How to successfully execute the game design process?

Introduction

A lot goes into creating the elaborate fictional worlds of games. From conceptualizing to technicalities, game design is a complex art. Whether it is Tetris Mania or Prince of Persia- they all go through the process of game design.
Video game development is a rapidly expanding industry. Designing a game calls for the right balance between creativity and technical know-how. To create the most outstanding products, you must understand the process of game design. Every stage plays a crucial role in perfecting the game.
Here we will share and discuss in-depth what goes into a video game. The insights can help you make informed decisions whether you want to become a game designer or want to understand the game design process as a client.

What is game design?

Game design is the creative process inclusive of the development stages followed by game development studios. The storyline, level design, game mechanics, character building, and graphics altogether influence the game design. Game balancing in terms of difficulty and realism is also a part of the game design process. Achieving the right game balance is the key to a successful game design.

Difference between Game Development and Design

There is a very fine line between game design and development. While some aspects may overlap, they are essentially different at the core.

The process of creating video games is called game development. The development is done by taking the ideas of the designers and giving shape to them with the help of technology. Programming and coding are the crux of game development.
The creative part of making a game that is called game designing. The process comprises conceptualizing, game design metrics, balancing, creating a storyline, core loops, and game economy design.

Both the development and design process is documented during conceptualization in a document called Game Design Document or GDD. Throughout the process, this is the reference point for the game designers throughout the process. The developers create a separate document called Technical Design Document for reference.

Stages of Game Design

The game design process includes several stages starting from the initial concept to charting the game design metrics. Here is a comprehensive guide to the steps to design a game:

Conceptualizing

The most basic yet crucial stage is conceptualizing the game. The conceptualizing process begins right from the moment you have an idea of the game. During this phase, the team comes together and brainstorms the base idea. There are a few fundamental questions that must get resolved at this stage:
1. What is the genre of the game?
2. Is it a 2D or 3D game?
3. What are the gameplay mechanics you want to use?
4. How does the storyline progress?
5. What type of art do you want for the game?
6. What is the tech stack required for the game?
The financial aspect, viability, and marketing strategy get discussed at this stage. Concept artists begin their work to breathe life into the idea. Their work gives everyone on the team a concrete idea about how the elements in the game will look.

Pre-production

The game design document gets created at this stage by any video game development company. The entire storyline, character development, charting of the game mechanics, rules, concept of the location and geographic terrain, and necessary tech stack get documented at this stage. Detailed storyboarding, and character sketching, are done. This step sets the tone and direction of the project.
Alongside the creative process, the technical aspects get documented in detail too. This includes the estimated project timeline, project strategy, and budget. All these are documented in a GDD.

Preparing the GDD

The GDD or Game Design Document is the initial draft defining the entire game design cycle for the team. A comprehensive GDD is the foundation of creating a successful game. A GDD contains the executive summary, gameplay, game mechanics, game assets, and elements. Well-chalked-out GDD documents the entire design process as a guideline for the team. The documents are updated throughout the video game design process.
Here’s what you will find in the GDD:
1. The gist of the game’s storyline, geographical setting, genre of the game, and basic core loop.
2. Department-specific guidelines, deadlines, and resource requirements are mentioned.
3. The tech stack required for the game design and development is documented.
4. The estimated budget is also documented at this stage but it may fluctuate as the project progresses.

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Creating the storyline

This is the basis of the game and defines its progress. A proper story layout gets created. Throughout production, the storyline may get altered slightly to add better elements.

1. The number of characters, NCPs, and their attributes- all are determined while creating the storyline.
2. The writers create several drafts of the script to refine the NCP dialogues and add descriptions to game elements.
3. The concept artists create the initial sketches of the NCPs, player avatars, inhabitants, villains, and so on.
4. A basic core loop of the game is determined- like what is the ultimate goal of the game and how will that be achieved? This is a series of actions that are repeated throughout the game.
5. The conception of secondary actions and challenges is also done that essentially keep the game interesting so that players keep coming back.

Creating the storyline is crucial to propel the game development process. It gives a concrete shape to the initial ideas and helps everyone at the game development studio to visualize where the game design process is going.

Worldbuilding

An intricate part of the game design process is worldbuilding. It is the creation of the fictional world where the game occurs. This process is creative and complex as you have to design an entire world with its laws and natural terrain such that it enhances the overall gameplay. Worldbuilding includes the initial draft of the following aspects:

1. The geographical setting of the game- this includes the entire map of the fictional world and the different settings for the game levels.
2. It also provides in-details the flora, fauna, inhabitants, and natural laws of the game world.
3. To some extent, the game backstory is scripted at this stage. It provides elaborate descriptions of the society, culture, and overall backdrop for the game.
Visual references are sketched by the concept artists at this stage.
4. Through the course of designing, the initial draft of the fictional world gets organized to adhere to the gameplay and level designs.

Worldbuilding is not always an essential part of the game design process. Imagine a game like Candy Crush or Mahjong Titans- the core loop is simple and you do not need an elaborate backstory or setting for a seamless and engaging gameplay.

Game metrics

The game metrics are quantitative measurables of different attributes concerning the gameplay. In the case of game design, these are quantitative data of several game attributes that define the course of the game mechanics.

