A Game Designer Is Not The Same Thing As A Game Artist
There seems to be a common misconception that a game designer is the same thing as a game artist. Students and wannabe game developers have told me that want to be a game designer and create all the concept artwork for a game — or, alternately, they are concerned that about not much skilled in drawing. Apparently, they have the perception that a game designer’s come up with an idea for a game, draws a lot of sketches about how that game should look, and then passes those sketches off to someone else to do while waiting for their royalty checks to roll in.
That fact is that game designers do not need to be very good at drawing. At most, a typical game designer may sketch out the structure of the game’s menu, the placement of buttons and other user interface elements on a screen, or the layout of a level. However, there are many good tools that can assist you in these tasks.
Writing is a far more valuable skill for a game designer to have, as well as the drive to work hard throughout the game’s development.
These are the main tasks of a game designer:
- Take a game idea (the idea may be someone else’s, such as the manager of a studio or a producer at a publisher) and work out all the details that make it a complete design: goals, obstacles, resources, rules, controls, story, and so on. For a large-scale game, this means creating one or multiple game design documents that are hundreds of pages long, full of tables, formulas, and diagrams explaining how the game will work in sufficient detail that all the programmers, artists, and sound engineers can figure out what their tasks are.
- Possibly create a rough paper or digital prototype of the game to test and nail down the rules and other game elements before it goes on to the development team.
- Conduct playtest sessions with groups of playtesters, record their reactions to the game, analyze the results, and make necessary modifications to the design that will create the experience they were trying to create.
The task of creating sketches for a game’s characters, objects, and environments is that of a concept artist. Some game designers are also concept artists, but most are not. Concept artists are specialists who are skilled in illustration or fine art.
They are also commercial artists, in that they have a client (the designer) for whom they work. They create illustrations of the game characters, objects and environments described by the game designer, and if approved, these illustrations are used by the other artists on the art team for to create models, textures, animations, and levels.
Game designers and game artists both apply creativity in their craft, but their skills and responsibilities are very different from each other.