Class Prompt: The Technical Game Design Role

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In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

“Technical game designer” as a role in the industry is hard to pin down. I’ve known people with that title who solely build tools, and others who never touch code or tools and instead build content. Ask around, and every tech designer will give you a slightly different definition for the role. Here’s mine.

“Technical Game Design” is a subset of Game Design as a discipline. There are two features that set the role apart:

  • Technical Skill: Technical designers demonstrate higher technical excellence, usually coding or scripting skills but sometimes mastery of other areas.
  • Project Health: Technical designers often work to improve the health of a project and the workflows of their team. For example, a tech designer might:
    • Create tools, scripts, prefabs, or systems that allow other content creators to work faster or better
    • Shepherd designs so that they scale effectively into the future or into larger scopes
    • Trail-blaze new tools or workflows
    • Act as a bridge between designers and engineers
    • Train other designers through documentation, presentations, or other forms of teaching

Tech design is not a specialization on the same axis as level design, combatant design, or sandbox design. It is possible to be a “technical level designer”, or any type of technical [specialty] designer.

Note that my definition is studio-centric: It’s written in contrast to other designers on a larger team. But the mindset of valuing technical skill and considering project health can be applied even if you’re the only designer, or if you’re on an entire team of other technical designers. I’d wager that most solo or indie designers fit my definition – and that seems correct to me.

If you are doing any sort of game design work, and your role fits the two criteria I mentioned above, then you’re doing technical game design.