Game Development for Designers

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120044
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Game Development for Designers

Post by 120044 » Thu Oct 03, 2013 2:25 pm

I made this topic to vouch for a range of software that I think can help any designer become better and more involved in other parts of game development.

In my time at IGAD, I noticed that (in Gamelab, for example), designers tend to take their hands off the development of a project after the concept stage is done. They feel like they cannot work on anything anymore. And I believe that's a shame - there is always work to do, for everyone. What would be a reason for having this mentality? "I cannot program" or "I am no good at art". However, I also believe that, next to mentality, it is also a matter of perspective; we tend to look at projects way too much from a design point of view and not from an executive design or production point of view; we think, but we don't create.

Of course, many of us create levels in Gamelab, but the assets production is always left to the programmers, artists and igd-ers. I think you can change that. Of course, you can learn Maya, Photoshop, C# and all other things, but that does not necessarily change the perspective; I believe that working with certain tools can do just that. I'm not saying everyone should use this, but if you really want to get more involved in a project as a designer, you can check these out, it worked for me.

Also note that it is very possible that you already know all these tools; they're not very hipster or anything. Just have a go with them, they are great.

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  • RPG Maker XP / RPG Maker VX
    Now, don't start laughing just yet. "Hah, RPG Maker, that's for noobs". That is, however, my point: if you are a designer, not that savvy with programming and art, you need a tool in which you can express your designer skills, not having to wait on programmers to finish their code and artists to finish that character model. RPG Maker XP and VX, for me, are amazing tools for just that. Level design (building a world, however with default graphics, expressing ideas and creating a living world), narrative design (make your stories, make them come to life, add cutscenes) and expressing your general concepts are three things I have learned to do in this software. I worked with it for about 7 years and I learned so, so much from it. You don't have to code, if you can't, but you will learn to understand it. You don't have to open Maya, but piece by piece you learn how to edit and make your own graphics. 2D is better to start with anyway, if you ask me.

    Image

    Of course, then there's the problem of "YEAH but there's a default battle system and default ugly graphics, and, and..." - well, of course; that's my point; you don't have to do any of the magic the programmers and artists do, if you don't want to, but there is room to do so. And however crappy you think the graphics look, you can make very pretty things with it. One of the latest games I made with it had an entire custom system and almost no default graphics (of course the default style, but you can also change that entirely if you want), and I didn't code that much for it (you can actually do the entire thing without doing any code):

    Image

    A list of resources:
    Scirra Construct Classic / Construct 2
    A more popular tool nowadays and a bit more complicated, Construct 2 is a pretty powerful engine capable of exporting to all sorts of formats, including HTML5. No programming required (even harder to access than in RPG Maker): just create events to create your entire game. The engine adds particles, physics, 3D support and more to a great workflow. Made by two guys, but they achieved so much already.

    Construct Classic was the first version of Construct, abandoned because they started working on a more stable version (and thank god for that). Both versions are available for free, the latter one coming with a couple of restrictions. Construct does not come with default packages, but there are tons and tons of graphics to be found online.

    Image

    I personally found Construct to be the best tool to design and then create mechanics pretty easily. It takes time to get everything right, but you can have a physics-based puzzle in 2 hours. Any 2D game is possible and with over 660.000 downloads, a lot have been made so far. And it can all be played in your browser! In other words: you have a lot of freedom, but you also have to do more yourself. Still a great tool that I have used a lot to explain mechanics, even.

    A list of resources:
    Unreal Development Kit
    Second year designers will be very familiar with this tool, but first years might not; UDK is an extremely powerful tool, mainly useful for Level Design. The engine is also used in the Level Design course, so if you want a headstart: try it out now and start to create something.

    Image

    Why is this powerful engine a tool for designers? Well... you don't have to program and you don't have to model anything. UDK uses brushes to fill levels and create a structure. There are plenty of downsides: the engine is unstable and heavy, there is almost no support compared to Unity and the game itself is quite limited to a first person game, unless you start programming. But it is fantastic for level design and to create great portfolio pieces that might help you.

    Although the interface might overwhelm you at first, it is quite easy to play around with the software after a while. The best thing is the ability to change the level whenever you want, just by moving brushes around and adding or removing blocks. An example of a LD1 level that you have to work on in the second year:

    Image

    The engine comes with an amazing amount of built-in content. Textures, models, skyboxes, sounds... everything is there. And with only the click of a button you have a deathmatch game with weapons and a score system in place.

    A list of resources:
And that's my vouch for this so far. If you know of any other software, please say so and I'll add them to the list. Get to work, designers!
Matthijs van de Laar | 2GA-3DP
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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 090004 » Thu Oct 03, 2013 3:05 pm

First of all, I think that knowing basic art and/or programming makes you more valuable as a designer. You don't have to be an expert on every topic, but at least knowing it doesn't only help you create small pieces of content that help you with prototyping, it also helps you scope projects better because you are less likely to say "how hard can it be?" on topics you do not fully understand.

That being said, if you have the feeling you cannot work anymore after the concept phase, something is wrong with your project. It's either very small in size, or you're not prototyping/testing your game enough and you will fall into balancing issues at some point or boring content. Gamelab projects aren't the biggest projects designwise, but I think there is still plenty to do if your project is going the right way.

I'm going to take the packages you just posted into consideration where you work with it alongside the main project. In this case, these things are good for one thing only: Prototyping. And even than you shouldn't be using that unless there is no option. Best way obviously is working with the tools that accompany your engine, but this isn't always achievable so you need to pick the next best thing, which is one of the tools you just posted (or any other one).

I need to say I am a bit surprised you didn't put Unity3D in there though. I think this is probably the most used game engine at the moment (this is pulled out of thin air, but it is very popular). Sure, you need to know some programming/scripting knowledge for it, but google: Unity3D 'your question' and you will see 500 others have gone before you and code is at your hand to implement with just a couple of clicks.
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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 120044 » Thu Oct 03, 2013 3:33 pm

090004 wrote:First of all, I think that knowing basic art and/or programming makes you more valuable as a designer. You don't have to be an expert on every topic, but at least knowing it doesn't only help you create small pieces of content that help you with prototyping, it also helps you scope projects better because you are less likely to say "how hard can it be?" on topics you do not fully understand.
These tools WILL increase your knowledge of basic art and programming, so this is great to start with. Your last sentence here is exactly my point, as I state: more designers need to change their perspective so that they look at the production possibilities as well and in order to do that, you have to experience making games, even with a limited skill set.
090004 wrote:That being said, if you have the feeling you cannot work anymore after the concept phase, something is wrong with your project. It's either very small in size, or you're not prototyping/testing your game enough and you will fall into balancing issues at some point or boring content. Gamelab projects aren't the biggest projects designwise, but I think there is still plenty to do if your project is going the right way.
Testing is not always possible. Half-finished code that doesn't work can't be tested properly. There can always be a gap where the asset production is happening and the designer is waiting for something to test. If you plan this correctly, this gap is really small; unfortunately, Gamelab projects don't have this strict planning often.
090004 wrote:I'm going to take the packages you just posted into consideration where you work with it alongside the main project. In this case, these things are good for one thing only: Prototyping. And even than you shouldn't be using that unless there is no option. Best way obviously is working with the tools that accompany your engine, but this isn't always achievable so you need to pick the next best thing, which is one of the tools you just posted (or any other one).
I do not think that using these tools alongside a Gamelab project would really help the project; these tools are for a designer only to develop games without a team, because too few people do that. You CAN create entire games with it with very limited knowledge, but as you said prototyping is where the tools really shine. My question to you is: why do you believe that you shouldn't be using these tools? Because that's the problem a lot of designers have; if the prototype or quick test doesn't work perfectly or look amazing, it's not worth showing. Designers should just make things more often, it really helps. And I believe that it's not important what tool you use to show a prototype, as long as you convey a message or game mechanic. Telling stories, for example, can be done beautifully in RPG Maker; people just don't use it because they think "it's for noobs".
090004 wrote:I need to say I am a bit surprised you didn't put Unity3D in there though. I think this is probably the most used game engine at the moment (this is pulled out of thin air, but it is very popular). Sure, you need to know some programming/scripting knowledge for it, but google: Unity3D 'your question' and you will see 500 others have gone before you and code is at your hand to implement with just a couple of clicks.
It surely is a widely used game engine, but after working with it for one and a half years now I did not consider this tool to be suited for this list. Game Engines taught us to work a bit in Unity, and to learn a bit of programming; the difference with the tools I posted, though, is that you have literally NOTHING without programming. Well, no gameplay that is; you can always render things or create a scene. Of course I considered Unity, but to really make a game or part of a game, you're always gonna need programming. Even though the support is amazing, I wanted this list to consist exclusively of tools you can use without doing any magic on the programming side.
Matthijs van de Laar | 2GA-3DP
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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 090004 » Thu Oct 03, 2013 3:54 pm

120044 wrote:Testing is not always possible. Half-finished code that doesn't work can't be tested properly. There can always be a gap where the asset production is happening and the designer is waiting for something to test. If you plan this correctly, this gap is really small; unfortunately, Gamelab projects don't have this strict planning often.
There is no way you can predict how things are going, so you might not be able to test specifics at a certain point where you want to, but the point was also rather that there is still plenty to do. You simply shouldn't be without work, even if it means revising stuff you already did. But there are a lot of variables that come into play for a designer to be "able to work", especially on specific project sizes.
120044 wrote:My question to you is: why do you believe that you shouldn't be using these tools?
You shouldn't be using these alongside your main project as means of prototyping, but using the tools provided instead (if available and needed). If you want to make a game on your own, use whatever you need to get the job done. As long as you can get it done with package X.
120044 wrote:Of course I considered Unity, but to really make a game or part of a game, you're always gonna need programming. Even though the support is amazing, I wanted this list to consist exclusively of tools you can use without doing any magic on the programming side
Well, it will help expanding your knowledge in basic programming, which is from what I understand, also an underlying thought of this post. But I can see your point.
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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 120044 » Thu Oct 03, 2013 4:09 pm

