Being a Game Designer
Sometimes it’s hard to describe what your job is as a game designer. Yes, you come up with ideas that get turned into games, but you have to do much more – otherwise you’re just an idea guy.
You, the Game Designer
You are the man with the plan. You imagine and specify the end result. In a small team, you are responsible of the project’s progress.
You determine the tools and processes that your ideas can be executed with.
You need to know your tools; their limits and their strengths.
You need to know the basics of Photoshop in order to quickly visualize your ideas and to be able to demonstrate them to others. Written design only gets you so far, and is harder to understand, and more easily misinterpreted than visualization.
You need to understand how programming (and programmers) work; how systems are planned and implemented, how it’s going to enable you to do the design and content work.
You are the one who puts bits and pieces together within the game engine, using the tools you designed and got developed for you. It is not the programmers’ job to do this for you.
When features are still in progress, you constantly go and use them, much before they’ve been completed, trying to push them to their limits in their current stage. Experiment with exaggerated values and in ways the programmers didn’t mean it to be used. That way you spot errors right away, and not after the feature has already been finished. You may come up with new and better ideas, too.
You constantly iterate the features and tools as you go, and it’s only you who can say if it works as it should, since you were the one to plan it. If, after the work has been done, something isn’t as planned, it’s usually your fault not being able to communicate your desires correctly. Constantly testing the tools and features, even when they are in the very beginning phase of development, gives you the opportunity to make sure it ends up being what it needs to be.
As you learn more about the tools you work with, you come up with ways of testing your ideas more efficiently, ultimately even without the help of others.
The best designer is the one who can execute their rough ideas into actual playable prototypes. With engines like Unity around, you’re easily capable of demonstrating your ideas with very little effort, by just understanding the engine and knowing a little bit of programming.
While all of the mentioned will make the game playable, still to make a good game you’ll have to understand player psychology, monetization and retention mechanics and whatnot, but that’s for another time (and quite likely out of my main knowledge).
To be an excellent game designer, you need to learn a bit of everything – including programming, art, and audio. Only then you can get a good enough understanding on how games are developed, and are able to define your thoughts so that the whole team (and management) understands them.
And if you don’t, you’ll end up needing a Jack.