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The secrets no one tells you about Game Design

“Mobile games are simple!”

If there’s one statement that can drive me mad, it’s this one. There is nothing simple about mobile games even the ones that appear to be easy to understand have thousands of hours of thought and work behind them. I should know, I’m a mobile game designer.

People usually only see the tip of the iceberg. It’s a cliché, but a true one. We only see the final product, and we judge things and don’t always understand the labor of love and dedication that went into it. The success of a bookseller is recognized, the years of work the author has put in goes ignored. We enjoy the simplicity of using a modern mobile phone, but don’t think about the effort it took to make the experience intuitive and smooth.

Mobile games are not simple. Developers write millions of lines of code that control every aspect of the game. There is a massive effort from the art team to create a specific theme and feeling. Graphic designers go over each button and each visual feedback to make sure players enjoy a delightful time with the game. Game designers iterate again and again to make each mechanic work with the other, to create a sense of progression and accomplishment and challenge you as a player.

Mobile games might appear simple, but they have depth and complexity that we gradually reveal to players. Balancing that complexity and creating the feeling of effortlessness is part of a game designer’s job.

What is a Game Designer

A game designer is responsible for the game’s core loop the actions and feedback players make and enjoy: the logic behind the puzzle you love so much, how a level looks, or how it feels to move characters around the screen.

The game designer puts those characters, mechanics, and scenarios together to create the whole game experience. They work closely with animators, 2D and 3D artists, developers, and analytic departments to bring a vision to life.

Being a game designer is similar to being a school principal. You might not know chemistry or the chemistry teacher, but you know when to call them and what to ask them what to do. You know what’s going on in every class and where the trouble might spring its ugly head. When something unexpected happens – the team expects the game designer to come up with a solution.

What are the pitfalls?

“Dad, what’s sleep like?”

“I don’t know, son, I am a game designer.”

There are many jokes you can find on the internet about the profession. Some are funny while others are taken directly out of real-life situations. A game designer has to possess certain qualities to be successful in the fast-changing gaming environment. Soft skills top the list.

Communication is the #1 skill a good game designer has to have. Why? At the core of the job, what we do is communicating ideas to others so they can turn a vision into a reality. The game designer breaks down tasks to artists, animators, and graphic designers. They write documentation for developers. They are the ones everyone has questions they need answers for, and they are responsible for making sure everyone is on the same page. Being able to express the idea in simple words is a must.

Part of the designer’s duties is to approve of other people’s jobs.

Here’s an example: An artist brings for review a sketch of a frog he’s been working on all week long. The game designer checks the frogs, and asks: “Where are my horses?” The artist blinks his eyes. He has no idea where the horses are; he had a task to draw frogs. The game designer continues to demand horses.

The situation may sound silly, but it reflects misunderstandings that might happen between people in different departments.

To get his/her horses in time, the game designer must be precise in what and how they request. They also need to be fast on their feet and flexible because when time is of the essence, and if they get frogs instead of horses, it might be time to incorporate frogs into the game!

Please, don’t kill off the granny!

Here at Whaleapp, when we interview someone for the game design position, both HR and the lead game designer make sure the prospective employee knows and likes the kinds of games we produce.

There are so many types of games, each different in style, theme, and experience. Each genre has its own rules and expectations.

In casual games, well-mannered grannies water flowers and renovate houses. In hardcore games, these grannies may holster guns, smuggle weed, or worse! It’s a designer’s duty not to mix up the two grannies.

Stop complicating it!

If you ask a game designer what’s the biggest mistake they have made throughout their career, the top answer will most likely be that they made a game too hard to understand. The designer’s job is to balance the game, not to complicate it! Make the game accessible to players from all walks of life. The goal should be clear and the way to reach the goal should be understandable. The skills needed to achieve the goal should be developed gradually throughout the game BUT every player should have the chance to start and grow those skills.

Perfectionists die young!

Steve Jobs always told his team: great artists ship. This statement was an update to an earlier idea about shipping things when they are perfect.

The success of a game stands on one’s ability to push it out on time. Perfect visuals do not guarantee success. It’s better to launch the game and perfect it through quick and educated iteration than to spend years working on a game that will sink into oblivion.

Article by: Mariya Kapinos


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