Video game design

Video game design is the process of designing the content and rules of a video game in the pre-production stage[1] and designing the gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters in the production stage. The designer of a game is very much like the director of a film; the designer is the visionary of the game and controls the artistic and technical elements of the game in fulfillment of their vision.[2] Video game design requires artistic and technical competence as well as writing skills.[3] As the industry has aged and embraced alternative production methodologies such as agile, the role of a principal game designer has begun to separate - some studios emphasising the auteur model while others emphasising a more team oriented model. Within the video game industry, video game design is usually just referred to as "game design", which is a more general term elsewhere.

Video game programmers have also sometimes comprised the entire design team. This is the case of such noted designers as Sid Meier, John Romero, Chris Sawyer and Will Wright. A notable exception to this policy was Coleco, which from its very start separated the function of design and programming.

As games became more complex and computers and consoles became more powerful, the job of the game designer became separate from the lead programmer. Soon game complexity demanded team members focused on game design. Many early veterans chose the game design path eschewing programming and delegating those tasks to others.

With very complex games, such as MMORPGs, or a big budget action or sports title, designers may number in the dozens. In these cases, there are generally one or two principal designers and many junior designers who specify subsets or subsystems of the game. In larger companies like Electronic Arts, each aspect of the game (control, level design) may have a separate producer, lead designer and several general designers. They may also come up with a plot for the game.


Video game design starts with an idea,[4][5][6][7] often a modification on an existing concept.[4][8] The game idea may fall within one or several genres. Designers often experiment with mixing genres.[9][10] The game designer usually produces an initial game proposal document containing the concept, gameplay, feature list, setting and story, target audience, requirements and schedule, staff and budget estimates.[11]

Many decisions are made during the course of a game's development about the game's design; it is the responsibility of the designer to decide which elements will be implemented, based on, for example, consistency with the game's vision, budget or hardware limitations.[12] Design changes may have a significant positive or negative impact on required resources.[13]

The designer may use scripting languages to implement and preview design ideas without necessarily modifying the game's codebase.[14][15]

A game designer often plays video games and demos to follow the game market development.[16]

It is common for the game designer's name to misleadingly be given an undue amount of association to the game, neglecting the rest of the development team.[17]

Funding game publishers must be taken into account, who may have specific expectations from a game[18] as most video games are market-driven — developed to sell for profit.[19] However, if financial issues do not influence designer's decisions, the game becomes design- or designer-driven; few games are designed this way because of lack of funding.[20] Alternatively, a game may be technology-driven, such as Quake (1996),[21] to show off a particular hardware achievement or to market the game engine.[21] Finally, a game may be art-driven, such as Myst (1993),[22] mainly to show off impressive visuals designed by artists.[22]

In Rules of Play (2004), Katie Salen and Eric Zimmermann write:

A game designer is a particular kind of designer, much like a graphic designer, industrial designer, or architect. A game designer is not necessarily a programmer, visual designer, or project manager, although sometimes he or she can also play these roles in the creation of a game. A game designer might work alone or as part of a larger team. A game designer might create card games, social games, video games, or any other kind of game. The focus of a game designer is designing game play, conceiving and designing rules and structures that result in an experience for players.

Thus game design, as a discipline, requires a focus on games in and of themselves. Rather than placing games in the service of another field such as sociology, literary criticism, or computer science, our aim is to study games within their own disciplinary space. Because game design is an emerging discipline, we often borrow from other areas of knowledge — from mathematics and cognitive science; from semiotics and cultural studies. We may not borrow in the most orthodox manner, but we do so in the service of helping to establish a field of game design proper.

