Who doesn’t love video games? But in concrete terms, how do you create a video game? And which trades are involved at which stages? Here are all the answers to the questions you ask yourself about creating video games.
To create video games, you generally have to go through 3 main stages:
- The concept
- The production
The design phase is very attractive for a large number of profiles, often the most creative such as game designers, for example. In fact, in a production environment such as a video game studio, you more often start with market research. This means that the production teams study the products that have worked in the past. Thus, they assess the needs, the target audiences, and make a profitability forecast. In contrast, in an independent production environment, such as a small studio or a group of independents, designers are freer to create original video games. It also implies greater risk-taking.
Video game design is really exciting, and if you want to know more about how game ideas are created, there are many books out there. Starting with the classics like the Artbook "The Art of Blizzard," a complete bible on the famous publisher of World of Warcraft and Diablo.
The overall idea is defined according to several values:
- the genre of the game,
- is it a unique game or inspired by another,
- is this an existing license,
- the mechanics of the game,
- The planned platform (s)
These are the parameters that will define the scope of production. The answers to these questions will give a general description of the game. This will serve as a reference throughout the production. It can also be used to seek funding and investments, in the form of a pitch or synopsis.
Pitch is a stage where you will already have to start "selling" your game or the general idea behind it. Your goal is to succeed in raising funds to start production, which is why you will have to reach an audience of the ambition and seriousness of your project. From this stage, you will have to decide to place yourself under the wing of a publisher or start as a freelance.
- With an editor
The video game publisher, just like its literary counterpart, is basically a business that buys projects and funds them until they flourish. An editor can meet the vast majority of a studio's needs: salaries, equipment, personnel, marketing It is, therefore, more or less essential for large-scale projects. The pitch is essential here because, without its endorsement, nothing gets done!
- in independent
You don't need anyone to start as a self-employed person, and some start off with a bang. But you still need funds! Preparing a pitch is the same, all highly recommended if you want to receive funding from a bank, aid to state and region, or crowdfunding. Knowing how to present your project and show its seriousness is essential to gain these investors' confidence.
The pitch in itself is only an elaborate and structured version of your project thought out in the previous step, presented orally with visual support. You must briefly explain (between 5 to 20 minutes) why your game is interesting, the way it is played, and the intended player experience.
If you are able, you can also present your initial planning and budget estimates, as well as your ideas for marketing. At this point, you are expected to be able to showcase a few early advancements: these could be concept art, general prototypes, or even, ideally, a mini-trailer of the ideal intended rendering.
Once all these elements have been defined, a more extensive document is created: the game design document. It includes the main mechanics of the game as well as all the elements specific to it. The Game Design teams are in charge of writing it. The document also provides for a development plan, and sometimes a prototype is presented.
Prototyping is today an essential step in the creation of video games. Indeed, the creation of playable prototypes makes it possible to obtain an immediate feeling of the public with regard to the playability, the pleasure of playing. So, without the need for polished graphics, a simple playable demo can determine the future of video game development. Prototyping is done in small teams containing only essential businesses: Game Designer, 3D Artist, 3D Animator, Games Developer, the interface design specialist - or UI UX Designer, and sometimes specialist in special effects.
It can be difficult to plan everything theoretically, which is why studios often develop prototypes to playtest the ideas to include in the game beforehand. These prototypes are very crude, often made on paper in order to save time, which usually involves playing with miniatures or rolling the dice for random effects. Later in development, incomplete digital versions can be created to test more technical aspects, such as aiming or platforming.
These prototypes' objective is to test game design ideas beforehand by seeking to quickly recreate a situation similar to that which will be experienced by the player. Trying them directly, even by this imperfect process, naturally brings out the difficulties to be foreseen and the suggestions for improvement to be made. The main lines of a game are thus frequently tested by introducing new variables, which makes it possible in particular to rule out bad leads or those that are too difficult to set up.
Once the Game Design Document has been approved, the funding has been found, and the development plan has been validated by production, several trades set to work. From then on, the video game producer, or video game producer, is the conductor of his video game creation team. We can also say that he is the project manager of the game for which he is responsible. He recruits his team, assigns them tasks, and ensures that the items are produced on time according to the milestones defined upstream.
The design phase of the video game is essential. Indeed, that's when the graphic design comes in. This involves different professions, including:
1. Character Designer
- Create characters, monsters, bosses, keeping in mind their 3D finalization
- Also sometimes create vehicles and "props" or accessories. Depending on the size of the team, these positions may be specialized.
2. Designer environment
- Create sets, buildings, walkways, doors, and dungeons
3. Level Designer
- Create the space for the development of the game, paths, forbidden directions and shortcuts
4. UI / UX Designer
- Create interfaces, menus, interactions with the player
5. Emotion Designer
- Create in-game animations that involve a reward system, special effects around in-game actions, successes, or failures. For example, on a card game like Hearthstone, displaying a legendary card appeals to emotion designer who stages this particular and rare event of the game.
6. VFX Artist
- Explosions, transformations, fire, water, magic, etc.: all this goes through the VFX artist, a specialist in special effects, particles, and moving crowds.
All these designers work together to produce coherent elements which very often have a transformation constraint towards 3D and animation. The construction of all these elements must respond to production logic.
