A beginner guide to Game Design Studios- Who what and where?
A series of talks given by people who work in or work in jobs related too the games design industry. This is so we can get a good insight into games design as a career and help prepare us for the working environment.
The prospect of starting a new job is daunting for anyone, so I have assembled this little guide to games studios, their job roles and what they do.
Games studios can span in size from a small group of 10-20 to thousands of different people in various countries. Ubisoft for example has an in-house development team of 14,000 employees working in 40 different studios.
Game studios can operate differently too each other but generally the roles below. It is important to remember that different studios will use different software/hardware. If you use Blender to model it pays to know a little about other 3d sculpting software like Maya. This applies to computers too studios generally use Microsoft PCs or Apple Macs, a rough understanding with the one you are not familiar with will help when applying for job role.
Most game design studios will have a project manager, designer, artist and coder. Below I will list and outline the various roles and how they communicate with each other.
Designers- Level, Game, UI and Narrative
Designers are the people who create the rules and styles of the game. It is their job to assess the current market and make an overall good gaming experience. Designers have various roles in a company.
The level designer will work on the environment of the game. Making sure that the level is fun, understandable and traversable. They are responsible for making sure the assets are in the right place and that the player can easily understand the objective. They make sure the level is the right difficulty for the current scenario.
Game designers thinks about the game in its entirety. They will create the story, layout, fail states, etc. It is their job to make sure that they have designed a solid game and that they have communicated that idea to the team in an easily understandable project proposal. They are responsible for creating and communicating the game.
Skills needed: Good communication and interpersonal skills, record keeping, (don’t be scared too throw bad stuff away)
UI Designers need to consider how the player will interact and understand the game. UI is extremely important as it is how the player plays the game. A good UI designer will need to understand good composition, usability, current trends and human psychology. They need to design for people, and this must have some real-world usability, or the entire game would fail. UI makes or breaks a game.
Skills needed: Psychology, UX (User Experience), AR (Alternate reality), VR(Virtual Reality), Platform limitations, interpersonal skills.
Artists- Concept, Environment, Textures, Characters, Animators, SFX, and Technical
Artists focus on the visual aspect of game. You need to be able to read and interpret a designer’s vision. Game artists need the core skills of; sketching, drawing, shading, 3d modelling and texturing.
Concept artists work as an intermediate between the designer and investor/audience. It is the concept artists job to reiterate the visual design of an asset to communicate the idea to all parties involved. Concept artists communicate with the designers and company to make sure that there is a unified visual established. They are expected to pump out 100’s of quick sketches to see if an idea has “hit home” and, it’s what the game designers had in mind.
Skills needed: Adobe, Drawing, Gesture sketching, Reading a crowd.
Environmental artists work on the stadium of the game. They communicate with the level designers and game designers to make sure the environment is suitable for the situation. Environmental artists will make sure that the background/foreground will work as a whole. They will use choose colour and textures based on the pre-defined game document, however, they will also have artistic license to draw these levels how they have interpreted the game design document.
Textural artists are more important in 3D games than in 2D games. This is because an asset in 3D will have many more faces or “views” to texture. They need a good understanding of 3D modelling and the programs used to 3D model. They also need to know how to interpret a concept art piece and gauge the relevance of the textures. After all, if it’s not going to be seen. Why texture it?
Skills needed: 3D modelling, Adobe CC and either Mac or PC.
Character artists design the NPC’s (Non-Player Characters) and the playable character. They will be in close communication with the designers making sure the character can do everything that the games design document says they can. For example, if the character can fly, do they have wings or something like that to help in this.
Skills needed- Life drawing, Adobe and digital tools.
Animators will work with all the other artists to bring the visuals of a game alive. They use the designers story board and the artists artwork to animate the game and make sure that the movements of the characters are as close as possible to the game proposal. They add realism and personality to the game. Animators will often build libraries of movements to re-use withing a game to help keep all the movements cohesive and on brand.
Skills needed: Art, Game Engines, Communication and organisation.
VFX artists or visual effect artists help add nice detail to the game world. They create the things that move that is not a character or object. They work on the special effects of the game such as explosions, wind, fog, mist. They will also work closely with the optimization department to make sure the FX are viewed properly across different platforms and screens.
Skills needed: Game engines, coding, art.
UI artists work alongside the UI designers to make sure that the UI visually represents everything clearly and in sync with the style of the game.
Skills needed: Adobe, digital, art, composition.
3D artists will use 3D modelling software such as Blender or Maya too create all the 3D assets in a game. Some studios have 3D modellers that specialise in one area such as environment or characters and others will expect the artists to be multi skilled and be able to model more than one area. They will start with a 2D concept artwork and it is their job to make it 3D sticking with the style and feel of the game. They need to work with all other members of the art department closely and get feedback often.
Skills needed: 3D modelling Software, Sculpting, understanding of games design, Platform limitations.
Technical artists focus on bridging the gap between programmers and artists. They will think of the technical aspects of creating artwork and can help save time by providing suggestions on the best way something can be created. They also work on the game render engine to make sure that the artwork works well with the actual gameplay.
Skills needed: Programming, Adobe, Art, Problem Solving, Communication.
Programmers- Game, AI and In-House Software
Programmers build the digital platform of the game and allow people to interact with it using digital devices. They use a coding language to build up the game. Due to the many different aspects of a game, there are several specialized roles in programming. These can be anything from general programmer to physics programmer and even AI programming if the game calls for it. They will also work on an in-house software required for the game artists and designers.
Skills Needed: Coding, Programming language, organisation,
Sound- Engineers and Composers
The sound engineers focus on all aural aspects of the game. They add an extra depth of immersion to the world and allow players to receive nonvisual information. Sound engineers can use directional sound to help guide a player in the game world and notify them of changes in the story. Sound can be used as a great affordance and provides players with an immersive play.
Composers create the soundtrack for the game working alongside the designers and artists. They make sure that the audio aspect of the game works well with the visual aspects and keeps the game in style.
Skills needed: Audio Software, Audio Equipment, file formats, export and import.
Game Tester- Quality Assurance
Game testing is used to make sure that the game is communicating the experience set out in the games design document. People are asked to play the game and give feedback so that the designers and artists can work on it further and perfect it. Some indie developers use early access features too allow the general public to comment and offer feedback as the game is being developed. This is a useful way to gauge the success of the game.
Game testing may sound amazingly fun, but it is probably the most iterative process in games. As a designer you would be expected to play the same scenario repeatedly recording bugs and problems to be cycled back through the studio to be fixed by the appropriate roles. Games testers need to fully explore a games environment and assess and locate any possible problems.
Skills needed: Patience, Record Keeping, Communication, Coding and 3D Modelling.
Community manager- Twitter, Instagram and Discord
Community management is a fairly new job role in the games design industry. A community manager operates the studios Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Discord and other social medias. It is their job to build a following and community around the game and gauge the interest and public attention. They can tell for instance that if a games discord server is doing well, the fundraising page will meet its goal in the right time. Community managers will work closely with the team and try to find assets and other things the community may find interesting. These help hype up the game and get public interest going. Some community managers are not part of the studio but instead work for a different company and are brought it. The community managers may be running campaigns for several products at once and must be able to keep the posts relevant to the products.
Skills needed: Communication, Interpersonal, Knowledge of Social media Platforms, Trends, Good Zeitgeist observation, Writing, Marketing and Branding.
Platform Department- Memory and Optimization
The platform team, work within game to make it accessible on the platforms needed. They will work closely with the UI and technical artist department to make sure that the game will work well on a specific platform. The optimization team make sure that a game works well between different devices. They usually have a lot of devices and hardware so they can spot differences in play. Ubisoft for example will display the game on multiple different screen types and sizes at once to make sure that it displays correctly on all of them. They will then repeat this on iPhone, iPad etc as needed for the format of the game. They also check the lighting and ambience of the game and make sure that the tones are consistent throughout the game.
Skills needed: Coding, Lighting, SFX, Observational, Communication, Hardware and Software Knowledge, knowledge of the platforms capability, Bug-Fixing and interpersonal.
So in summary there are many varying roles in studios and depending on the size of the studio these roles may be spread across several people or may be designated to just one. If a studio is very small one person may fill several of these roles. It is important to try to be multi-disciplined as you will often have to work within a team and an understanding of their jobs and processes is helpful in communication.
The Game Design Pipeline!
The games pipeline is the workflow of the games design process. When things should be done and in what order. They can be broken down into different stages.
The planning stage is when you decide what you are going to build, who it is for, how much it will cost and what platform it will be on. The team will start putting together an evolving document called a games proposal or project proposal. This will evolve with the work and makes sure the team understand the game and all have the same vision.
The pre-production stage goes through storyboarding and narrative design. The team will work through how the game will work technologically and start some initial prototyping of mechanics. They will also start to be able to set SMART goals, milestones and key performance indicators.
This is when the meat of the game will start being created. 3D modellers will start sculpting and texturing models. Audio technicians will start recording the sounds and music for the game. Physics and mechanics begin to be coded and the game will start being developed and rendered. Production is the stage where the games assets are created and finalised as best as possible before the next stage.
Testing involves playing the game and trying to figure out if it meets the expectations set out in the games design document. Any bugs are identified and squashed, exploitation of terrain or glitches that allow cheating are fixed and if the game world works properly. The second reasons for testing are to decide if the game is fun and the game’s difficulty is what the designers intended. Upon playthrough it might be discovered that the gameplay is way harder/easier than the designers anticipated and may need to be thought through again.
Pre-launch is where the game goes into advertising and initial market presentations. Alpha/beta versions of the game may be released to a limited audience to help gauge the reaction and fix any bugs that are found. They may also send early access games to social media influencers such as youtubers to play through the game and start building up some hype for the release. The team would probably start visiting some gaming conventions and generally getting the game’s existence out there.
It has become more common to release a game as early access on steam or other game providers. This is useful to obtain feedback from an audience and the audience understand that the game is not finished yet. This is very important for Indie developers as it allows them a game testing environment and not have to worry about paying a game tester.
Before launch, the game is double, and triple checked to make sure as many bugs have been fixed as possible. Large changes to the game are impossible at this point and it is just about polishing what you have got. Upon launch a master release of the game is made and all progress on the completed game is compiled into appropriate formats and released to the games market.
After the games release the studio will begin to work on any bugs or issues, they could not have foreseen before the release. They will also start to work on additional content for the game such as DLC and expansions. The game will also start to be patched to add new content and to fix any problems that may be experienced.
In conclusion I have discovered that there are many different roles within games design. I have personally fallen in love with community management and will probably be building a portfolio around marketing and running an online presence. I think that there is a role for anybody in the games design industry, there are many roles that you can do even without formal training in games design.
I think the next step after having this information is looking around at any game jams in your local area, networking via twitter and discord and trying to immerse yourself in the game design industry. Find games designers that inspire you and follow them, DM them about their latest work and start commenting on other people’s work in progress. One last easy tip ask them if they could provide feedback on your CV, Resume or LinkedIn account! I have found most people are very friendly and helpful and naturally want to grow the games design industry!
What role inspired you the most? Let me know in the comments!