Game designer

A game designer is a person who designs gameplay, conceiving and designing the rules and structure of a game.[23][24][25] Many designers start their career in testing departments, other roles in game development or in classroom conditions,[26] where mistakes by others can be seen first-hand.[27]

  • Lead designer coordinates the work of other designers and is the main visionary of the game.[28][29] Lead designer ensures team communication, makes large design decisions, and presents design outside of the team.[30] Often the lead designer is technically and artistically astute.[31] Keeping well-presented documentation also falls within the lead designer responsibilities.[32] Lead designer may be the founder of a game development company or a promoted employee.
  • Game mechanics designer or systems designer designs and balances the game's rules.[29]
  • Level designer or environment designer is a position becoming prominent in the recent years.[17] Level designer is the person responsible for creating game environment, levels, and missions.[33][34][35][36]


In 2010, a game designer with more than six years of experience earned an average of US$65,000 (GBP GB£44,761.22), $54,000 (GBP £37,186.24) with three to six years of experience and $44,000 (GBP £30,299.90) with less than 3 years of experience. Lead designers earned $75,000 (GBP £51,647.56) with three to six years of experience and $95,000(GBP £65,420.24) with more than six years of experience.[37] In 2013, a game designer with less than 3 years of experience earned, on average, $55,000 (GBP £37,874.88). A game designer with more than 6 years of experience made, on average, $105,000 (GBP £72,306.58). The average salary of these designers varies depending on their region.[38] As of 2015 the salary of experienced workers has shifted to approximately $87,000 USD (GBP £59,911.17) [39]


World design

World design is the creation of a backstory, setting, and theme for the game; often done by a lead designer. [40] World design can also be the creation of a universe or a map, as well as topics or areas that are likely to be pursued by the player. It is a map referenced for creation of everything as it shows where it is and allows for the most logistical design in any given game.

System design

System design is the creation of game rules and underlying mathematical patterns.[40]

Content design

Content design is the creation of characters, items, puzzles, and missions.[40]

A secondary definition of Content design is the creation of any aspect of the game that is not required for the game to function properly and meet the minimum viable product standard. In essence, content is the complexity added to a minimum viable product to increase its value. An example of this is the item list from Final Fantasy. None of the items are necessary for the game to function, but they add value and complexity to the game as a whole..

Game writing

Game writing involves writing dialogue, text, and story.[40]

Writing in games also includes the elements in which the literature is presented. Voice acting, text, and music are all elements of game writing.

Level design

Level design is the construction of world levels and its features.[33][34][35][40]

Level design makes use of many different fields to create a game world. Lighting, space, framing, color and contrast are used to draw a player's attention. A designer can then use these elements to guide or direct the player in a specific direction through the game world, or mislead them

User interface design

User interface (UI) design deals with the construction the user interactions and feedback interface, like menus or heads-up displays.[40]

The user interface also incorporates game mechanics design. Deciding how much information to give the player and in what way allows the designer to inform the player about the world, or perhaps leave them uninformed. Another aspect to consider is the method of input a game will use and deciding to what degree a player can interact with a game with these inputs. These choices have a profound effect on the mood of the game, as it directly affects the player in both noticeable and subtle ways.

User interface design in video games has unique goals. A conscious decision has to be made regarding the amount of information to relay to the player. However, the UI in games do not have to be absolutely streamlined. Players expect challenges and are willing to accept them as long as the experience is sufficiently rewarding. By the same token, navigating or interaction with a game's UI can be satisfying without the need to be effortless.[41]

Audio design

Audio design involves the process of creating or incorporating all of the sounds that are in the game, like sound effects or voice acting.

Game feel

The disciplines listed above all combine to form the discipline of game feel.

Game elements


Numerous games have narrative elements which give a context to an event in a game, making the activity of playing it less abstract and enhance its entertainment value, although narrative elements are not always clearly present or present at all. The original version of Tetris is an example of a game apparently without narrative. Some narratologists claim that all games have a narrative element. Some go further and claim that games are essentially a form of narrative. Narrative in practice can be the starting point for the development of a game, or can be added to a design that started as a set of game mechanics.


Gameplay is the interactive aspects of video game design. Gameplay involves player interaction with the game, usually for the purpose of entertainment, education or training.

