What Does A Game Designer Do?

From Lifehacker: Career Spotlight: What I Do as a Game Designer

Career Spotlight: What I Do as a Game Designer

Designing a video game sounds like a dream job: getting paid to live in your imagination and think of new worlds that other will people will experience with glee. Of course, it’s also a ponderous amount of difficult work to implement those ideas into a finished product.

To learn a little about what it’s like to be a game designer, we spoke with Steve Bowler ofPhosphor Games. Steve has been working in various entertainment fields for twenty years and is now lead designer at Phosphor, a studio in Chicago. Steve was kind enough to take time out of his day and play along with our questions.

Pictured above: Horn, a game developed at Phosphor Studios.

Tell us a little about yourself and your experience.

My name is Steve Bowler. I’ve been working in entertainment industries (television, film, and video-games) since 1995 in various animation and design roles. My current title and position is Lead Designer at Phosphor Games, and on some titles (mostly our small mobile ones) I take on a Creative Director role.

What drove you to choose your career path?

A love of art and a bit of fate got this path kicked off. I graduated from college with a degree in illustration (and in 1994 that means all traditional media; I took the first Photoshop class NIUever offered, second semester of my final year), so my choices were limited. I lucked out when I found my way into traditional television animation (I can draw! I love animation! I have a degree in drawing!) and from there pushed myself further when I found a position at Midwaydoing motion capture on their titles. Throughout everything was always an inner drive to challenge myself to do more complex and more difficult things, so at Midway I taught myself how to do animation scripting with the help of a mentor there, and from that point on the design path became the new challenge.

How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?

To do design for video-games all we want to see is a good sense of design principles, and the ability to do hard work. We have guys here with design degrees from DePaul, and guys in design who worked their way up through QA [quality assurance]. I would take a new entry level designer with no degree or “equivalent experience” who showed their work in creating their own game over someone with a degree who couldn’t show their work in a heart-beat.

Did you need any licenses or certifications?

It all depends on the individual and studios being applied to. We just want to see an ability to do the work. Some studios have bigger hoops you have to jump through. With the most popular (and most used) game engines now free or very low cost (such as GameMaker, Unity, and Unreal Engine 4), there’s no excuse to not know how to use an engine before you apply. Download it. Do the tutorials. Make something. Then be proud about it and show it off!

The Best Free Tools for Making Your Own Video Games

With the recent release of the free version of the Unreal Engine and the announcement of the free…Read more

What kinds of things do you do beyond what most people see? What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?

What I think most people think is that we just do something once or twice and it works great! It’s just a matter of adding content, or maybe the “right” content. What actually happens is we iterate on something 100 times before it’s right. Even if we’ve done it before. Last night I worked on making an AI animate properly as it dropped off a ledge. It took me five hours and I had to reach out to two people for help thinking through the problem.

What misconceptions do people often have about your job?

That it’s all fun and games. Make no mistake, I really enjoy the challenges of making games. It’s one of the most mentally stimulating and rewarding fields I’ve ever worked in. It’s also caused me the most anxiety and stress. We work very, very hard making the stuff you love. Sometimes we even have the unfortunate circumstance with making the stuff you don’t love, and we worked hard to make that, too.

What are your average work hours?

I want to point out that my hours are not typical in our office, and aren’t typical for the industry. I have a particular hangup where I can’t let something go if I know I can make it better, so I work a lot. Honestly I stopped tracking my hours because it becomes depressing to think about. I bet if I counted an “easy” week for me (some nights I get to watch a DVD or a show or play a game I’m not working on) would be a 60 hour week. Most weeks I bet I do 80 hours at a minimum. I’m frequently stealing hours on the weekend to work on my laptop polishing things in the game or writing up a new RFP [request for proposal] or a pitch deck for an upcoming project, and most nights I wind up opening up the editor and working ‘til midnight or 1AM.

What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?

Learning to fail faster and approaching each problem as a unique challenge has helped a lot. Even when you’re making a sequel to something you’ve already made once, there are always new challenges that have to be solved for and I don’t like leaning on old crutches. In our business it feels like often there are no shortcuts, so personal experience and problem solving are often the best tools of the trade.

What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession?