During the game design process, defining a weapon’s power, types of weapons, their impact on the player’s avatar, and the strength and weaknesses of different player avatars- are game design metrics.
But do note that, design metrics are not always essential for every type of game. More complex games with elaborate plots, levels, and multiplayer controls require such design metrics to be defined early.

Game economy design

A balanced game economy can ignite excitement among the players every time they start the game. This is essentially a system of game loops that support the core loop and keeps the game interesting. It helps to advance the levels/characters or skills of the player within the game. It can be rewards they earn from particular moves, currencies they exchange, or reaching a certain score that opens the door to a bonus level or gives a lifeline boost.
Take the Harry Potter PC games as an example- the collectibles had several uses. Chocolate frogs boosted the lifeline, Berty Botts beans were useful for trading with Fred and George, and the gold stars determined your performance at each level. These were game loops that paved the way to fulfilling the core loop- defeating Voldemort.
The game economy design is refined throughout the development process and sometimes, even post-launch. The aim is to keep the game interesting enough to maximize player retention.

Mapping game mechanics

The game mechanics include rules, obstacles, gameplay actions, and the number of levels. It also sets the objectives for the game environment and interaction with players such that they stay engaged. Here’s what is detailed in the game mechanics mapping:

1. The rules of the games- how each action triggers the environment, consequences, and limitations of the player are defined here.
2. The number of players and their roles get defined. Whether you can play as a single-player, multiplayer or both is also a part of this design process.
3. The interactions between the player and the environment and how they can affect the gameplay are also determined here. For example, the extent to which a player can jump unharmed is defined by the game mechanics. If you try to jump off a height more than that it reduces the health bar or the player is killed. These elements make the game more realistic.
4. Use of several weapons and when the player can switch between them, earning new weapons, total attempts, and the option to save game progress mid-level are all parts of game mechanics.
5. The more elaborate the game, the more complex the mechanics get.

Level design

Developing the game’s mission, and course of the gameplay through each level is termed level design. Several scenarios go into successfully creating game levels that are engaging for the players:

1. Setting the environmental conditions of different levels like the weather and ambiance
2. The setting of the game level- which part of the fictional world will each level be set and how it affect the game progression?
3. The weapons, powers, and techniques allowed at each level are part of the level design process. Often with each level you complete, you can unlock new powers, weapons, and even player avatars.
4. Specifying the location of game entities and challenges within the level. This also includes specifying the location of game collectibles that can help to propel the level as well as the overall game.
5. The level design also involves specifying specific sound, lighting, and texture for a specific level. It helps to break the monotony and spark the interest of the players as they progress in the game.

In some cases, the level design is not as complex. It can simply revolve around increasing the difficulty level without many changes in the game environment or additional game loops. Imagine Temple Run- the only changes you witness are increasing speed and occasional variations of the regular challenges.

Post-launch design aspects

While the game design process is completed till the launch, there is still much to do post-launch. The sales begin and feedback starts coming in after the launch. Based on the figures and opinions the support team can begin working on improving the game. Here are some of the works that are done post-launch:

1. Bugs that were left to remove before launch or new ones discovered by players get fixed at this stage.
2. The game needs to stay consistently relevant and engaging. This is where the downloadable content or DLC is relevant. You can steadily introduce new features and levels that were cut off from the initial version to surprise users with something new occasionally.
3. Periodically offer freebies so that gamers stay motivated and do not feel forced to purchase new updates to enjoy the game fully.

Game balancing

Game balancing is the process of optimizing the game’s appeal and engagement. The game’s difficulty level, physics, and realism are all conceptualized keeping in mind the goal of player satisfaction. If the game is too easy, they will get bored. Whereas extreme difficulty will make it frustrating.
The aim is to achieve a balance that makes the game appealing universally, irrespective of the player’s skill level.

Prototyping

Prototyping can save a lot of money and time. Here an initial design of the game is created based on the GDD. The gameplay, user experience, levels, overall functionality, and appearance of the game gets tested. This is one of the crucial game design stages that let the game design studio determine the profitability and overall viability of the game.

Post-launch design aspects

While the game design process is completed till the launch, there is still much to do post-launch. The sales begin and feedback starts coming in after the launch. Based on the figures and opinions the support team can begin working on improving the game. Here are some of the works that are done post-launch:

1. Bugs that were left to remove before launch or new ones discovered by players get fixed at this stage.
2. The game needs to stay consistently relevant and engaging. This is where the downloadable content or DLC is relevant. You can steadily introduce new features and levels that were cut off from the initial version to surprise users with something new occasionally.
3. Periodically offer freebies so that gamers stay motivated and do not feel forced to purchase new updates to enjoy the game fully.

Conclusion

Game design is a complex creative process involving a team of professionals who must coordinate smoothly to create a successful game. The key is having a systematic approach and clarity about the game design process.
The above-mentioned are detailed steps to design a game that any game development company would follow. The streamlined execution of the game design cycle can ensure the success of your game.

FAQ

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This example shows how to loop through a Flexible Content field and generate HTML for different layouts. This example shows how to loop through a Flexible Content field and generate HTML for different layouts. This example shows how to loop through a Flexible Content field and generate HTML for different layouts.

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