Design process

The design process varies from designer to designer and companies have different formal procedures and philosophies.[42]

The typical "textbook" approach is to start with a concept or a previously completed game and from there create a game design document. This document is intended to map out the complete game design and acts as a central resource for the development team. This document should ideally be updated as the game evolves throughout the production process.

Designers are frequently expected to adapt to multiple roles of widely varying nature: For example, concept prototyping can be assisted with the use of pre-existing engines and tools like GameMaker Studio, Unity, Godot, or Construct. Level designs might be done first on paper and again for the game engine using a 3D modelling tool. Scripting languages are used for many elements—AI, cutscenes, GUI, environmental processes, and many other behaviours and effects—that designers would want to tune without a programmer's assistance. Setting, story and character concepts require a research and writing process. Designers may oversee focus testing, write up art and audio asset lists, and write game documentation. In addition to the skillset, designers are ideally clear communicators with attention to detail and ability to delegate responsibilities appropriately.

Design approval in the commercial setting is a continuous process from the earliest stages until the game ships.

When a new project is being discussed (either internally, or as a result of dialogue with potential publishers), the designer may be asked to write a sell-sheet of short concepts, followed by a one or two-page pitch of specific features, audience, platform, and other details. Designers will first meet with leads in other departments to establish agreement on the feasibility of the game given the available time, scope, and budget. If the pitch is approved, early milestones focus on the creation of a fleshed-out design document. Some developers advocate a prototyping phase before the design document is written to experiment with new ideas before they become part of the design.

As production progresses, designers are asked to make frequent decisions about elements missing from the design. The consequences of these decisions are hard to predict and often can only be determined after creating the full implementation. These are referred to as the unknowns of the design, and the faster they are uncovered, the less risk the team faces later in the production process. Outside factors such as budget cuts or changes in milestone expectations also result in cuts to the design, and while overly large cuts can take the heart out of a project, cuts can also result in a streamlined design with only the essential features, polished well.

Towards the end of production, designers take the brunt of responsibility for ensuring that the gameplay remains at a uniform standard throughout the game, even in very long games. This task is made more difficult under "crunch" conditions, as the entire team may begin to lose sight of the core gameplay once pressured to hit a date for a finished and bug-free game.

See also


  1. ^ Brathwaite, Schreiber 2009, p. 2
  2. ^ The Making of a Great Modern Game Designer Glassner, Andrew. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
  3. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 20, 22-25
  4. ^ a b Bates 2004, p. 3
  5. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 29-30
  6. ^ Bethke 2003, p. 75
  7. ^ Chandler 2009, p. 3
  8. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 31-33
  9. ^ Bates 2004, p. 6
  10. ^ Oxland 2004, p. 25
  11. ^ Bates 2004, pp. 14-16
  12. ^ Bates 2004, p. 160
  13. ^ Bates 2004, pp. 160-161
  14. ^ Bates 2004, p. 161
  15. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 297-298
  16. ^ Bates 2004, pp. 161-162
  17. ^ a b Bates 2004, p. 162
  18. ^ Bates 2004, p. 12
  19. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 47-48
  20. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 48-49
  21. ^ a b Adams, Rollings 2003, p. 51
  22. ^ a b Adams, Rollings 2003, p. 52
  23. ^ Salem, Zimmerman 2003
  24. ^ Oxland 2004, p. 292
  25. ^ Moore, Novak 2010, p. 74
  26. ^ "Game Design School in New York & Los Angeles - NYFA".
  27. ^ Bates 2004, p. 179
  28. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 292-296
  29. ^ a b Bethke 2003, p. 40
  30. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 293-294
  31. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 294, 295
  32. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 295-296
  33. ^ a b Moore, Novak 2010, p. 76
  34. ^ a b Shahrani 2006, part I
  35. ^ a b Oxland 2004, pp. 296-297
  36. ^ Bethke 2003, pp. 40-41
  37. ^ Fleming, Jeffrey (April 2008). "9th Annual Salary Survey". Game Developer. United Business Media. 17 (4): 8.
  38. ^ "Top Gaming Studios, Schools & Salaries". Big Fish Games.
  39. ^ "Game Designer Salaries in the United States -".
  40. ^ a b c d e f Brathwaite, Schreiber 2009, p. 5
  41. ^ G, Luis Miguel Bello (2017-09-25). "Design principles face-off: UX versus Game Design". Luis Miguel Bello G. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  42. ^ Bates 2004, p. 151
  • Adams, Ernest; Rollings, Andrew (2003). Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on game design. New Riders Publishing. ISBN 1-59273-001-9.
  • Bates, Bob (2004). Game Design (2nd ed.). Thomson Course Technology. ISBN 1-59200-493-8.
  • Bethke, Erik (2003). Game development and production. Texas: Wordware Publishing, Inc. ISBN 1-55622-951-8.
  • Brathwaite, Brenda; Schreiber, Ian (2009). Challenges for Game Designers. Charles River Media. ISBN 1-58450-580-X.
  • Moore, Michael E.; Novak, Jeannie (2010). Game Industry Career Guide. Delmar: Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-4283-7647-2.
  • Oxland, Kevin (2004). Gameplay and design. Addison Wesley. ISBN 0-321-20467-0.
  • Salen, Katie; Zimmerman, Eric (2003). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-24045-9.
  • Shahrani, Sam (April 25, 2006). "Educational Feature: A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games". Archived from the original on 2009-04-22. Retrieved 29 March 2010.

