One of the first video games was created in 1947 by Tomas T. Goldsmith, Jr., and Estle Ray Mann. The game, "inspired by radar displays...consisted of an analog device that allowed a user to control a vector drawn dot on the screen to simulate a missile being fired at targets represented by drawings fixed to the screen," says Wikipedia. Atari's Pong, created in 1972, "made a distinctive beeping noise through an internal loudspeaker each time the ball was hit." In other words, things were quite primitive.
Today, however, video games are advancing at rapid speeds, with graphics so believable that they take users off the couch and immerse them into the game and theme songs that blast when users complete levels. But more than that, users play games like readers read books; video games are gamers' novels. Take Halo3, for example. With complex story lines and characters, gamers dive into a world unlike their own, dip into the life of a character, and watch as his story unfolds. And in the end, after the enemy has been conquered, the gamer sets down the controller, satisfied.
Yes, the games of today are drastically different. Simple entertainment is not enough anymore. According to video game designer Cliff Bleszinski, "[As] the industry grows, we can't just think of our games as games. We have to think of them as...'transmedia franchises.' You can't just think, 'How are we going to make the best video game possible?' You have to think, 'How is this going to appeal to a large, mass market audience? How are we going to turn this into a phenomenon?' Halo is a phenomenon."
With such a rapidly expanding industry, the need for game designers is grand. So what's it take to become one?
First off, you have to live and breathe video gamming. You have to know what makes a good game good and a bad game bad. You have to know "good level design [versus] poor level design." And just like in any other industry — practice makes perfect. So, you've got to play, and play, and play...
You have to have good problem solving skills. What features need to change? How should level eight end? What graphics or features will make this more convincing? Have I developed this character enough? You must have the patience and eye to solve these problems. Remember, users are looking for entertainment, believability, and sophistication. Make sure you're giving them all three with every character, level, and move.
You must work collaboratively. Just like animated movies or theater productions, video games require teamwork. "Game development is an extremely iterative, collaborative process. A designer who sits off in a corner by himself writing a game design doc is going to be pretty shocked at the reaction he gets when he gives it to the team to 'figure out.' Great games are great because they leverage all the tools at hand: people, technology, design, art, etc.," says video game designer Ken Levine.
And you must have the drive to pursue it. "No one just falls into the position. You claw, kick, and scream and push your way into it. Most designers start off as programmers or artists. They understand gameplay systems; they live and breathe games...Being a designer is about having a creative vision and adhering to it," says Bleszinski.
For more information on video game designing programs, visit the following schools: