a top-notch programmer, then I'd know that's what I need to pursue, and so would anyone else in my position.


Don't create maps for games, create mods for games. Take something like Warcraft 3, an RTS. A mod would be DOTA. DOTA is totally different from the standard W3 gameplay, yet it was made entirely using the W3 graphics and logic. DOTA has turned out to be so popular that Valve hired the developers, and as I understand it they are now working on a standalone DOTA game.

Tower defense games also started of as SC and W3 mods.

Wasn't Counter Strike a mod of Half Life?

You want to create an RPG? Use an RPG maker to do it. No programming required. If you don't want to create your own graphics, I believe W3 has all the elements in place within its map editor to create a decent RPG.

And finally, you can use GameMaker to create games without programming.

There are many ways to create games without programming or even working on art. You just need to try.


Unless I'm missing something fundamental, making mods comes back to programming once again. Designing levels for games using an in-game editor is a simpler task. Dependant on the editor you can come up with interesting gameplay (using the various mechanics in the Halo Forge to come up with new gametypes is quite possible) without the necessity of having to learn programming.

I haven't seen an RPG editor, though I haven't looked for one before. Assuming they work, this could be a possibility I shall look into it more tonight.

Gamemaker is something I have looked at, and it's certainly worth a look for any prospective game designers for making simple prototypes. I personally don't have much experience with it to say how easy it is to prototype more complicated games.

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W3 came with a fairly powerful visual "programming" tool, so you don't actually need to code.

RPG Maker is a famous editor, though paid. Years ago I messed around with one called RPG Toolkit. It was free, and seemed to work pretty well.

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