Thursday, February 11, 2010

What I mean when I say I'm a game designer.

I must have had some variant of this conversation 20 times during the Global Game Jam, just in the process of getting to know various people. (I was a part of the event hosted at the Art Institute of Portland, whose student body included a good 3/4 of the participants.)

"Well, the thing I do is game design- *literally* game design in and of itself."

Okay, so what does that mean?

"It means working with the game's mechanics, the rules and abilities you have and so on. Figuring out how to bring all the different elements together so that they'll lead to a certain kind of experience for the player. "

How are you studying that?

"I'm not one of the students here- actually never taken any formal education on game development. The trouble in my case is that you don't get into the video game industry as a designer, you know? You get in as a programmer, or some kind of artist or asset creation position, and then you work your way up for a decade until you actually have some real input on the game's design. All the schools that teach 'game design' only offer one or two basic classes that're actually about designing games, and I was past that level before I got out of high school. I'm actually studying Psychology."

So it's like a side job?

"Yeah, kinda. The way I normally put it is 'starving artist passion'- not saying that I'm an artist, just that it's something I'm going to do regardless of whether there's a profit in it. I'd love to turn it into a career, but that's not something you bet on. I do have a blog that I use as a portfolio of sorts, so I'm building up a decent audience that way- currently about 500 unique vistors per month, around a quarter of those are making multiple visits."

What sort of stuff do you make?

"Most of what I do is tabletop games, just because those are things you can design and prototype as a one-man show. There have been multiple times where I've hashed something out and written it up in the space of a day, put the game out there, and gotten these emails a day or two later from people who tried the game out and liked it. Going into this, I had no idea whether it would give me a skillset that really carried over to video game design. Turns out the answer is yes, so long as you get into things enough that you've grasped some of the fundamentals. So that was a pleasant surprise."

Of course, that last matter was actually my main goal for the event. All my other work on designing electronic games has been as more of a consultant than someone truly responsible for the production process. A 48-hour game development marathon as a part of a small team would let me figure out if my skillset was viable enough for me to pull my weight- a trial by fire.

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