It can be fun to play computer games but have you ever thought how interesting and satisfying it could be to create your own?
A game designer, just like a playwright, writes stories. But creating a game also allows more diversity because it involves the participation of players, who drive the story's development and can bring about different endings. It is this unlimited range of possibilities and the unpredictability that make computer games attractive for both players and producers, says Pang Chun-to, a game designer for Gameone Online Entertainment Group Ltd.
Playing a game does not, however, reveal all the design and production work that has gone into it. To become a game designer, strong interest in the field is necessary but not enough on its own. "You need to have passion, with creativity, motivation and commitment to always improve a game," says Mr Pang.
Striving for a balance between imagination and reality is also essential. "On the one hand, we have to be creative. On the other, we need to be practical in understanding the time and cost constraints and have to implement feasible ideas only," Mr Pang adds. This kind of practical creativity can only be acquired through experience.
"You need to have passion, with creativity, motivation and commitment to always improve a game"
Game design and development requires creative teamwork. One of the major duties of a game designer is to define the rules, then develop the storyboard and the different plots. He must work closely with the marketing team to understand customer needs and market demand and with the technical team to decide on graphics and programming. The designer serves as project leader and teamwork co-ordinator and, as a result, should be open-minded and possess good communication and people skills. Broad interests, good general knowledge and language abilities are useful for plotting stories.
Programming and computer graphics expertise can definitely help but are not a must. According to Mr Pang, experience counts for more than qualifications in the game industry. He suggests that fresh graduates with no relevant work experience should present some demo work when applying for a job. This could be course work from school or a preliminary game design proposal and will help to show how keen they are.
For those looking for formal training, Mr Pang points out there are certificate courses in game design offered by the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education and a Master's degree in Multimedia and Entertainment Technology is run by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Starting out as a game programmer holding a higher diploma in information technology, Mr Pang became a game designer two years later and found the work more comprehensive, covering the entire process of product development from market analysis to design, production, testing and customer servicing.
Nowadays, online games are becoming more popular, presenting both an opportunity and a challenge. While traditional personal computer games usually have a stronger storyline, online games have greater variety but are more difficult to develop. Unlike stand-alone PC games, which involve single players or small groups, online games usually incorporate a much larger number of players, linked via the Internet.
"Since they are all 'real' players, with human thoughts and emotions, it may result in so many variations that you can hardly imagine and include all of them in the course of designing the game," Mr Pang says. "The design process is, therefore, always complex and challenging as we need to maintain interactivity." More practical considerations such as bandwidth consumption and hardware loading are also important factors.
An online game's life cycle can last several years. There are two stages of design work: research and development and then long-term maintenance and upgrades which involve collecting customer feedback, continuously updating the game and fixing bugs. In the later stages, designers work closely with customer service staff and game masters responsible for the daily online operation of the games.
It is common practice for local software companies to save costs by using their Hong Kong headquarters for research and development and their mainland offices for production. As a result, local game designers are sometimes required to travel.
According to Mr Pang, there are about twenty game development companies in Hong Kong. The local industry, without the kind of active government support seen in Taiwan and Korea, has been developing slowly. So, there are not many openings for Hong Kong game designers and those interested may need to explore opportunities on the mainland.
Because of different culture and languages, it is challenging for a Hong Kong designer to work in China and develop a successful localised game there. However, Mr Pang thinks there are areas where Hong Kong designers have an edge with their wider exposure and longer experience in game design and project management.