090004 wrote:There is no way you can predict how things are going, so you might not be able to test specifics at a certain point where you want to, but the point was also rather that there is still plenty to do. You simply shouldn't be without work, even if it means revising stuff you already did. But there are a lot of variables that come into play for a designer to be "able to work", especially on specific project sizes.
You are absolutely right: there is always something to do. Always... one of the problems, though, is that many are scared to even try something, because they're not familiar with things. In reality, whether it's sound, graphics or programming, you can always assist team members. I think working with these tools will make you more confident in working on other things than design.
090004 wrote:You shouldn't be using these alongside your main project as means of prototyping, but using the tools provided instead (if available and needed). If you want to make a game on your own, use whatever you need to get the job done. As long as you can get it done with package X.
I highly agree. I think you shouldn't make prototypes on your own in a team project to begin with, so programmers will assist you. What I am aiming for is getting more designers to work besides school projects on their own prototypes and games, as it will improve you as a game developer in all fields.
Matthijs van de Laar | 2GA-3DP
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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 101562 » Thu Oct 03, 2013 7:29 pm

Great post, but I think you should also give some love to GameMaker. That is what got me into game design and it's still being used to create awesome games today (Vlambeer games, Hotline Miami). It has a great community going and works with visual scripting for the most part, but also supports coding. So you can do a lot with the basics and learn it, and then delve deep into it.

Another point I want to make is that in UDK you can't just create awesome levels, you can also make them very interactive. I'm gonna plug myself a bit and post the level I made myself for our horror assignment last year. Through the use of the visual scripting system of Kismet I was able to add scripted events, special effects, a small puzzle and a lot of atmosphere. What normally would be a boring walk is now a lot more interesting. Do keep in mind that for this I pretty much stole every model, texture and sound off of the internet, but for stuff like this, that's completely fine.

Link: http://jbloemhoff.weebly.com/singleplay ... paign.html
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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 120044 » Thu Oct 03, 2013 8:20 pm

Yes, I was hoping someone could add a piece about GameMaker for me! I haven't used it longer than 1 hour, so I was hoping anyone with more experience could write small piece similar to mine, possibly with a set of links in there as well? I can then add it to the main post!

And very true, I should have added more about Kismet. Again, I don't have a lot of experience with that so I was afraid to add stuff about it. Your level looks great!
Matthijs van de Laar | 2GA-3DP
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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 070565 » Sat Oct 05, 2013 8:11 pm

120044 wrote:designers tend to take their hands off the development of a project after the concept stage is done.
That's actually quite shocking to hear. I have little to no experience with NHTV's design course, but if that's the general perspective that is cause for concern.

Any student who things their 'game design' job is over once production starts will have a hard time coping with reality should they somehow manage to land an actual job at a game studio.

'Game designer' is probably one of the broadest and most jack-of-all-trades job in the games industry.
The job is actually quite far from coming up with game concepts. A select few people get to do that for only a limited amount of time at a game studio.

There is always design work to be done with filling in blanks and fleshing out designs while a game is in production. Any game needs tweaking and balancing.
Furthermore, a good designer is the glue between art and programming. They can be creating actual content for the game.
Some designers will be doing level design. Others are creating puzzles or quests. Yet another is working out the game's GUI need.

In the context of gamelab designers can also be QA. Play test and bug test that game.
Programmers and artists are likely too busy to sit down and give the current state of the game a full playthrough.
Designers need to be on top of the current state of a game at all times.

The role of game designer is a real job. It's not about happy fun time brainstorming about game concepts.


That aside, OP makes a good point. Adapting and learning new tools is very important for game designers.
At every studio you land you'll find they use different tools, often in-house made. You'll be required to adapt to them quickly.

It's okay for a designer to not be a great programmer or great artist. But it's certainly not okay to be unable to handle a simple scripting languages or know your way around Photoshop.
Remco van Oosterhout
Former Game Programmer @ Funcom Oslo AS / MMORPG Technologies Inc.
Back in the Netherlands for IGAD.

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Re: Game Development for Designers

Post by 120044 » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:40 pm

Really great to get my view on designers confirmed by someone from the industry, thank you! You got the point of my post exactly right; there is so much production work for designers and I think too few designers are practicing to get their hands dirty.

I'm not blaming anyone or saying that every designer thinks the job is over after pre-production, but I think most D&Pers could do with more work where we get our hands dirty. I think we are always around to answer questions and fill in the blanks of the game, but there are times where a lot of designers have 'nothing to do', while that should never be the case.

Thank you for the reply!
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