Depending on the engines and platforms, video game development will take place in a different environment. Very often on Unity or Unreal Engine, two market leaders, the video game developer, can also work independently. Finally, video game developers regularly work in a team, communication skills, and creating readable and commented code is therefore very important. The programs are coded according to the design elements provided, from the smallest animated object to the game interfaces, everything goes through the developers' keyboards. Some profiles are hybrid, and they are technical artists or technical artists. These intervene for certain elements of the game and can animate and code entire modules. It also uses artificial intelligence for, among others, encodes non-player or to play games against the computer.
3D artists work together with developers. The following professions can be cited in particular:
- 3d modeler
- 3D Lighter
- 3D Textures
- 3d animator
- VFX Artist
- Technical Artist
Many options are available to teams. The wealth of equipment and technologies today is such that the possibilities are endless. Thus, having complete training is now crucial; one can help in particular experiment inaccessible techniques when one is a beginner freelance. For example, motion capture: filming movements and actions to transcribe them into 3D animations is a differentiating technology. Keep in mind that there are many interactions between the design and development teams; the project manager or producer must create a real team spirit.
These specialists aim to work on the user experience and the very concept of the game. They are thus responsible for gameplay decisions, game mechanics, the universe approached and developed a general idea of the artistic style.
If you think that the bulk of this design work is done upstream, these professionals always have their work cut out for them later. Once production has started, they will still have a lot of decisions to make in terms of story, game mechanics, enemy design, cut scenes, level structure, script changes, their work is constantly evolving because they must regularly reassess their plans based on the progress of programmers and technical constraints.
These engineering teams form the muscles of the team without which nothing can be done. Their role is to code the game as a whole and all the elements that compose it according to the designers' requests. This is arguably the section requiring the most work, time, and staff, as everything that happens in the game ultimately goes through it.
In short, the programmers take care of the development of artificial intelligence, the physics of the game (collision, gravity, speed of movement), scripting (playing the right cinematic and music at the right time), the interface, the implementation of gameplay elements and game mechanics.
The work of a level designer is similar to that of a game designer but more specialized. He is responsible for precisely building the worlds in which the player will evolve. He is thus responsible for the placement of each stone, ally, enemy, and power up. Its objective is to work with the designers to study how to make each event interesting, well-constructed, and intuitive, then with the programmers in order to implement it concretely and correctly in the game.
Levels are arguably one of the most malleable and changeable parts of the development process. Level designers often work with ghost tools, graphics or mechanics was not yet finalized. They are then replaced by "placeholders," transition elements (often simple cubes), which will do the trick in the meantime.
Artists occupy a dual role in the creation process. Initially, they participate with the game designers in the development of the game universe, particularly with regard to its graphic style and artistic consistency. They're partly responsible for the art direction, feel, and overall look of the game.
This influence can be crucial. If the gameplay team quickly adopted the game's "paintball" concept, it lacked a visual universe to make this game unique. It was only when the artists decided to adopt the design of the squid and leave for an urban marine universe that the game acquired an aspect recognized today as iconic.
During the production phase, artists primarily as part of achieving the textures and background scenery (background) of each element present in the world: characters, weapons, particles, lights, decorations, enemies.
Sound engineers also have work to do: in a video game, we generally expect the presence of an original soundtrack, the implementation of a large number of sound effects specific to each element, as well as, for some games, a dubbing.
In addition to contributing to the atmosphere, sound effects can be crucial for the player's experience, serving as an aid, guide and clues for players in many situations requiring reflexes (shooter, combat), discretion (stealth game) or reflection (puzzle, riddles)
Like any type of computer program, video games are susceptible to bugs, both minor and spectacular. Some creators then take on the role of testers whose task is to dissect all the elements of the game in order to detect cracks, then work to resolve the inconsistencies found during development.
At each stage of video game development, a test phase occurs. We do not test everything at the end but rather module by module in order to spot bugs or errors as early as possible in production. This is where the video game tester comes in, who often comes from computer development. This technical background often allows him to go further in his test and to offer solutions or valuable clues when solving problems.
The penultimate phase also contains a test step. Indeed, major trials take place once production is in the final phase. Full-scale public tests may take place. This is called the alpha or beta phase of a game before it goes on sale. People are invited to play for a few weeks to a few months to give their feedback and give their opinion on the game. This makes it possible, among other things, to check the increase in load on the servers for online games.
The game is considered to be ready, and its release is imminent. It is at this stage that the marketing reaches its peak and that all the material production logistics are set in motion (CDs, cartridges)
The game has been released, but that doesn't stop some studios from continuing to work on it. The team is again small and is mainly responsible for correcting its bugs and balancing it, or it is working on new content ( DLCs, extensions)
Here is the typical creative process carried out by the video game industry as a whole. You will no doubt have noticed that it retains relative flexibility of execution in order to adapt to the inevitable notions of coding and the size of the teams.
Once the tests are conclusive, the game is deployed on online platforms and sometimes in physical stores. According to the game consoles, there are less physical media, and sales are now made online for the majority of video games. This implies profound changes, especially in production. But also in marketing, the last phase of post-production.
Video game marketing responds to both classic codes of sales promotion, but it also has well-established specificities, for example, many platforms are virtual. We can cite Steam, or Google's recently launched platform to compete with Valve's store, Stadia. The goal of video game marketing is identical to other areas: to promote, increase sales, expand the market, and gain visibility. This happens through several means. We can, in particular, mention the great masses of video games such as E3 during which publishers announce their new products. In general, communication officers are approached by their marketing director. Artists can also be involved in the production of visual material solely dedicated to marketing.
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