External links

3D modeling

In 3D computer graphics, 3D modeling is the process of developing a mathematical representation of any surface of an object (either inanimate or living) in three dimensions via specialized software. The product is called a 3D model. Someone who works with 3D models may be referred to as a 3D artist. It can be displayed as a two-dimensional image through a process called 3D rendering or used in a computer simulation of physical phenomena. The model can also be physically created using 3D printing devices.

Models may be created automatically or manually. The manual modeling process of preparing geometric data for 3D computer graphics is similar to plastic arts such as sculpting.

3D modeling software is a class of 3D computer graphics software used to produce 3D models. Individual programs of this class are called modeling applications or modelers.

Adaptive music

In video games, adaptive music (also called dynamic or interactive music) is background music whose volume, rhythm or tune changes in response to specific events in the game.

Context-sensitive user interface

A context-sensitive user interface is one which can automatically choose from a multiplicity of options based on the current or previous state(s) of the program operation. Context sensitivity is almost ubiquitous in current graphical user interfaces, usually in the form of context menus. Context sensitivity, when operating correctly, should be practically transparent to the user. This can be experienced in computer operating systems which call a compatible program to run files based upon their filename extension, e.g. opening text files with a word processor, video files (.mpg, .mov and .avi, etc.) with a video player, image files (.jpg and .png etc.) with a photo viewer or running program files themselves, and their shortcuts, (i.e. .exe files) when selected.

The user-interface may also provide Context sensitive feedback, such as changing the appearance of the mouse pointer or cursor, changing the menu color, or with applicable auditory or tactile feedback.


A cutscene or event scene (sometimes in-game cinematic or in-game movie) is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay. Such scenes could be used to show conversations between characters, set the mood, reward the player, introduce new gameplay elements, show the effects of a player's actions, create emotional connections, improve pacing or foreshadow future events.Cutscenes often feature "on the fly" rendering, using the gameplay graphics to create scripted events. Cutscenes can also be pre-rendered computer graphics streamed from a video file. Pre-made videos used in video games (either during cutscenes or during the gameplay itself) are referred to as "full motion videos" or "FMVs". Cutscenes can also appear in other forms, such as a series of images or as plain text and audio.

Grafton High School (Massachusetts)

Grafton High School is a high school in Grafton, Massachusetts US. It has a population of 750 students in grades 9–12, with an average class size of 21.

