Every hero needs a mission—to save the princess, to capture the bad guy, to lead a team of post-apocalyptic survivors against a rabid population of mutant vampire zombie soldiers. The options are endless, and it is the job of a mission designer to understand how these scenarios will translate into interesting gameplay and design accordingly. Mission designers determine the objectives within a level, as well as how the game’s storyline and gameplay mechanics are tied to the overall progression of the player.
The mission designer is an important part of the design team, and works closely with the lead designers, level designers, combat system designers and other engineers to develop game systems and artificial intelligence systems relevant to a game’s missions. Among their many tasks, mission designers may also build and document stories and quests, including designing the narrative structure, crafting dialogue, and scripting gameplay. They also work closely with the artistic team (especially the environment designer) to develop appropriate environments and create missions and multiplayer spaces with scripting language. Mission designers are responsible for creating mission maps and populating the game with enemies and game objects essential to various gameplay and combat scenarios. This technician evaluates gameplay pacing, flow, and difficulty curves in hopes of polishing encounters in the game to create the optimal experience for players; this often requires constructing spaces and AI setups to build a detailed structure for encounters. Mission designers are often present in the process from the conceptual stages to final polish. Because they work so closely with other team members but also maintain a level of autonomy over their respective tasks, mission designers must also document the design of and changes to the portions of the game for which they are responsible, so that clear communication with other disciplines is maintained at all times.
Skills & Education
As with many careers in video game design, being a mission designer requires a unique combination of creativity, technical proficiency, and interpersonal skills. Some studios will accept candidates with experience and a high school diploma, but most expect at least an associate’s degree and prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees. Experience is necessary, though; many studios will only hire mission designers with years’ worth of prior experience and at least one shipped title that features their work. Creative storytelling, writing, and editing skills are required at many studios, but experience with scripting encounters and a functional understanding of proprietary software and programs like 3D Studio Max, Maya, Unreal, Lua, C++, and others is a must everywhere. Problem-solving is extremely important, because you will spend a great deal of time trying to realize a vision for a game that may run into the same types of design and gameplay problems over and over again. Communication skills, both oral and written, will allow you to maintain close relationships with other members of the design and artistic teams and help realize your overall vision. It also helps to have a detailed knowledge of either the game series or genre of the game in which you’re working, as it facilitates conceptualization and implementation.
What to Expect
Mission designer is one of the most collaborative careers in game design; working with level designers, combat systems designers, artistic teams, quality assurance testers, and a variety of other disciplines along the pipeline makes it a job that demands an expert communicator. While creativity is important in the conceptualization stages, technical proficiency is needed during the implementation stages; patience and problem-solving abilities will be a mission designer’s most tested qualities during the polish stage. Expect to drink a lot of Slurpees and become close friends with your teammates during each stage of the process, because a mission designer’s success and sanity depend on it.
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