Job Discipline


Recently I gained a really great graph today in the fundamentals class.


Few days ago when I was updating my resume, and was confused when I tried to fill the “Objective” part. I want to be a game programmer at the beginning of my career, keep accumulating experience, then change to be a game designer gradually in the future. But that’s not specific enough.  The graph shows that Gameplay and Tools Programmer or Content Designer might fit me the most, since they are within the border of Design and Programming. I’ve also heard from a Senior that Gameplay Programmer are always for experienced senior programmer, and they usually begin as Tools Programmer. Then I did some research of these 3 position and got information below:

Gameplay programmer

Though all programmers add to the content and experience that a game provides, a gameplay programmer focuses more on a game’s strategy, implementation of the game’s mechanics and logic, and the “feel” of a game. This is usually not a separate discipline, as what this programmer does usually differs from game to game, and they will inevitably be involved with more specialized areas of the game’s development such as graphics or sound.

This programmer may implement strategy tables, tweak input code, or adjust other factors that alter the game. Many of these aspects may be altered by programmers who specialize in these areas, however (for example, strategy tables may be implemented by AI programmers).

Game tools programmer

The tools programmer can make game development heaven or unbearably difficult. Tools are used on almost every game for tasks such as scripting, importing or converting art, modifying behaviors or building levels. Some tools, such as an IDE, 3D graphics modelling software and Photoshop are COTS products, but many tools are specific to the game and are custom programmed.

It is the tools programmer’s job to write the tools that handle these game-specific tasks. Some tools will be included with the game, but most will not. Most tools evolve with the game and can easily consume all of several programmers’ time. Well written and fairly bug-free tools make everyone’s development tasks easier. Poorly written or poorly documented ones can seriously hamper development and jeopardize the project. Due to time constraints, however, many tools are not carefully implemented.

source: Wikipedia - Game Programmer

Sounds cool. And interesting for me. Let’s see what Content Designer is:

Content Designers

Content designers are involved with the world’s narrative in some way or another. They may write the story, the NPC or PC dialog, the missions and the in-game material to support the story (such as books in a library or writing on a cave’s wall or other historical things).

With the rise of persistent worlds, content designers are more in demand than ever. RPGs have always needed truckloads of content, and now that these worlds have been made seemingly endless, the need for more content is ongoing. Content designers might also be called upon to create massive stocks of items, creatures or spec other assets of that type.

Content designers shouldn’t be confused with game writers, although they often are. They are not one and the same, although one person may do both things. It’s quite possible that a content designer could design the overall mission flow of the game while a game writer crafts the scenes, text and dialog that pushes that mission along.

source: Types of Game Designers

Wow. That’s totally different from what I thought, and I can’t tell any similar from this to a Programmer. How can it be placed as a kind of designer closest to Programmer?!

Fine. Then I turn my notice to System Designer and Level Designer, which sound more common to me:

System Designers

System designers focus on one particular system within the game, sometimes in conjunction with others. For a fighting game, for instance, a system designer might focus on any one of these systems: avatar creation, fighting, crowd dynamics, training or leveling. Their attention might be focused on something smaller than a system – such as all the weapons within the game, the range of spells or the types of characters that the player can create. It all depends on the size of the game and the team. Sometimes, just a few designers will do it all. I’ve worked on a team where I was the only designer. I’ve also been one of six system designers on a large Xbox 360 project.

Make more sense. And it sounds like that a system designers has a lot to do with mathematics, which makes it more like a career of science. I like that. And I can tell there is relevance between Gameplay Programmer and System Designer, cause both of them have to deal with data of the mechanism. My understanding is, for example, Gameplay Programmer designs a function of the motion “Jumping”, System Designer decides the distance and height of the jump. Both of them may polish the motion together, say, whether there’s a double jump or so. That is to say there’s possibility for a Gameplay Programmer to change to be a System Designer?

Level Designers

Level designers are probably the best known of all game designers, and it’s their job to create the level-by-level play in a game. If you’ve ever jumped when a monster nailed you coming around a corner, discovered a particularly advantageous place to shoot from or felt tension coming out of an in-game elevator, know that somewhere, there’s a level designer who planned that experience for you. Level designers generally place the creatures, items, props (boxes or crates or whatever) within the level, or they may have junior level designers that do it. Level designers are usually artists and programmers-of-a-sort as well, and may create many of the assets needed to finish the level and do all the necessary scripting to make things go exactly as they desire them to.

Within the level design field, there are different specialties as well. FPS level design is different than RPG or MMO level design, for instance, and each type requires an in-depth knowledge of the standard play mechanics and level flow within those games. I’ve worked on RPG level design my whole career.

Sounds boring. It seems like everybody wants to be a level designer, and everybody BELIEVES they are good at it. Many people have a misconception that game design = level design, neglecting the importance of details (for example, a basic motion of jumping – how to design a strong sense of jumping operation? ). Although, it’s an important position of game industry still, but I’m not very interested in a popular job.

And I noticed another kind of designer:

Technical Designers

Technical designers are part programmer and part designer and are responsible for actually implementing a lot of the gameplay. They are often the middleman, so to speak, between the programming and design departments. Over the years, languages have evolved to allow designers the ability to tweak a lot of the gameplay without inadvertantly tweaking the programming department in the process (“Hey. Can you change this thing for the 10th time today?”). Lua and Python are the most popular scripting languages used right now, and many companies have their own propriety language, too.

Technical designers can cross over into the realm of system design, too. I’ve worked with a technical designer who was excellent at stats and programming macros in Excel. He could give me a pretty precise idea of how well balanced a game was based on existing play before the new data had been put into use. According to a friend of mine who specializes in technical design, knowledge of probability and stats helps here, too.

Cool. That’s what I exactly want to do.

Now I have a basic concept of the job discipline. It seems that a job of Gameplay Programmer, Tools Programmer or System Designer should be my target. I’m also thinking about being a Project Manager now, since I really like setting plan during my work (as well as in my BVW course). Will see.