The curriculum offers a wide variety of courses in areas of business and computer science, music, video game design, English, family consumer science, health, physical education, mathematics, science and technology, social studies, special education, visual and performing arts, world languages, community service, school service, and independent studies.

Head-up display (video gaming)

In video gaming, the HUD (head-up display) or status bar is the method by which information is visually relayed to the player as part of a game's user interface. It takes its name from the head-up displays used in modern aircraft.

The HUD is frequently used to simultaneously display several pieces of information including the main character's health, items, and an indication of game progression (such as score or level).

Level design

Level design, environment design, or game mapping is a discipline of game development involving creation of video game levels—locales, stages, or missions. This is commonly done using a level editor, a game development software designed for building levels; however, some games feature built-in level editing tools. Level design is both an artistic and technical process.

Loading screen

A loading screen is a picture shown by a computer program, often a video game, while the program is loading or initializing.

In early video games, the loading screen was also a chance for graphic artists to be creative without the technical limitations often required for the in-game graphics. Drawing utilities were also limited during this period. Melbourne Draw, one of the few 8-bit screen utilities with a zoom function, was one program of choice for artists.

Matchmaking (video games)

In multiplayer video games, matchmaking is the process of connecting players together for online play sessions.

Palette swap

A palette swap is a practice used in video games, whereby a graphic that is already used for one element is given a different palette, so it can be reused as other elements. The different palette gives the new graphic another set of colors, which makes it recognizably distinct from the original. Palette swaps are commonly used to distinguish between first and second players, for creating visual hierarchies, and for making visually distinct areas for levels in games.

Parallax scrolling

Parallax scrolling is a technique in computer graphics where background images move past the camera more slowly than foreground images, creating an illusion of depth in a 2D scene and adding to the sense of immersion in the virtual experience. The technique grew out of the multiplane camera technique used in traditional animation since the 1930s. Parallax scrolling was popularized in 2D computer graphics and video games by the arcade games Moon Patrol and Jungle Hunt, both released in 1982. Some parallax scrolling had earlier been used by the 1981 arcade game Jump Bug.

Password (video gaming)

In many video games of the 1980s and 1990s, after a level is beaten and/or when all continues are used, the game displays a password that when entered allows the player to either restart from the last level reached or restore the game to the state when the password was received. Overlapping in many ways with cheat codes, players distinguish passwords from codes by having received them from the game outright rather than finding them hidden within the game code. Using them is not considered cheating. They are rarely used today, having been largely supplanted by saved games.


Pre-rendering is the process in which video footage is not rendered in real-time by the hardware that is outputting or playing back the video. Instead, the video is a recording of footage that was previously rendered on different equipment (typically one that is more powerful than the hardware used for playback). Pre-rendered assets (typically movies) may also be outsourced by the developer to an outside production company. Such assets usually have a level of complexity that is too great for the target platform to render in real-time.

The term pre-rendered refers to anything that is not rendered in real-time. This includes content that could have been run in real-time with more effort on the part of the developer (e.g. video that covers a large number of a game's environments without pausing to load, or video of a game in an early state of development that is rendered in slow-motion and then played back at regular speed). This term is generally not used to refer to video captures of real-time rendered graphics despite the fact that video is technically pre-rendered by its nature. The term is also not used to refer to hand drawn assets or photographed assets (these assets not being computer rendered in the first place).

Red Bull TV

Red Bull TV is a global multi-platform channel, distributed digitally on connected TVs, smartphones, tablets, and on its website. The channel is available globally and free of charge. Programming is in English language (with optional subtitles and closed captions) and airs across all territories regardless of the country in which it’s produced. The channel is a home for live events and programs on sports, music, and lifestyle/culture, including unbranded original programming. Red Bull TV is also available on Apple TV. Red Bull TV is known for long-format original programming series such as Sky Trippers, an aerial adventure of three friends piloting their paramotors through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, URBEX – Enter At Your Own Risk, a documentary series about urban explorers, SCREENLAND explores video game design, short-format series like Sheckler Sessions (featuring pro-skater Ryan Sheckler) and Who is J.O.B. (starring pro surfer Jamie O'Brien), their live coverage of sport events like the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, and the Wings for Life World Run, as well as for live broadcasting music festivals like Lollapalooza.

