Barry O’Brien is a video game designer at Plarium. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Design and Digital Animation from Cumbria Institute of the Arts (UK) in 2002. Barry joined Bizarre Creations in 2003 as an environment artist, and later moved into level design. He currently lives in Israel with his wife Einat and three children Ethan, Luke and Dan.
Play Hard to Work Hard: The Perks (and Challenges) of Being a Game Designer
Being a Game Designer is what a lot of gamers would consider to be a dream job; and I would have to agree. Yes, we do get paid to play games but we also manage to get a bit of work done too! Apart from having a lot of fun playing games we are actually working. The idea is this: the more a game designer knows about games, the better the Game Designer!
Game Designers tend to think differently when playing games. We are always analyzing the experience. For example, if I suddenly had an exhilarating experience I generally ask myself what caused it? Was it a cool game mechanic? Was it great timing of multiple events, or possibly a cool character set piece? The environment I just stepped into? Maybe I’m playing a game and I become bored with the endless grind, I wonder, “why am I bored, can I identify a missing mechanic or system that could make this game much more interesting…?”
The Nuts and Bolts of Game Design
Work-wise we spend our days writing game design documentation, system spreadsheets and creating flow charts. The biggest challenge for all game designers is creating a great game balance; this is because most gamers want to play a game that’s fair, where they have a chance based on skill of winning against a real or AI opponent. Game balance can make or break a game, this is why so much research and play testing goes into it. Game balance is a long and continuous process and can last as long as the life span of a game.
There are many essential skills required to work as a game designer with the usual academic suspects being a very good knowledge of English (both written and spoken) and good mathematical abilities (analytics, Logic), but nothing is more important than a good knowledge of the industry and the products.
The Pressure is On
The Game Design role is a serious one. While creating a game is a team effort, Game Designers are ultimately responsible for crafting a great game experience. There are many departments that make up a games studio, Art, Animation, GUI, Development, Sound; they all look to the Game Design team for game direction. The Game Design team must always be able to answer questions and communicate the game vision clearly to all of the studio’s departments.
Overall, being a Game Designer is a fun and rewarding job and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing Game Design as a career. With the arrival of YouTube, free 3D and more accessible game development software, it is now easier than ever before to learn the art of game design from home and one day use those skills to land your first job in the games industry. Don’t know where to start? Consider independent studios like Plarium, which prioritize collaborative and creative environments, while also placing a premium on testing the limits of what can be done. While that freedom to let your imagination run wild and help create something that didn’t exist before can make life as a game designer challenging, there is nothing more rewarding that seeing exactly what you’d pictured, months (maybe even years) in the process, come to life on screen.