Behind the Scenes: The Art of Game Design

Great video games are captivating. You aren’t thinking about anything else while playing titles like God of War and are fully immersed in the Forgotten Realms when playing Baldur’s Gate 3

These AAA games make the blend of pixels and programming look easy. You rarely encounter bugs and can push the limits of dialogue choices and customization. 

In reality, the art of game design is anything but simple. It requires a huge, collaborative effort from a fleet of programmers, writers, actors, and designers. This is spearheaded by a game design document that fleshes out the details of timelines, funding, and world design. 

Writing a GDD

Every major game studio utilizes Game Design Documents (GDD). Previously, GDDs were monolithic documents that detailed every element of the game in excruciating detail. While this did ensure everyone was on the same page, it left little room for creativity and had the potential to “break” games during development. 


Today, GDDs are seen as a reference point rather than a didactic scripture. They provide a blueprint for every department, meaning that voice actors, marketers, sound designers, and composers are all on the same page about the game’s objectives. Other benefits of a clearly written GDD include: 

  • It helps folks offer feedback early on
  • It ensures that the studio can access the resources it needs
  • It can foster a greater sense of cohesion 
  • It creates a timeline for production 

That said, a good GDD shouldn’t be rigid. Instead, modern studios should use their GDD as a starting point when mapping out process mapping boards. Process mapping turns projects into visual representations of the tasks required to complete a given goal. This helps all stakeholders understand the process flow and ensures that someone is given responsibility for the task. 

Usually, this means that developers will turn to programs like Asana or Trello to map out their projects and simplify the otherwise complex process of video game development. Once the game has been mapped out, funding secured, and tasks assigned to relevant stakeholders, it can formally enter the development process. 

Development Process

Game development is process-driven and highly collaborative. This means it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal when working on the minutiae of physics and level design. As such, game design leaders have taken on a data-driven, cloud-based approach to design. The cloud is more secure than in-studio storage, allows for huge builds with tons of data, and enables remote collaboration.

Industry darlings like Larian Studios exemplify this development process. Larian Studios CEO Swen Vinke explains that games like Baldur’s Gate cannot reach their full potential if teams are working in silos. So, Vinke hired an international team and connected them via the cloud. Reflecting on BG3’s success, Vinke states, “We set up our studio so that it can work 24 hours [a day],” and that the studios are based in Europe, Canada, and Malaysia so folks can work on the game around the clock. 

However, keeping an international team on track can be tricky. As such, many game studios now implement Design and Make Platforms. Design and Make Platforms create a silo-free ecosystem for work and centralize data for easy access. These platforms can be accessed 24/7, too, meaning folks from around the world can pick up where their teammates left off. This builds a more resilient development process and drastically improves the agility of any given studio. 

These Design and Make platforms can bridge the gap between game art and game design. Without data-driven platforms, artists and designers can end up pulling in opposite directions. Intuitive cloud tools give game artists—who produce the mood, look, and feel of the game—a greater appreciation for the developer’s role and streamline the process from concept art to actual production. 

Accessibility Tools

Accessibility features used to be an overlooked element of game design that, at best, involved subtitles and alternate button mapping. Today, accessibility has become a key feature of game development. 

Studios like Naughty Dog have led the charge with The Last of Us Part II — dubbed “the most accessible game ever”. Players with low vision and blindness can still play the game due to features like high-contrast modes, text-to-speech, and more frequent dodge prompts. Developers have also baked in features like motor accessibility presets that help with weapon pick-up, environmental engagement, and ledge guards. 

As games continue to grow, developers must continue to push the envelope of accessibility. This will require plenty of research and revision, as accessibility gaming guides are constantly being updated with the release of new techs like VR headsets, third-party controllers, and compatibility modes for folks with disabilities. 

Creating an emotionally evocative game with great mechanics is a huge undertaking. Studios like Rockstar and Ubisoft employ thousands of people to conceptualize, develop, and publish their titles. However, at their core, all games are process-driven and collaborative. This means that folks from all departments benefit from software that empowers decision-making, breaks down silos, and supports succinct communication.

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