Scripted sequence

In video games, a scripted sequence is a pre-defined series of events that occur when triggered by player location or actions that play out in the games engine.


In computer displays, filmmaking, television production, and other kinetic displays, scrolling is sliding text, images or video across a monitor or display, vertically or horizontally. "Scrolling", as such, does not change the layout of the text or pictures, but moves (pans or tilts) the user's view across what is apparently a larger image that is not wholly seen. A common television and movie special effect is to scroll credits, while leaving the background stationary. Scrolling may take place completely without user intervention (as in film credits) or, on an interactive device, be triggered by touchscreen or a keypress and continue without further intervention until a further user action, or be entirely controlled by input devices.

Scrolling may take place in discrete increments (perhaps one or a few lines of text at a time), or continuously (smooth scrolling). Frame rate is the speed at which an entire image is redisplayed. It is related to scrolling in that changes to text and image position can only happen as often as the image can be redisplayed. When frame rate is a limiting factor, one smooth scrolling technique is to blur images during movement that would otherwise appear to "jump".

Sprite (computer graphics)

Sprite is a computer graphics term for a two-dimensional bitmap that is integrated into a larger scene.

Originally sprites referred to independent objects that are composited together, by hardware, with other elements such as a background. The composition occurs as each scan line is prepared for the video output device, such as a CRT, without involvement of the main CPU and without the need for a full-screen frame buffer. Sprites can be positioned or altered by setting attributes used during the hardware composition process. Examples of systems with hardware sprites include the Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 64, Amiga, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, and many coin-operated arcade machines of the 1980s. Sprite hardware varies in how many sprites are supported, how many can be displayed on a single scan line (which is often a lower number), the dimensions and colors of each sprite, and special effects such as scaling or reporting pixel-precise overlap.

Use of the term sprite has expanded to refer to any two-dimensional bitmap used as part of a graphics display, even if drawn into a frame buffer (by either software or a GPU) instead of being composited on-the-fly at display time.

The act of manually creating sprites, as opposed to pre-rendering them or using digitized images, is a form of pixel art. It is sometimes referred to as spriting, especially in the hobbyist community.

Video game writing

Video game writing is the art and craft of writing scripts for video games. Similar to screenwriting, it is typically a freelance profession. It includes many differences from writing for film, due to the non-linear and interactive nature of most video games, and the necessity to work closely with video game designers and voice actors. There are many differing types of text in video games in comparison to stage shows or movies, including written text, foreign or made-up languages, and often situation-based information. Especially when developing Triple A games, more than one writer will be required to create the game, split into different roles.

Warp (gaming)

A warp, also known as a portal or teleporter, is an element in video game design that allows a player character instant travel between two locations or levels. Specific areas that allow such travel are referred to as warp zones. A warp zone might be a secret passage, accessible only to players capable of finding it, but they are also commonly used as a primary mean of travel in certain games. Warps might be deliberately installed within puzzles, be used to avoid danger in sections of a game that have been previously accomplished, be something a player can abuse for cheating or be used as a punishment to a player straying from the "correct" path.In some games, a player can only use warps to travel to locations they have visited before. Because of this, a player has to make the journey by normal route at least once, but are not required to travel the same paths again if they need to revisit earlier areas in the game. Finding warp zones might become a natural goal of a gaming session, being used as a checkpoint.Though it is unclear which video game first made use of teleportation areas or devices, the element has been traced back to MUDs, where it allowed connected rooms to not be "topologically correct" if necessary. The element was later popularized by Super Mario Bros., in which secret areas referred to within the game as warp zones allowed players to skip forward through the game.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.