I would like to become a designer


Subject: question about job in videogame industry

Dear Sir,

My name is Laurence Tel. I live in Holland. I'm 20 years old. I have a question I hope you can help me with. I'm very interested into videogames and would like to make a career in the videogame industry. I would like to become a designer.

I know there are Universities in England that give computergames related courses. In particularly I'm interested in two Universities:

  1. the University of Abertay Dundee, with the course BSc (Hons) Computer Games Technology and BA (Hons) Computer Arts.
  1. the University of Teesside, with the courses BA (Hons) Computer Games Design, Bsc (Hons) Interactive Computer Entertainment and BA (Hons) Computer Animation.


The University of Teesside has a course COMPUTER GAMES DESIGN. It is a design course but what I would like to know is HOW THE VIDEOGAMES INDUSTRY VIEWS SUCH A COURSE?

Or is it better to do a course which has a lot of programming in it? Like BSc (Hons) Computer Games Technology?

Or is there a better way to become a designer? 


The video game industry views designers as a dime a dozen. Everybody thinks they are a designer from the president of the company on down including the programmers, artists, producers and testers. The doesn't mean they are a dime a dozen, at least the good ones. There are different kinds of designers. There are the kind that are mostly conceptual. They have lots of ideas. The problem with these kinds of designers is that they can't actually make the game, they can just show their ideas and have other people make the game. Since everybody thinks they are a designer the problem is getting your ideas chosen over the rest of the team's ideas.

Another kind of designer can actually probably make most of the game himself. He can program enough that he can at least do basic stuff like keep score or program a door to open or make a missile chase another character inside a game engine that somebody else has written . Since this person can do it himself he can often take the responsibility to make something happen. He can also suggest how things could work when others don't get it.

I'm not sure what the best way is. I believe that most designers start out as either testers or as level layout designers. To become a level layout designer it's probably easiest if you start laying out your own levels in other games that have level editors. Quake, Half Life, etc. Then you'll have something to show your prospective employer.

As far as design courses from Universities I don't think any company looks very positively at those (or negatively either)

If I was you you should start making your own games (either in Quake, Half Life, or Director or Flash) You should learn at least a little programming and you should learn how to draw. Sketching is fine. You just need to be able to convey your ideas.


Dear Sir,

Thank you for your reply on my e−mail I sent you about a week ago, about some questions I had concerning the proffession of a computer games designer. It made certain things more clear to me. However you mentioned several things about computer games designing I still have some questions I hope you can answer me.

First of all there are certain aspects of a computer games designer I'm not sure I have a right picture of them in my head.

What I would like to know is what a computer games designer does with the ideas he/she has in his head? Does he/she write them down on paper, make a drawing of them, use computer software programs to show them or a combination of this or are there other ways to show the ideas to other people?

All of the above.  A computer game designer will often write ideas down on paper and sketch ideas down on paper and use computer software to show ideas.

Are there other aspects a computer games designer does except coming up with ideas for a new game? Does he/she also draw a bit (on paper or using computer software programs?) or help a bit with the programming?

I "good" designer is technically literate.  That means they can use a computer pretty well.  This helps because lets saw you're making a 3D racing game like Crash Team Racing, if you are technically literate, especially if you can program, you can go into the code and edit and modify the physics for the car until it feels and drives the way you want it to.  If you are not technically literate then you have to ask a programmer to do it for you.  He or she may be busy working on something else or fixing a bug etc.  This is not always possible, some things are too complicated even for a technically literate game designer but in general it helps enormously to be able to "do it yourself".

So, other than coming up with the ideas a designer then has to inform the team of those ideas.  One of the best ways is to sketch the idea.  I good example of the type of sketch would be if you've ever watched the cartoon "Tom and Jerry" or "Bugs Bunny" and seen an episode where there is a blueprint/sketch of some kind of trap.  It shows the mouse pulling the cheese for example and then each step some crazy machine takes until it catches the mouse.

Also a good designer talks to the rest of the team and gets input from all of them about the design of the game.  He does not design it all by himself.  His responsibility is to design the game but if you don't let the rest of the team also feel like they are contributing they will not be happy since they all think they are designers too.

Is it possible for a computer games designer to use Mods or other editing software to design levels/environments for a game?

Yes, this is probably what you will spend the majority of your time doing at most companies on most projects.  It depends of the project.  There are lots of games that don't have mods or level editors (like Fighting games, Tetris, Racing games etc...)  Games like Mario, Crash Bandicoot, Quake, Half Life do have level editors that the game designer uses.

By the way, are you a computer games designer? If so, how did YOU become one?  Or do you have another profession in the videogame industry? And how did YOU become this?

