Posted by: Tj'ièn | April 18, 2010

What disciplines are involved in game development?

Disciplines are not strictly defined within the games industry and vary from studio to studio, both in names and actual functions. Small studio’s might only have a handful of people, each contributing on multiple fronts while a large studio might have people who are extremely specialized in what they do.

Next to the list of people I’m about to describe there is still another very large group of people that are connected to the production outside the studio, think of people working at a publisher or distributor. But also marketing agencies, specialized press and enthusiasts will all have influence in one way or another on the production.

Inside any development studio we’ll encounter 2 groups; those who directly create or influence the production and those who provide support to the production team, making sure that the production team runs smoothly. The following diagram displays a typical development studio, however keep in mind that no studio is the same and that team sizes and disciplines vary quite a lot from place to place.

Development Studio Disciplines

Specialists

The specialists are the ones that do the actual implementation work. They create the in-game art, they are the ones creating the levels and they are the one programming everything to life.

Level Decorators

The level decorators make the environment come to life by using the block-out level provided by the level designer and combining that with art assets delivered by the 3d-modelers and animators and applying lights to the scenery to set the mood. Next to creating a great looking environment that will tell a story they have to keep one eye looking on performance, making sure that all the pretty stuff doesn’t break the experience.

Animators

Animators will add life to the otherwise static 3d-models. They are essential to make the world believable, but also in communicating the gameplay. They’ll face difficult trait-offs between making functional, readable and pretty animations. Real-time technical limitations further increase the complexity of the animators’ tasks.

3d Modellers / 2d Artists

Although 3d modellers and 2d artist are definitely not the same, their responsibility is shared. These teams create the in-game art assets that will be displayed in real-time on the player’s screen. As with most teams they’ll have to keep a constant balance between pretty and performance.

Concept Artist

The concept artists’ role is slightly different in that concept art itself does not usually end up in the game but serves as a blueprint for the 3d modellers and level decorators or as inspiration for the other teams. They are specialized in transferring visual concepts and ideas to something tangible and workable as drawings and sketches. Also, they might contribute as 2d artists, creating the HUD elements and textures for 3d models.

Composer / Audio Designer

It is unusual to find an audio specialist that can handle both the composing of music and the creation of audio effects for they really are 2 different disciplines. Audio contributes tremendously in the creation of the game experience but is unfortunately often overlooked. Music will set the tone and theme and audio effects will communicate gameplay and story.

Game Designers

There are different types of game designers, such as Interaction Designers, System Designers, Balancing Designers, etc. Usually they’ll fulfil more than a single specialty but they are all responsible for something we call game-play: The rules that make up the game world, the creation of the space of possibilities that allow the player to undertake actions and achieve goals.

Level Designers

The level designers are pretty much in the middle where everything comes together. They’ll need to use the elements designed by the game- and narrative designers, created by the engineers and implement them into levels. They are for a large part shaping the actual experience, deciding on where the player will travel and what it will encounter.

Engineers

The engineers are the people that make everything run on the desired platform. They’ll create the tools for the rest of the team to work with, but they’ll also implement the rules and features designed by the game and level designers. At the end of production they also make sure that the game functions as good as it can by removing any bugs.

SFX Artist

The SFX artist creates the special effects, like particle effects and Shaders. These guys play an important role in communicating the status of the world to the player, providing it with essential information.

Narrative Designer

This role becomes increasingly more common within large scope teams that create games revolving around story. A narrative designer sometimes writes the story but mainly is involved to make sure that all elements in the game like, music, level environments and characters are expressing the story as much as they can.

Leads

The leads are only there where the specialists are large enough to be a group, not all disciplines for each project might therefore have a lead. The leads tasks are plentiful, ranging from supporting the specialists in training, to planning the workload, and being a representative of the group towards the directors and other teams.

Group of directors

The group of directors are the people that determine in large part what the production will be. They’ll setup and maintain a vision for the project and they’ll strive to get the highest quality from the team.

Game Director

The Game Director is in charge of the product vision, what the story is about, what the player will experience and so on and is advised by the Art Director and Technology Director and the specialist leads.

Art Director

The Art Director is in charge of the visual style of the game and makes sure that the style is consistent and maintained throughout the production

Technology Director

The Technology Director is in charge of the technical implementation of every element of the production. He will decide what engine and other technologies will be used to create the product. He makes sure programming ethics are followed.

Upper Management

Upper Management positions are all about being realistic. They’ll make sure that productions are kept under control and meet demands.

Producer

The producer controls the quality and timeframe of the project, always trying to get the best from the team without spending too much time and budget.

Studio Management

They are in control over the studio resources, budget and planning. They’ll facilitate on the one hand and make sure that the team is reminded of their responsibilities.

Development Support

Development support makes sure that the production takes all the guidelines and restrictions setup by the platform holders and the law into account.

QA Team

The testers of the product will constantly try to break the product to see if there are flaws in the design or implementation. They’ll discover bugs and report them to their manager.

QA Manager

Oversees the QA Team and makes sure the reported bugs and flaws find their way to the correct people in the production team. Localization might also be handled by the QA manager

Studio Support

The studio support makes sure that the production team can do their work.

Human Resource Manager

The Human Resource Manager is in charge of the personnel and makes sure that the right people are hired for the production. They’ll also keep track of any team irregularities and control salaries and the like.

System Administrator

The System Administrator is in charge of all the hardware in the studio. In an industry as technology driven as the games industry this is an important function in the studio, making sure that the hardware runs as optimal as possible, networks stay connected and back-ups are created and protected.

Office Assistant

The office assistant handles all incoming calls and maintains the studio agenda. This person is the face of the studio.

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