Most designers I work with have been designers their entire career. I come from animated television and film, and then after that motion capture animation, and my degree is in flat traditional art, so I have a very broad “T” at the top of my work experience profile. I’m actually not a very good “traditional” designer in the sense that I don’t do visual scripting or level design better than any of my co-workers. What I can do is lean on what I’ve learned getting here and help craft entire systems and characters and tie them all together.

What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?

I think the worst part of the job is the hours and the stress. If you’re going to be effective at this level you have to care a lot about what you do, which takes away from your family time and that hurts sometimes. Okay, it hurts all the time when you’re not with your family. The only solution I have so far for it is to try and be as focused as you can on what you’re doing. If you’re at work, work. Make it as good as you can and don’t waste the time away from your family making garbage if you can help it. Then when you’re with your wife and kids, focus on them and make that time as great as you can.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

The very best part of this job is hearing from someone that they liked what you did. Any stranger saying “You worked on that? I loved that!” will always make my day. Someone finding importance in your work, no matter how little and no matter what you do, I think helps make everything worth it.

What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?

Gamasutra has a really great industry salary guide that is fairly accurate across all game dev disciplines (design, art, programming, and production) that they update every year.

How do you move up in your field?

Doing great work, being dependable, and show a capacity or a yearning to take on more responsibility always works.

What do your customers under/over value?

Customers I think never value the work or effort it took to get the product into their hands, and I understand that. Nobody thinks about the laborers in China who made their iPhones, so it’s unreasonable for me to ask them to think about the work that went into the game that’s running on their iPhone. But it would be great if there was a bit more understanding. Nobody looks at a giant building and says “Oh my god what is this CRAP???” if one small cosmetic thing is wrong with one corner of the building, because they understand the amount of effort that goes into making something that big. People even seem to get how much work movies are because they can see humans there on the screen and mentally project how much time it would take to make that with a subconscious mental comparison of shooting a home movie. But games? Most people don’t make games, they just consume them. So they typically only evaluate them as a consumer.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?

Make games, write code, make art, every single day. If you’re not doing it for your job, do it for yourself on your days off. You don’t get to be the best by taking a single class or earning a degree or even landing a single job. You have to constantly challenge yourself. The entire process is a journey and if you’re not constantly striving to improve yourself and your craft, you’re falling behind everyone else who is. And don’t force it! If you feel like it’s work and it isn’t natural to do those things, you should probably find something else that you love doing every day! But most importantly, don’t go into making games because you love playing games. You will only kill your hobby. You have to enjoy the challenge of creating this problem of a game that didn’t exist, and then fix that problem by creating that out of nothing.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

100 TED Talks

From LifeHacker: You Can Easily Learn 100 TED Talks Lessons In 5 Minutes Which Most People Need 70 Hours For

The other week the author watched 70 hours of TED talks; short, 18-minute talks given by inspirational leaders in the fields ofTechnology,Entertainment, and Design (TED). They Watched 296 talks in total, and went through the list of what they watched, weeded created a list of the 100 best things they learned !

This article isn’t entirely about productivity, but you’ll learn a thing or two. Here are 100 incredible things they learned watching 70 hours of TED talks last week!

Most Popular Text Editor: Notepad++

From LifeHacker: Most Popular Text Editor: Notepad++

Most Popular Text Editor: Notepad++

A good text editor comes in handy when you’re making quick notes, doing checklists, programming, outlining, or doing just about anything else. Last week we asked you for your favorites, then looked at the five best text editors. Now we’re back to crown the community favorite.

Most Popular Text Editor: Notepad++

Voting was tight—really tight—the whole time the poll was open, but Notepad++took the top spot with close to 40% of the overall vote. It may be Windows only, but it’s fast, flexible, feature-packed, and completely free.

Hot on its heels in second place was the cross-platform, extremely powerfulSublime Text, which powered through the call for contenders but came up just a little shy in the voting round, picking up about 33% of the overall vote. Behind it in third place with just shy of 20% of the votes cast was Vim (and its iterations). Fourth place went to the venerable Emacs, with 7% of the vote, and Atom, the new project from the folks at GitHub, picked up 2% of the vote and brought up the rear.

To read more about all of these and the honorable mentions not listed here, head back to the full Hive Five feature for more.

