Dear Raph Koster,
I want to become a Game Designer.
As a child I used to judge games very harshly on things like graphics and funness. Although as I’ve grown older I’ve seen there is a lot more to games then meets the eye. I don’t want to sound all professional and stodgy, I’ve just reached the stage in my life where I need to choose my path. Whether it is the correct one will be with the help of you.
I want to be a Game Designer. There are courses at Universities specifically for Designing games or Programming for games, (programming is what I would want to start doing in the industry) although it feels like I’m just the same as everyone else who picked up a controller or keyboard and said “I can do better than this”.
Simply put I was hoping you could give me some advice on how to achieve my dream. The fun is in the learning as a well written book once taught me (wink wink), and the Gaming industry is ever growing.
Thank you for your time,
If you want to design games, you should start designing games. You can design games with a deck of cards. With index cards. And a pen, don’t forget a pen. You can do it with some poker chips, with some Lego bricks, with an old chess board. Your first lesson is “games are not their graphics.” Or their framerate. They are their rules. You can start making games with whatever you have to hand.
Learning programming is just going to give you a nicer set of index cards and blocks and chips and boards. It will let you use virtual stuff instead of real stuff. But the lessons you learn will work either way. If you can’t program yet, try GameSalad or GameMaker.
I would recommend that you learn to program. I would also recommend that you learn to draw. And to write. A designer needs to be able to communicate with people who do all these things for a living. That will likely mean drawing something to explain it to the artists, and writing something to explain it to the marketers and it might even mean programming something to show a programmer what you are trying to do. You don’t need to get really good at any of these things. Just get good enough.
Don’t choose a narrow education. Choose a broad one. History, economics, psychology, art, science. A classic liberal arts education is the best training for a designer.
Play games. But break them down as you do it. Don’t play for fun, play for analysis.
When you do sit down to start a game, you are probably starting with an idea. The idea is probably either an idea about rules, or an aesthetic idea, an experience. Whichever one you started with, go figure out the other one. Make sure they line up well together. Decide what your game is about.
Read or watch all these things, which are all free (and none of them are here on this site!)
- Ian Schreiber’s Game Design Concepts class and Game Balance Concepts.
- Clint Hocking’s article on ludonarrative dissonance
- Dan Cook’s Chemistry of Game Design article
- Whatever free videos in the GDC Vault tickle your fancy
- This episode of Extra Credits.
I could say more, but I think I just gave a twenty year to-do list. Well, the reading will be done faster than that, but hey, there’s always lots more to read.