What is game design? Game design is an art, it’s graphic design, it’s computer programming, creative writing, basically it’s a very large field. A game designer takes the creative lead in imagining and bringing to life video game worlds. Video games are the most recent forms of art and the game designer represents a modern artist. The gaming industry is in full swing. Video games are enjoyed by people of all ages, allowing players to step into an alternate world and become world saviours, superheroes, aliens, etc.

Video games are extremely complex in storyline alone, and there are millions of lines of code that develop every aspect of the game. From maps to characters, these games fulfill a reaction for every possible action that a player may choose. These worlds are courtesy of video game designers, who are responsible for the content and environment of every video game. Everything starts with an initial game concept and evolves quickly to include a plot and storylines, characters, maps, level of difficulties, methods of winning or losing in the game, user interface and audio interaction. Of course, in this sector we have many types of game designer; lead designers coordinate the team, game mechanics designers work for the balance of the game rules, environmental designers create all the different types of scenarios.

So, in general, a game designer:

  • Is responsible for the aesthetics (or visual style) of video games and simulators;
  • Is an expert in the field of traditional art and in his/her techniques and theories;
  • Draws the artwork for every visual aspect of the game, such as characters, weapons and vehicles;
  • Uses 2D / 3D animation software to simulate and animate video game levels and environments;
  • Sometimes uses motion-capture software to include moving actors in the video game.

Works with programmers and designers to ensure that the finished product respects the original artwork.

The game industry has plenty of success stories, but just as many failures. Finding the right mix between the gameplay system, story and music is very hard and the triple-A games are the result of years of work by thousands of programmers. The programmer team works closely to create as harmonious a product as possible, but the chosen formula does not always work.

So, a good game designer must have various skills like:

  • Mastering the Java, C and C ++ languages;
  • AI development experience that manages the reactions of the elements controlled by the computer;
  • Knowing how to write and optimize the code that controls the difficulty level of a video game;
  • Developing a multiplayer system (when required) on a specific network.

The game designer must also pay attention to his platform of reference, very often a game design works perfectly on a specific platform but can not be transferred onto another and vice versa. Also, amongst the various platforms, the tools of development change; this factor was particularly important in the past when changing the gaming platform also changed the hardware architecture. Today, fortuitously, the market is divided between x86_64 and ARM64 and very often the various graphic engines are available for both architectures.

The video games market is full of examples of success and millions of text lines that describe the reasons for these successes and how users have become attached to a particular team or franchise. But this sector is not only studded with successes but also with several commercial and technical failures.

During Codemotion Milan 2018, Giuseppe Enrico Franchi, CEO at 34BigThings srl, told us about what he considers his biggest failure in his career as a game developer: Mars or Die. Before discovering what it really means to fail in a project, Franchi created a successful project called Redout, a racing video game, highly appreciated by both critics and users.

In the case of Mars or Die, Franchi started from a very interesting concept, a simultaneous control of two characters. This concept was nothing new – it had already been seen in several other games like Brothers. So it was not something unique but a concept already applied.However, implementing a similar game design requires an in-depth study and the game development roadmap was initially articulated in four months. So the time initially estimated for the development was very short for the right implementation of the game concept.

The problems emerged immediately. Basically, the first prototype did not work as the developers had imagined. In fact, it could not entertain the player and did not give a good feeling. Forcing people to focus on two things simultaneously is not a great idea and in some cases only increases the psychological pressure and this does not make the experience fun.

This discovery forced the developers to change their approach, moving to a simpler concept, always based on the double character but untying the two avatars between them. This made the exploration and expansion of their base easier, thus reducing the possible situations where stress goes beyond entertainment.

In his talk, Franchi examined in detail the reasons that led to the failure of his project. In fact, he said, the first big mistake when you develop a game design is believing that “if your core gameplay idea doesn’t work, just adapt your concept, your side-elements are now your core.” But taking the side-element instead of rethinking the entire game experience is the worst choice for a balanced development of a game. The side-elements will not fill the gap of a wrong “core game” but will highlight the main flaws even more.

Another big mistake is thinking “it’s no big deal, it will not happen to you (you’re too experienced, too talented or too lucky, it’s subordinate to the game concept”. We often deliberately choose to ignore the risks and underestimate the initial problems. But in reality it’s already possible to avoid problems during the production of the game if you pay attention immediately to the perplexities that emerge during the test of the first prototype.

When you imagine a new game concept, if you can state some clear design pillars it does not means that you are automatically able to follow them. Following the right idea and implementing the right game logic, following the original concept, is quite complex and is not always an automatic process but is often punctuated by many trials and errors.

During the test phases, however, you should not lie down. Relying on genre-specific rules and mechanics is not the solution of all problem, even though they’re tried and tested. The mechanisms that can be tested for certain games are not necessarily going to work for your concept, so it is always appropriate to perform extensive research and tests on your project.

For example, if you design your game to be played exclusively with the pad, it excludes users who want mouse and keyboard support. The fact that you conceived the game design to be played with the pad does not mean that this is the most comfortable way to enjoy the gaming experience for everyone. Then there are aspects of the game that maybe you prefer to make “optional”, like minimap, but for some users these are essential to have fun without stress.

Furthermore, you should never measure the game content in “hours of gameplay”. A game with great longevity can be tedious, some types of video games give their best when structured in linear adventures with a gameplay that starts and ends in a given time frame.

So when you are working on a video game, you must always proceed with “the feet of lead” but it is also good to not listen to too many tips. In certain contexts, the advice can make us deviate from the set course and make us miss the goal or send us out of focus. This is why it is good to make decisions with our heads when necessary.

Last not least, the marketing aspect. You can’t fix marketing mistakes at the launch of game. A bad marketing strategy always leads to failure even if the product is good. So it’s better to invest immediately in a social media manager, on the marketing campaign and on the message to communicate to your target users.

In conclusion, Franchi also left us some tips for when things get difficult. Take a break, relax, get away from the problems for some time. After thinking about your mistakes, discuss them with your partner and friends. Look at the positives, what worked and what you learned. If you’re not bankrupt, use this experience to bounce back.