LastPass Now Tells You Which Heartbleed-Affected Passwords to Change

This was originally posted on Lifehacker.com, I am on the road and don’t have time to compile my own.  We did this tool in class, use it!

LastPass Now Tells You Which Heartbleed-Affected Passwords to Change

This week, a giant security hole came to light that affects a large portion of the internet. As different sites recover, you’ll need to change your passwords, and now LastPass tells you when to do so.P

Due to the nature of the Heartbleed bug (read more here), you’ll need to wait until affected sites update their infrastructure before you change your passwords. LastPass’ ever-useful Security Check tool now includes recommendations for Heartbleed, letting you know which sites have closed the hole, when, and if you should update yet.P

To run the tool, just click on the LastPass extension and head to Tools > Security Check. After running the tool, you’ll get the results (shown above) so you know what passwords to change. Hit the link to read more.

This List Reveals the Heartbleed-Affected Passwords to Change Now

By now you’ve probably heard about the massive Heartbleed security bug that may have compromised the majority of the world’s web sites.… Read…

Update: LastPass’ tool is good, but we recommend manually checking this list too, just in case LastPass misses anything. Good luck!P

Not Being a Troll Isn’t Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen

Not Being a Troll Isn't Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen

By Alan Henry, Lifehacker.com

Not Being a Troll Isn’t Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen

The internet gives us all a platform to make our voices heard. That’s incredibly powerful, but with that power comes responsibility. That’s right, like any citizenship, your internet privileges carry with them responsibilities. "But I’m no troll," you say. That’s not enough; there’s more to being an upstanding citizen of the internet than just not trolling. Here’s how to embrace the responsibilities of your citizenship and become a model internet citizen.

Not Being a Troll Isn't Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen

What Is an Internet Citizen?

Being a citizen of the internet, like being a citizen of any state, nation, or even member of a small group, carries with it rights, privileges, and responsibilities. As a user on the internet, most of us enjoy and cherish our rights of self-expression and the free flow of information provided to us. Still, being a citizen of the internet is just as much responsibility as it is a right. We’re not entitled to our daily dose of LOLCats or time-wasting YouTube videos, and just because you have better things to do than troll people on Facebook or post flamebait in the comments of the blogs you read doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give something back to the very thing you take for granted. Here’s how you can help make the internet a better place.

Photo via opensourceway.

Know Your Responsibilities: It’s Your Job to Make the Internet a Better Place

The internet gives all of us the power to speak openly, and often under cover of anonymity, but with that power and freedom comes the responsibility to maintain it and make sure that the places we spend time in are the best they can possibly be. Think of it like your civic responsibility: people often say that you have no right to complain about a government unless you exercise your right to vote and change it when you have the opportunity. Real-world political issues aside, the same is true on the internet. There’s a lot you can do to make sure the internet stays great:

