Game Design Theory Level 1 – Fundamental Game Design Principles & Industry Structure

Defining Game Design 

Game design is hard work but a lot of fun. Designing a whole game can take time, but designing simple levels and testing new ideas can be quick and rewarding. 2D Game designers should have an appreciation for (or at least basic knowledge of) popular 2D games and genres:     


Action (Side-Scrolling)




Space Shooters








What is a game? Handball example. Even bouncing a ball against the wall is a game if the following three conditions are met:



1. There is at least one player.

 2. There are rules. (Only use one hand)

 3. There is a victory condition (A way to win – bounce ten times without dropping the ball)




A video game is a game that uses video and audio output devices along with an input mechanism of some kind to allow players to interact with information constructs made of computer code. In other words, the things represented on screen by pictures and sounds are actually bundles of information and code, and a player interacts with them by using a controller, keyboard or other device to achieve game objectives. The player’s sees and hears the game through the audio/video output (monitor, TV, Speakers).


A Simple Video Game: ClickBall. A ball is dropped from the top of the screen, click the ball while it touches (passes through) a transparent screen-wide box. Three clicks in a row for a win.


Note: It’s important that when you’re coming up with a game concept, you make the game’s objective simple enough that you can describe it in a few sentences or less. Examples: Mario’s objective is to save the princess by completing platforming levels, collecting coins and defeating Koopas. Even complicated games like RPGs usually have a simple objective like building a team and managing the team’s inventory to complete quests and defeat a villain. Try to think of the basic objectives of other popular games.




 4 Basic Steps to Creating a Game:

  • Plan how you want things to look and play – Your “Vision” for the game you’re working on. This includes coming up with the main objectives, themes and emotional tones.

  • Organize on paper the resources (sprites, backgrounds, sounds, objects) and actions necessary to achieve the vision. This paper layout of your game is referred to as a Game Design Document.

  • Execute your plan using the resources you have gathered or use placeholders until you can get the real thing. Test the results and use problem solving / troubleshooting methods to fix errors.

  • Review the “debugged” code to make sure there are no additional ways to simplify them.

  • Additional steps could include marketing, submission to contests or monetizing with ads.


 The Basic Things You Need to Make a Game:




Art / Artist – You can buy art, make it yourself or get an artist on your development team.

Code / Programmer – This role is for executing the GDD using code & bringing the game to life.

Music / Sound Effects – (usually purchased but can be made by your team)

The idea / designer – The game designer/producer manages the production process (our focus).


Teams can get things done faster. There are many ways to form a “team” or do it alone.



One person can make an entire game alone, but a team can do it faster. The idea / design can be contributed to by all members. Art and music can be taken from anywhere as long as you don’t sell your game and you credit the creator / copyright owner. There are a few common ways that people form teams to create video games:

  • Big Corporations with full development teams, budgets, marketers, etc. (EA)

  • Large to Mid-Sized Independent Studios with stable staff. (Rockstar Games) These companies use other specialized studios to help with graphics, marketing, etc.

  • Small Independent Studios can have a stable core staff and employ individuals or other companies to help out with various aspects of the development process. Also these studios are more likely to purchase graphic assets and put them together.

  • Small Specialized Teams come together to work on specific projects and can be made of various independent individuals or teams to focus on a project.

  • Independent Individual Developers work by themselves on their own projects, sell assets that they create and can take on outside work as part of a large or small project. 

    It’s clear that a “team” can mean a lot of things, and you don’t need a stable team that works with you on every project. Teams don’t even need to live near each other to collaborate on projects. Some of your best design partners may live far away or even in another country and speak a different language. The power of the internet will allow you to work with these diverse partners anyway. You can choose to be a part of several teams, and there are many roles you can fill in the industry. Let’s go over a few common roles. 



Where Do You Fit In? What Do You Want to be When You “Grow Up” as a Designer

Overview of Positions and Roles in the Video Game Industry:

Programmers: The people who put everything together, design the systems that make the game work and bring the game to life through coding the various game mechanics. There are several variations of programmers dedicated to specific things such as level design, physics, graphics rendering, and character modeling.


Artists: Every video game requires art and artists bring a distinct feel to the game with their work. Artists can work on specific aspects of a game such as level art, character art or menu art.

Sound Engineers: These people help create the atmosphere for the game by filling it with appropriate music and sound effects that can immerse the player or invest them emotionally in the game.

Writers: The game’s writers create the outline for the content that fills the game and gives it meaning.

Producers / Developers: These people make sure the project is on schedule, on budget and bug-free.

Testers: Testers are essential to troubleshooting errors, fixing bugs and balancing systems.

Now you can see why it’s important for major 3D games companies to have so many people working on one project, and there are lots of jobs in the industry to consider if you want to get a specialized technical education in a specific field.  

Smaller independent teams tend to have several roles filled by each member in order to spread out the workload of completing a game, and some teams will buy assets like a game engine, code and 3D models that they then customize to help them finish the game in less time.  

But even with the best team in place, there needs to be a focus on the project at hand, and that all starts with a concept / idea that the team or individual designer thinks is worthy of dedicating time and effort to. The idea will go through many upgrades and this shared vision will focus the team and guide the development process.


Stay Active as a Developer – The Key to Innovation is Staying Inspired




You may experience writer’s block (or developer’s block) several times during the development of any single project and need to take a break to figure out an annoying, confusing or complicated issue with your gameplay, story, graphics or mechanics. During these periods you can reflect on things you’ve read about the newest techniques and technology. Staying active and learning about the development of similar games will give you an advantage in troubleshooting.