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VIDEO GAME DESIGN CAREER PATHS
If you are planning for a career as a video game designer, artist, or programmer, you will have a variety of career paths to choose from. It is important to know exactly what job functions each one involves so you don't end up in a field with tasks that aren't suited to you. This page contains descriptions and details for different creative video game developer roles. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers the most defined roles and those most common to appear in job openings.
If a video game isn't very fun, the game designers will likely bear the brunt of the blame. Game designers design gameplay, rules, interface, and controls, which are organized in a design document to serve as a guide throughout development. The job continues to become more complex as games evolve, and game designers are regularly in charge of design for characters, story, world settings, dialogue, puzzles, and levels depending on the type of game. Exceptional skill in writing, grammar, creative thinking, and organization are a must. You will have to make difficult decisions as the game progresses to ensure that it remains balanced and fun for a wide audience. Common game designer roles include the following:
Creates a highly detailed design document containing a blueprint of all aspects of the game's design, gameplay, interface, world, and other features. Game designers update the design document continuously throughout development to keep the rest of the development staff up to date and consistent on the design. Designers follow the current build of the game very closely, often incorporating tester feedback ino design decisions. Requires intimate knowledge of games, high creativity, solid writing, and good skills in organization and collaboration.
Designs rules for the gameplay and ensures that they remain carefully balanced throughout the game. Also known as a systems designer.
Level designers are responsible for designing levels, missions, and environments, often placing elements of terrain designed by the environment artists.
Tasked with writing the game's story, character dialogue, cut scene or narration text, game tips, and menu text. Writers must work closely with other designers to follow their plan for the game. Due to the variety of games and genres, writers may not always work full-time and often 'float' between projects.
Has years of experience in all aspects of game design and uses their seniority to lead a team of game designers. The lead designer works closely with other department leads and gets the final say on all major design choices. Many high profile lead designers have even been responsible for the idea for the game itself. It's common for the lead designer to reveal the game at trade shows and answer media questions.
Video games offer exceptional opportunities for artists, boasting a wide range of creative freedom and a variety of work in both 2D and 3D. Concept artists produce reference materials to aid in all visual areas of game design and development, including characters, world environments, creatures, weapons, vehicles, and objects. They may also create highly polished visual arts for promoting the game and influencing customer impressions. 3D artists create character and object models for the final game while texture artists skin the models and animators bring them to life. All game artist job types combined can account for up to nearly one third of the game development team, so it's a very collaborative group effort that is critical in seeing that the vision of the game lives up to the design document. Game artists are often, though not necessarily always, skilled in both 2D and 3D. Versatility will increase your job prospects. Regardless of role, expertise in traditional art is a priceless asset to every game artist. Common game artist roles include the following:
Highly proficient in traditional hand-drawn arts and 2D software such as Photoshop and Painter. Concept artists are responsible for the look and feel of the game by creating characters, creatures, environments, and all manner of visual aid for the rest of the art team. They work closely with the art director to maintain consistency in visual style. They also create storyboard art and therefore should be skilled at producing artwork quickly. The majority of the artwork on Creative Uncut was produced by concept artists.
Designs 3D models for characters, creatures, and objects using tools such as Maya or 3DS Max. Must have extensive knowledge of anatomy for humans and animals to create life-like features.
They sculpt the game world environment by creating 3D terrain features, landscapes, architecture, and objects.
Creates textures and skins using Photoshop and 3D programs to cover models of characters, objects, terrain, and architecture. Normal mapping has replaced some texture artist tasks, to the point that modeling and texturing is sometimes handled by the same artists.
Animators work with 3D assets from modellers to create realistic animations for characters and creatures. They understand anatomy and physics thoroughly to bring believable movements to fictional beings.
Works with storyboards from concept artists to generate in-game cut-scenes running off the game engine or prerendered cinematic movie scenes. The job is closer to film and animation than to game development and is sometimes outsourced to another company.
Technical artists serve as problem solvers for all different areas of the art team, rather than taking part in the actual creation process. They require years of experience to be knowledgeable about various 3D software and game engine tools so they can provide support and solutions to the art team for difficult road blocks.
Designs the game's user interface, such as menus and HUD (heads-up display, or on-screen info), and handles any technical issues relating to it.
The highest rank art job, also known as the lead artist. Art directors have served in a variety of other artist roles in the past and bring a lot of experience from those jobs to their position. They use their experience to manage all areas of the art team to ensure consistency and quality. They decide the art style and feeling, though rarely produce artwork themselves. Most time is spent managing, directing tasks, and corresponding with producers and designers.
Programming is one of the most laborious parts of video game development and is one of the most frequent job openings. Many entry-level jobs are for small tasks requiring programmers, so it can be a great way to break into the gaming industry for a starting job even if programming isn't your major. The roles and titles for video game programmers have become highly specialized and diversified as modern games have demanded more and more programming to deliver movie-like experiences. There are some programmers who are self-taught, but most commonly you will be required to have a bachelor's degree in subjects like computer science, 3D mathematics, or physics. Most video and computer games are based on C++ or C, but Java is very common for mobile and browser games to enable cross-platform support. Common programmer roles include the following:
Works on an intern or entry-level basis to perform smaller miscellaneous programming tasks.
Responsible for designing the base engine that the game will run on. Engine programmers are familiar with physics and graphics APIs and usually have a history of experience in other roles to qualify for the job.
Highly skilled in 3D modeling, special effects, and graphics optimization. Graphics programmers excel in advanced mathematics like linear algebra, calculus, and vector math. Their jobs are high expertise and high pay.
Designs the physics used by the game for simulating real world physics or special effects.
Develops the logic and rules to simulate artificial intelligence for the game and enemies, and works on pathfinding and decision trees. AI programming is expanding significantly as games become more advanced.
Builds the sound engine for the game to support sound effects and music. Lower demand job.
Handles aspects of the game that make an online multiplayer experience possible, including network security, latency, synchronization, client/server architecture, and database creation and management. This is a high demand job due to the surge in online multiplayer gaming.
Oversees advanced programming tasks and team management. The lead programmer is experienced in multiple programming areas and makes important design and technology decisions, as well as attending meetings with other department leads to ensure consistency between all areas.