  • Not Being a Troll Isn't Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen Contribute to Your Communities. Just like in the physical world, giving back to your community is a surefire way to make sure that the places you spend time are great places—and that they remain that way. Comment on the articles on your favorite blogs, forums, or communities. Engage them. Agreement is always nice and certainly welcome, but constructive and respectful feedback when you disagree is even better. After all, no one gets better when everyone agrees with them, and no one wants to get better when they’re surrounded by trolls. Better still is when you bring you own ideas to the table as part of a bigger, broader discussion. We’ll get into this a bit more later, but actually participating with your own opinions, alternatives, and perspectives—even when you agree—is the hallmark of a good internet citizen. When you dislike something on the internet, don’t force others to separate your hate from your message—be positive and respectful, even when you disagree. When you disagree, make your points known, share your experiences that lead you to your perspective, and offer alternatives. When you agree or appreciate a piece, share your perspective and why you thought the piece was interesting, and even offer up a few ideas for further exploration or study based on your thoughts.
  • Not Being a Troll Isn't Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen Don’t Fall for Negativity. The debate over whether the tone of the web is too negative has been going on since the web was born. Don’t get sucked into it, etand lead by example. If you’re feeling jaded and unhappy with the way the comments on your favorite blog go, or the tone of political discussion on your favorite news sites, the best thing you can do is to adjust your own tone and be the change you want to see. (It may be a self-help cliché, but it’s also good advice.) When you’re confronted with that negativity directed towards you, well, you know what to do.
    Image via XKCD.
  • Remember: Behind Every Keyboard Is a Person, a Lot like You. It goes without saying, but the easiest way for the internet to stay a great place—or even become a better place—is for us to remember that before we succumb to keyboard bravery we’re dealing with real people, not just letters on a screen. To that end, conduct yourself like you would in real life. It’s difficult, and even more difficult when we choose—as is our right in many places—to operate anonymously and privately, but when we do, it’s even more important, lest that privacy be taken from us. To that point, try to respect the privacy of others and be forgiving of their mistakes. Not everyone has your experience, your qualifications, or your perspective. Don’t be afraid to have your say, forcefully if necessary, but be mindful as well. Corollary: Remember The Golden Rule.
  • Not Being a Troll Isn't Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen Familiarize Yourself with Communities Before Engaging. We’ve mentioned how important it is to get involved and contribute, but your contributions will go farther if you’re familiar with the community you want to join first. Get to know their rules; in some cases, it can help to lurk long enough to learn the in-group language and informal dos and don’ts. Remember, you’re likely contributing in a private place, so before you complain that you’re being "censored" or your "freedom of speech" has been violated, remember which of your rights apply where (namely, that the First Amendment only protects public speech, and comments on a blog or Facebook posts are anything but, even if most sites try to offer their users that same freedom. The more you learn, the more likely it’ll be that you’ll be able to contribute positively when you do start talking.
  • Give Back the Easy Way. Some of the best ways to contribute and give back to the internet community as a whole are the easiest. Consider licensing your content via Creative Commons, embracing an open linking or citation policy, or making your next development project open source. You may already be working on a project that’s easily open sourced, even if it’s an endeavor you want to make money from at some point. You encourage people to use, credit, remix, and get involved with your work and your projects, and by doing so you give the community a gift that keeps on giving.
  • Synthesize and Share Your Own Ideas. We mentioned this when we discussed how to read more conscientiously, but part of reading and absorbing information is using that information to build new ideas. When you’re ready to really give back, set up shop and share your own ideas. Get on the other side of the table, and be a content creator instead of a consumer. By doing so, you encourage other creators to keep offering great videos, articles, and other media, and you also have the opportunity to add your own voice and your own ideas to the mix by sharing them with others. You don’t have to start a blog to do this, although that’s one way. Join a social network, start a Facebook Page, make your Pinterest account public. How you do it is up to you.
  • Not Being a Troll Isn't Enough: A Handbook to Being a Model Internet Citizen

    Be Aware of and Active on Issues that Pertain to the Internet

    FInally, there’s one more responsibility that you shouldn’t take lightly: make sure you’re aware of and active on issues that pertain to the internet. Whether you’re campaigning against legislation like SOPA and PIPA, which threaten the internet as we know it, researching ACTA, which many believe is a greater global threat to freedom on the internet than SOPA and PIPA, or you’re speaking out in support of privacy advocates and legislation to protect privacy like California’s Reader Privacy Act of 2011, it’s important to keep your eyes open and stay engaged.

    There are plenty of organizations that work to preserve freedom of speech and expression on the internet and advocate for the privacy of its users, and they’re eager to add your voice to their chorus. The internet is an always-changing, always-evolving entity. The real question is whether or not those changes are positive or negative from your perspective, and those changes are due to the will of its users, or the influence of organizations that represent specific interests. There are forces at work that spend their days lobbying governments around the world to mold the internet into a platform that suits their interests. Whether or not those interests align with yours is for you to research and decide.

    Image via Creative Commons.

    This list of rules and guidelines to be a model citizen of the internet is by no means exhaustive, and isn’t meant to be. Every community has different rules, every platform has different terms of service, and every citizen has their own rights—both real and perceived. The best thing for you to do if you want to be an upstanding citizen is to educate yourself on what rights you have with the services you use, give back as good as you get, be positive and upbeat, remember that the internet is a series of interconnected computer systems—largely manned by human beings, and get involved to protect the internet that you love and rely on every day.

    We’ve said a lot about how important it is to give back to the communities you love, so what are some of your rules for being a good citizen of the internet? What personal guidelines do you live by when you interact with people on the web, share your opinions, or discuss new ideas? Let’s hear them in the comments below.