Video Game Designing Tools
By Anthony Markesino
Video game design involves a wide range of people and talents. Much like the movie industry, there can be hundreds of people involved all over the world on a single project. Each job title in the game industry specializes in one high technology tool set or more for the development of their portion of the game. These tool sets are interdependent and must work smoothly together in order to achieve the final working product.
The game editor, or game engine, brings the diverse talents of many people together. The engine controls how objects move in your game, how they look and how they interact with each other. It also controls the user interface through which the player sees and communicates. Level designers and game designers most often work directly in the editor, importing the work of audio technicians, artists, and programmers, then turning it into a functional world. Epic created the Unreal Engine, which has been licensed to hundreds of games in the last few years. This is also one of the easiest to get your hands on since the editor is included with most games so that users can create their own content.
Animation tools are important because they take three dimensional, or 3-D, models and bring them to life. They are responsible for characters' motions and also things such as realistic physics, like making sure a car moves correctly and doesn't fly through space. These are often the most expensive tools to license, costing upwards of $10,000 per user in August 2009 for popular programs such as Maya. There are cheaper alternatives, including Blender and MilkShape, which are similar and are often used by students.
By far the most popular modeling tool is 3Ds Max. It is used to create 3-D objects such as characters, vehicles, buildings and more. Max's greatest ability is not that it can rapidly prototype objects, but being able to quickly import and export models into the most popular game engines. Many design schools use older education versions of 3Ds Max in their curriculums. Artists as well as game designers use this tool.
As more money is invested in video games, aspects such as a game's soundtrack become analogous to movies. Original scores are often produced or popular music is licensed and then imported into the game. Audio technicians require tools that import sounds from analog formats into digital ones while maintaining the quality. Pro tools have been used for many years, though now there are hundreds of programs available.
With bigger budgets come live actors and sets and the need for video capture and editing. Many editors already have their own camera tools such as Unreal's Matinee program. While this is good for 3-D rendered images, bringing real images into a game requires something more advanced. The AJA video system, like others of its ilk, provides extensive video capture and editing capability, with easy exporting to the major engines and editors. Many artists specialize in 3-D cut scenes and sequences for video games.
Anthony Markesino is a freelance writer and senior editor for UGO Entertainment, specializing in the video game industry and MMO's. He also has several design credits on such prominent games as the new Wolfenstein, as well as Rogue Warrior and the Fear series.