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The term "video game developer" is ambiguous, as it encapsulates designers, artists and programmers that work to push a game through the development process. All video games follow the process of pre-production, production and post-production. How long this process takes is determined by the scope of the production and the amount of people working on it.
Pre-production is the foundation of the entire project. During this phase, the lead game designer imagines the game's core concepts, such as plot, characters, worlds and game-play. Other designers take the concept and run with it, with the game mechanic designer creating the mechanics and the game design writers creating the story line. All of the designers then document their ideas in the game design document, a description of the game and all its features. This is passed on to the programmers who create a prototype based on the design notes. The designers then critique the prototype and revise as necessary. Publishers are brought in at this phase, with the developers using the prototype to win financing from a publisher so the game can continue development. Once a game is funded the programmers go deeper into the framework and the artists sketch concept art.
During the production phase, designers, artists and programmers use the constantly-updated design document to collaborate on the game's creation. The designers inform the artists who use their concept art to provide the programmer with instruction on how to code the characters and environments. The designer then fine-tunes the work of the programmer and artist, ensuring their applications meet his specifications. Production is a constant series of trial-and-error and revision.
When a game enters post-production it is almost finished. Game testers have to play the game and test it for bugs. They then report it to the designers and programmers so it can be fixed immediately. Quality assurance staff test the game by playing it in ways the developers hadn't considered, trying to find ways to "break" the game or find bugs in design or programming or art. Testers also look for imbalanced elements in the game. A fighting game, for instance, may feature a character with a flaw that can be exposed to such an extent it breaks the game. Post-production may last a while depending on the scope of the game and how well it did in its previous phases.
Video game developers need to work well as part of a team. The process is incredibly collaborative and, on larger productions, impossible without teamwork. Developers must be able to communicate clearly with people who hold different views on the same subject. A programmer will look at something in the game world much differently than a designer, for instance. Skills in scripting and programming languages is a plus for designers and a requirement for programmers.Programmers with a background in English or design may also have an advantage in the industry.
Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.
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