What is it actually like to work as a Game Designer? What tools and tech do you use, and which personal qualities are important to make it in the role?
In this article, Rasmus Künstlicher – Game Designer on Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 – answers these questions, and shares his story of how he came to work in the game industry and Massive.
First, I think it’s important to mention that I’m not one of those people who has always known that I wanted to work in the games industry, or always carried this dream of making it in the industry.
I studied drama at high school, got conscripted to the army after graduation, worked as a security guard, and did a peace keeping tour abroad before I realized that, hey, games are amazing, and someone is actually behind the scenes creating them.
I then knew I wanted to pursue a career in games.
My dream was to become a Game Director or Creative Director (because those seemed like the coolest roles in the industry), and as I investigated what was needed to get to those positions, I quickly understood that an education in Level Design was a good approach – so I went for it.
Becoming a Game Designer
I’m often asked if there is really a big difference between being a Level Designer and being a Game Designer.
The answer is yes, and no.
There is a difference, but there are also many similarities between the roles. Simply put, level design is in many ways applied game design.
As a Level Designer, I came to realize that a good understanding for Game Design was the foundation for making good level design. But also, that I couldn’t be a Level Designer without thinking like a Game Designer.
After my studies and internship, I got a role as a Level Designer at an indie studio in Stockholm, and I was really happy with that role. I then wanted to move to Malmö, and saw a job ad at Massive Entertainment that met almost all of my qualifications and skills.
The role was as a Game Designer, and even though I loved working as a Level Designer, I went for it and eventually got a junior position at Massive.
Life as a Game Designer
Just getting the opportunity, to get your foot in, that first job – it’s difficult but it’s not impossible. And that’s important to recognize. It’s going to be difficult, but in the end, it will also be so worth it. Because life as a Game Designer – and a Game Developer in general – is a lot of fun.
I think one of the misconceptions about game design is that it can be repetitive: you sit in front of your computer all day and do the same kind of tasks. Reality couldn’t be more different.
There is a lot of variation in our daily work, mainly because we work on different features in different phases, which means that some features are in the design stages, while some are in the later stages of development. What keeps it interesting and fun is this variation, and in the end seeing your creations realized in the game.
Seeing other people play and enjoy something that I and my team created is a feeling like no other.
Which tech and tools do Game Designers use?
Another question I often get regarding my profession is what tools and technology we use in our daily work.
We (of course) work a lot with our engine. In my case, since I work on Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, we work with our in-house Snowdrop Engine. This differs depending on which studio and project you work at – there are many great engines out there!
This might sound very strange, but one thing I didn’t realize until I actually started working in the industry is how important Word and Excel are in our daily work. In the early design phase, we use documentation in Word to describe our ideas, and then we design a lot of content in spreadsheets in Excel before moving it over to the Snowdrop Engine.
I must confess that I wasn’t exactly a star at Excel when I started at Massive, so I had to learn as I went along!
And now, I want to punch a hole right through another misconception about game design: you don’t actually have to be a math genius.
For example, I’m not that good at math, and I don’t have any formal education in it, but with the support of my team, I learnt as I went along. And I have done just fine!
Game development is a team effort
If there’s one thing I want you to take with you from this, it’s that game development is a team effort.
You need to be able to work with others, present things for others so they understand, and give and receive feedback.
As a Game Designer, you are a curator of ideas. You don’t have to be good at coming up with ideas, but you have to be great at recognizing them.
4 qualities that will help you become a great Game Designer
- Be humble. What we create is meant to be criticized, and it’s normal for a lot of it to be shot down for various reasons. This can hurt and be very painful, which is why it’s vital to try to separate your ego from your work.
- You need to have an eye for detail, without losing touch with the overall picture while iterating on your work.
- Have empathy. A huge part of our work is understanding what our end users think and feel. And we are talking about all users, no matter if they are playing the game for the first time or if they have played it 10 000 times.
- Have some sort of internal reference archive, not just games, but also music, games, books, art – consuming media will make your work so much easier!