I am a person who desires a job in the artwork development of a video game, but the exact term for the general career often confuses me. What I want to do is Character Design, but what general career does it fall under in terms of video games? Is the overall concept Game Design, or is it just Illustration? I get confused that Game Design is just creating the ENTIRE game from the top of your head and not just a specific area of the development, like the art. Am I wrong? Does Game Design work for both the idea and the artwork, and can the term be separated between the two? A helpful answer would be much appreciated.
What is a Game Designer?
A game designer designs games. More specifically, they design the rules of the game, and how the player interacts with the game. They design the way Mario's physics work, they design the rules of jumping on Goomba's heads, and they design the levels in such a way that the player is forced to learn about Goomba-head-jumping-physics.
To do any work for a game, it would be helpful to know a little about Game Design. A Character Designer would benefit from understanding how the atheistics of the games effect game-play. For example, you don't want the player to confuse Goombas for One-Ups.
When I hear game designer, I think of somebody who thinks up game mechanics, freedoms and constraints, level designs, balance etc. The may well have no part in actually programming the game. What you are is a game artist.
That doesn't mean that you can't have more than one role in creating a game, and at the same time each role influences every other role significantly. At any rate, you are a game developer, as are programmers, testers, sound engineers, etc.
In developing a game, anyone who is part of implementing the game is to some degree a game designer:
A developer writing code for a random event for example. Original versions of Tetris had completely random choice in pieces (waiting forever for a long piece). While some newer versions use a grab bag approach. While it's still random, it means that for every X pieces (size of the bag) you'll get at least 2 long pieces. A simple example of how a programmer decides to implement random affecting the game design.
Artists (models, texture, lighting) all have an effect on how the game looks. If an item is hard to see among other elements or does it really stick out. That changes the feel of the game. Is it now a matter of intensely inspecting the world around you, or just quick scan, there's the next pick up.
So a Game Designer is the one responsible for the overall vision and interaction of all these small pieces. A game designer might make a statement, "we want the pieces to be random" vs. "we want the pieces to be random, but want to prevent an extreme wait for a long piece". Or "these types of pickups should be easy to identify, but these special collectibles should require careful inspection of the environment".
Game Designers are responsible for the entirety of the game. To make sure that those building the game know what the result should be. The more a particular job function is concerned with the implementation (what language, coding patterns, what colors, how to light things) the less they are a Game Designer, but the more they affect the actual game's final design.
Depending on the studio the specifics can vary. But modern character design ranges from character concepts to the implementation details, models, animations, voice, etc.
The importance of character design is how the character serves the game. In Team Fortress 2 for example, the character design is cartoonish, but the characters really sell the individual classes. Being responsible for explicitly deciding key details of the character is the role of a character designer.
The game designer may say, we want a female character that in the beginning of the game is scared, lost, and injured, but slowly gets more confident. Then you build Lara Croft from the latest Tomb Raider. The parts in between can be part of Character Design. If it's a large studio, they may have animators and models, other artists, and your job is to provide them concepts, sketches, and to work with them to build the final product.
When you're talking about a titled role, what you're talking about is the answer to this question: If I have a problem with/concern about X, who do I talk to in order to get it fixed?
If you have a problem with how a character looks or whether something is visible, you talk to an artist. The artist may in turn direct you to a programmer if it's a rendering issue, but your first stop is the artist.
If the game crashes, you go directly to the lead programmer (or more likely submit a bug report which goes to the lead programmer). The lead programmer will then figure out where that bug came from and forward it off to the appropriate programmer who can fix it.
If you have a problem with how the game feels in some way, your first stop is a game designer. That person can then assess the problem and perhaps direct you to the AI designer (who may direct you to the AI programmer) or wherever. It may even require an art fix/modification. But ultimately, it's a game designer problem and the game designer is the one who comes up with the solution.
Game designers need to consult with others in order to solve game design problems. They need to be able to work with programmers to make the AI do what they need. They need to be able to work with scripters who put which challenges in which locations. They need to be able to work with artists so that the graphics don't get in the way of the gameplay and fulfill the overall vision.
A game's designer has the ultimate responsibility for how the gameplay is designed and behaves. This can include elements of art, sound, programming, scripting, etc. But this does not mean that artists, sound people, programmers and scripters are game designers.
Just like the guy mixing concrete at a construction site is not an architect.