Friday, 22 February 2013

Game Design Part 2 - Art Direction

Art direction, who is in charge of this very important part of game design? The Art director of course. What does he/she do? Well they are in charge of setting the look and feel of the game aesthetics. They must make sure that the style and feel stays consistent through all the aspects of the game.  The Art director acts as the glue keeping all the different parts of the team together, maintaining good communication and solving problems.

The art directors job starts way before the game is even started to come to reality. They must plan the main feel and aesthetics of the game with core developers and a small art team. They create the main concepting and allow time for the main style to be explored and edited. 
Their role involves a super human amount of organisation and management. Time keeping is key, trying to plan the timing of the creating of every asset in the game takes a lot of good organisation. Making sure that each part gets handed from the modellers, to the texture artists to the animators and then into game require perfect communication, all of this is accomplished by the art director.
Providing feedback is also an essential, the director must be able to look at aspects of the game give their feedback but also keep moral up. Pointing out what’s good as well as suggesting a way to improve is a key skill, usually easier said than done. Getting a healthy balance between productiveness, respect and constructive criticism is key.

It goes without saying that the art director must be an artist their self (they wouldn't be there without that) as well as having good management skills. They must have a good understanding of how colour, shape, form etc. affect the look and feel in a game. They, after all, set the initial style of the art in the game.

One would presume that the role of art director was relatively similar between different creative industries. For example in the film industry the art director would bring all the departments together, keep the style the same across all boards, etc. in the same way as they would in the games industry. 
Based on an art directors duties, if one wanted to become an art director they would need to focus on their management skills. Management and time keeping are very important but I think the core skill should still be based on their creativeness. It makes sense as the art director sets the main style, feel and aesthetics of the game so they must have a good understanding of design. This also helps when they must review work by others in the team, you must have an understanding of something to give valuable and constructive feedback. 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Game Design Part 1

So, what is game design? The process of making a game, right? Well to put it simply, yes. But a better way to look at it would be that game design is the consideration of what the game is aiming to achieve, a judge of it would be how well it accomplishes this.
Obviously a game isn’t one person’s work, there is a large team of people working on one title. But with so many people, and so many different design ideas, how to they keep to one set design? Well this is where the lead designer comes in. This person sits at the top of the design hierarchy and tries to create some order out of the chaos. They have the most say in the artistic direction and the general design in the game. 
The rest of the team is organised into three parts; The Systems Designers, Level Designers and the Writers.
Each group is responsible for different aspects of the game. The system designers make sure that the game plays correctly, that all the mechanics are balanced correctly, for example they ensure that the power of weapons is equal and fair. The Level Designers were in charge of creating the levels and making them aesthetically pleasing but also playable. Finally the Writers who create the story line and narrative helping the players immerse and create the escapism in game.

So these guys are responsible for the design, but surely there is more to it than just this. Well in the beginning of the 21st century three people made an attempt to theorise Game Design. Robin Hunicke, Mark LeBlanc and Robert Zubeck wrote a paper called ‘Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics’ (MDA.) They categorized Game Design into these key three groups. Mechanics referring to the technical stuff the governs how the game plays, the Dynamics are the experience and feeling gained from playing these mechanics and finally the Aesthetics look and the reason we choose to play said games.
It is important to highlight that when it comes to game designers they will start at one end of the spectrum, looking first at mechanics, then the dynamics and finally the aesthetics so sometimes the importance of the aesthetics can be lost and the main concentration may go on the earlier parts, which can make or break a game. This effect the games success as a gamer will look at the opposite end, the aesthetics draw them in then the dynamics of the game make the experience better and the mechanics make it run smoothly. So it is important to get the aesthetics right as that is most important to the gamer.

The MDA goes on to try to define genre’s in a different way to today’s common genres like ‘platformer’, ‘first person shooter’ ,etc. as these genre conventions are often broken. For example games often don’t fit into one genre, take Portal, which following conventions is a first person shooter, but the main appeal is the fact that it is a puzzle game.
So the MDA separates it into eight new categories.
Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Self-Expression and Submission.
As opposed to defining a game as what it is, it attempts to take the appeal and reason for playing a game as a way of categorising them.

I will give some quick examples;

Sensation – Sense pleasure

Fantasy – Escaping the real world

Narrative – Game as drama

Challenge – The obstacle course

Fellowship – Comradeship

Discovery – Fantastic new worlds

Self-Expression – Be yourself

Submission – Switching off