My philosophy on game design is very simple: everyone is a designer. Far too often in game development it falls to the design department to come up with all of the ideas for a game. This is crap. Game designers hold no monopoly over the production of workable ideas — far from it, in truth. In no conceivable way should this be considered “our thing”, yet I can understand the prevalence of this belief. There is a very good reason this mistake is always made, but before we get there we must first define two things: the Developer, and the Craftsmen.
Every single person on your team is a Developer. Be they programmer, artist, animator, or designer (we will get to these definitions in a minute) they are all, first and foremost, a Developer. It is our job, you and I as Developers, to create the best game that we can possibly create, and we do this by using the tools on our tool belt.
Fact: having more tools on your tool belt increases your capabilities and qualifications as a Developer; and unarguably, enables your best work, for it gives you the ability to speak another language. If you know how to code, you will be a better Developer; if you know how to animate, you will be a better Developer; if you know how to draw, you will be a better Developer. But to accept the previous begs an important question: what separates someone who can code from someone who is a Programmer?
I can code, but I am not a programmer. What separates us is the many years of practice and mastery that a programmer has spent learning his craft. But there is something more subtle that separates us, something oft overlooked. A Craftsmen is a person that understands the holistic connections of his craft.
When I sit down to code something I try my best to plan out what I’m going to do, but you can be assured that very quickly I am building myself into dead ends. I am deleting whole swaths of code due to unforeseen blunders. I am, in short, making a boob of it. You see I am not a Craftsmen of code; I lack the vision to see beyond the little valley I am living in. A Programmer understands the big picture, and how their craft fits together with other pieces in the puzzle — this is true for ALL Craftsmen.
The Craftsmen Designer
Do you see what I’m trying to get at here? We are all Developers. And as Developers we all have these tools at our fingertips — code, drawing, animation, cinematography, lighting, music, and yes, design — so when I say that it is not the Design department’s job to come up with all of the ideas in a game it is not to decry the importance of ideas, but to hope you’d grab for that tool that I live with every single day.
A game designer is a Craftsmen of Games. And as Craftsmen it is our job to hold the holistic picture of the game’s design, to ensure that ideas fit. As I have said many times, it is not enough to have a great idea, for that idea must fit within the context of your Core. THAT is our job. It is what we stay up late worrying about, fretting about, and trying to get “just so.”
To be a Developer is not easy. There are many, many tools to pick up, but that is, I think, what makes me love game development so much. There is nothing I love more than to work with a Craftsmen in a field I know nothing about, to pick a new tool for my tool belt. My philosophy on game design is very simple, but so is my philosophy on game development. We are all programmers, we are all artists, we are all animators, we are all designers. . .
We are all Developers.