World Designer

  • World Designer

Very few careers offer people the opportunity to become a god, but a career as a world designer may be as close as it gets. World designers play a pivotal role in video game design and are responsible for planning and creating the environments for a game, including such details as the size and terrain of the landscapes and the objects that populate it, as well as any weather and time cycles required.


Duties

Back in the days of Pac-Man and Pong, game programmers were usually responsible for both the programming and the layout and gameplay aspects of their video game. As games got more advanced, specialized world designers became the norm, used not only to infuse more creativity into the process, but to make it more enjoyable for the player. They translate game concepts into specific playable levels or worlds, working closely with other specialized staff such as the combat systems designer, mission designer, environment artist, and level designer. While this is a job that requires some coding skills and knowledge of the game design process, a world designer is considered a specialist with a great amount of artistic skill and creativity. Today, programmers produce world-building editors and toolsets for world designers to use in creating maps, layouts, and other aspects of the in-game world, so that there is little need to modify specific lines of game code. This makes it far easier for world designers to maintain consistency throughout the worlds they build and provide clear layouts for the other members of the production design team to embellish the worlds with additional colors, textures, sounds, or other elements and revisions as necessary. In addition to designing the maps and layouts of video games, world designers also participate in creating puzzles and other in-game events; puzzles are obstacles created for players to solve as part of gameplay, while events are player actions that set off non-player characters’ actions. They are also responsible for providing updated documentation to the other members of the team detailing the world design in the game, as well as trying to ensure that the world is created free of bugs that interfere with gameplay.

Skills & Education

Most world designers possess two- or four-year art- or programming-related degrees; in this particular career, experience is often more important than any degree. A love of video games is a prerequisite, because you’ll be expected to know what makes a game work and what makes it a dud. A rich imagination and the ability to visualize environments, characters, and other elements of gameplay are a world designer’s biggest assets; in order to create realistic worlds, knowledge of scientific topics ranging from sociology and biology to physics and geology is also valuable. The technical side of the job requires familiarity with animation, computer graphics technology, world-building editors and tools including Neverwinter Nights, Unreal, and Q3Radiant, and 3-D modeling packages such as Maya or Max, as well as proprietary software. Though knowledge of scripting and AI are often preferred, the diversification of game design is increasingly making world designers specialists that need only know what they want, how to get it using the world-building tools, and how to communicate with all other members of the production team. Because the world designer must communicate abstract concepts to other members of the production team, communication skills are more important to this career than most others in the realm of game design.

What to Expect

World designers can expect to put a lifetime of collective knowledge to work to make games interesting, including history, science, math, and the humanities; it’s hard to create a good world in a WWII first-person shooter without knowing the difference between the Germans and the British. Some of the biggest perks of becoming a world designer (besides the power to make it rain) are the relaxed office environment, free soda and snacks given out by most studios, and benefits that such as health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, and pensions. Drawbacks include long work hours and having little control over what happens inside the worlds you create. In the end, it’s a career for the lifelong gamer who still has a passion for games and also possesses the discipline to channel that passion into a career.

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