Since 1983 I have worked in the computer and video gaming industry in various roles including executive producer, producer, game designer, technical director, and programmer. Throughout the years I have learned many principles from my years of industry experience. In keeping with my philosophy that game developers should share and exchange information relevant to our industry, I present ten principles of game design and production that everyone in the industry should be acquainted with.
It’s vital to know what lines of responsibility are drawn within game development organizations. This knowledge gives you an understanding of which people are responsible for which game components, who makes design and production decisions, and so on.
The game designer. The game designer is the visionary, somewhat like a book’s author. This person has outlined the scope and description of the product with sufficient detail so that others can understand and develop the product. Just as a book author sees his creation develop differently when made into a film, the game designer needs to accept and solicit modifications from the team members, the publisher, and the public during the development process. Often one of the game designer’s tasks is to create the project bible—the game’s lengthy design specification. This document details the gameplay, describes characters and settings (possibly including diagrams or drawings), includes level descriptions and possibly maps of areas to explore, positions and actions for each character or class of character, and so on.
The producer. The producer is the project’s manager, its champion.
The producer must keep the entire team productive and the lines of communication open. This person is a diplomat, a politician, a troubleshooter, a force needed to produce the product. The producer must keep marketing, advertising, and public relations teams up to date with the progress of the game and be honest about its features, performance, and other claims that will be made to consumers. These teams must understand the gameplay, its features, and the story line to generate great ads, media hype, magazine previews, and so on. In return, these nontechnical team members, by virtue of their continuous contact with the public, provide the game developers with feedback from the public, magazines, and retail channels about what features are currently hot in games.
The producer needs to facilitate communication between the whole team and provide timely support for each developer, which includes ensuring that:
Artists and animators provide artwork, animations, and temporary placeholders to the programmers on time, until the final artwork is available
Programmers provide the artists with current versions of the game so they can see their artwork in a real-time gameplay mode. The producer must also make sure that the programmers provide a current version of the game to the sales, public relations, and marketing teams, along with various reports about the latest version of the game. These reports describe gameplay, special features, hardware requirements and supported hardware and peripherals, and contain screen shots that best portray the product for ads, promotional sheets, previews, and reviews for magazines. The producer also needs to make sure that programmers work with the quality assurance (QA) testers and provide them with the play instructions, special key combinations, hints, and undocumented features and actions.
Audio and sound engineers provide voice, background, and atmosphere sounds and music. These engineers also need to view and play the current version to check and validate the timing, usage, and clarity of their work.
The designer (if not a member of the day-to-day team) sees the current version to confirm that the product is in line with the design specifications and the concept originally set forth
The QA testers report problems to the producer. The problems must be categorized as major (crash, function or action not working), minor (text misspelling, character movement too fast or slow, response time feels wrong), glitches (sound or graphic problems), improvements (add a new feature, improve the character’s interaction or behavior, clarify a confusing aspect of the design or gameplay), a videogame standards issue (the triangle button does not perform as the standard function definition), and multiplatform inconsistency (PC version vs. video game version).
Whether one person assumes the role of both producer and designer or several people handle these tasks, there must only be one producer whose word is final, whose decisions are followed, and whose leadership is trusted and motivating.