I am a programmer more than a designer.  My professional responsibility has generally been to program.  I've contributed to the design of several games and designed a few myself.  I started making games as a hobby in junior high school and through high school and I got lucky and my father found a "programmers wanted" ad at his work.  This job was for "Centipede" for the Commodore 64 (an old computer) and I accepted the job and basically once I had done one project I had experience that got me to the next job and the next etc etc...

Like I mentioned in my previous e−mail I would like to become a computer games designer but I don't want to be an artist or a programmer before this. I would like to become a computer games designer STRAIGHT AWAY, after taking a course at an University. Do you think this is possible?

Yes it is possible, you will be a LEVEL LAYOUT PERSON.  In other words you will design levels in a Mod editor for somebody else's game.  There will be a lead game designer and you will discuss with him what he wants to see (with your input) and then you will use a level editor to make a level.  After a couple of projects you might be able to get promoted to the lead designer yourself.  The bes t way to get this job is to start making mods now as a hobby.  If you make good mods then when you apply for the job you can show them that you've learned out to make mods and that you learn how to place enemies and direct their behavior and that you learn how to make good fun levels instead of boring for frustrating levels and why etc.. etc..

About that course at an University, I know a course Computer Games Technology which is mainly focused on programming but it also has some design subjects. (not many) There is also a course known as Computer Games Design which is mainly focused at design subjects but it has no programming in it. Next to these there are some other courses: Computer Arts, Computer Animation and Interactive Computer Entertainment (also programming and a little bit design). WHICH BY YOUR OPINION IS BEST TO TAKE TO BECOME A COMPUTER GAMES DESIGNER? (keep in mind I don't have programming skills.)

Unfortunately I don't know those courses, what they teach exactly etc..  It sounds to me like they would all be relevant to game design.

In your reply on my e−mail you mentioned: 'If I was you you should start making your own games (either in Quake, Half Life, or Director or Flash)' Do you mean by making your own GAMES making your own LEVELS (of these games)? And what is Director or Flash?

Yes I mean making levels but more than just levels. In Quake and Half-Life you can learn how to make new enemies, how to make new weapons, how to make the enemies do new things, how to make Non-Player Characters (the guys you talk to) How to connect switches to doors and set traps and stuff like that.  The more you know how to do the more likely you'll be able to get a design job.

Flash and Director are two programs that let you do smaller games, sometimes with no programming.  Go to www.macromedia.com and look at the "products".


That's good because you will need to do all of that.

You also mentioned that one of the things I could do is learn how to draw? Do you mean on a professional level (for example by taking certain subjects of a course?) or is it enough IF YOU CAN MAKE YOUR POINT of an idea on paper?

That depends.  I have two best friends who's main responsibility is game design.  One of them can draw and one can't.  By that I mean that the one that can draw is a professional artist.  He, as a designer, is able to draw the characters he wants to see exactly as he wants to see them.  He can also draw the backgrounds or landscapes exactly has he wants to see them. 

The other designer who can't draw has to just tell somebody else, "make me a large enemy that's kind of like an orc" or "make me a haunted desert" and then hope that the artist he asked makes something like he was thinking.

On the other hand, the designer who can't draw, can program and so he is able to more directly changing things in the game the way he wants them to be without having to ask a programmer.

Of the two I'd say that the programming designer has more "power", (i.e. more influence over the end result) than the drawing designer BUT I think if there was somebody that could do both then they would be even better.  For example the movie director James Cameron, (Terminator, Titanic, etc.) can draw pretty well so he can storyboard/sketch out his ideas to share with his crew.  The director that can't do this has to try to get his ideas drawn by somebody else.

The better you can draw, the better you can communicate your game ideas.

Do you think it is useful to learn how to draw with certain computer software programs if you want to become a computer games designer? If you want to model a three−dimensional character for example and show this idea to other people. Or if you have a certain scenery in your head and want to draw this on a computer.

It's not that useful.  It takes along time to make a 3D character and to animate it so that's not something a designer usually has time to do.  It does help to learn 3D software in general because you will be using 3D software to edit the game's levels.

What does a producer do exactly?

A producer is supposed to manage the team.  He's supposed to make sure everybody has what they need to get their job done.  He's supposed to hire people to complete the team.  He's the one that supposed to find the outside contractors (like for sound or motion capture) and coordinate with them to get their services.  He's also supposed to track the schedule and make sure people are meeting their deadlines.  It's very often that the producer is the guy who picked what the project will be.  For example he might decide, "We are going to make a racing game and it is going to be cartoon based with cute characters and powerups"  Then he leaves it to the game designer to figure out the details within that framework.


What college courses should I take for video games?
Desiging a game based on existing characters