Intro to Game Design

Before you start designing your game, you need a good foundation. Which means you’ll need to collect a large number of resources, both your base foundation pack which will form the basis of your game, and also all the character models, music, environments, SFX, basically everything else you need to think about in game dev. Today we’re not going to focus too much on the asset packs that make up the particulars of your game, instead we’re going to focus on the theory of game design. How to build your game in the foundational stage.

That said, you’ll need a lot of asset packs. Generally speaking, the environments, gameplay systems, characters, and music, and SFX, etc, should all be mostly assembled and ready before you even begin the process of designing your game. It will take a while to build up a good collection, but once you have them, you can use them in every game you develop.

Then you will need to think about, what is the core gameplay loop your player will be going through. What are the most common actions and gameplay elements your player will encounter as they play your game. What is the player typically doing, when they are not engaging in story and cutscenes.

Think about other games you’ve played that you enjoyed, think about how they’re constructed, and how you can do the same thing in your own game. Try to take them apart and think, how was this built? How can I build something similar?

Try to create a sound framework for further development, in your alpha stage, everything your player will be doing should be fully extant, and only in the later stages of design, will you actually build the levels and the story, first focus on the player, and player interactions with the world and enemies.


Your design document

Your gameplay should speak to the larger themes of your design, and it doesn’t hurt to create a design doc, even for a smaller game. A design document is the game bible, which will go over everything you plan to include in your game, from the simplest to the most significant, you should essentially design your game in full, in the design doc, and just work to execute it in full.

How do I design a game?

Can anyone design a game?

Yes, if you have the skill, and the passion for it, you can make your own game without too much study. Just get a game engine like Unreal Engine, Unity, or CryEngine, and starting learning the IDE. As you become more familiar with the engine, you will learn the skills you need to make a professional grade game, and maybe even find work in the industry.

What is good game design? Find out here at Gamasutra.

Can you become a self taught game developer?

Check out our subscription service

If you need some help along the way, learning to design and program games, or learning how to do 3D modelling, you can really get a lot of help from our subscription service, You can learn everything you need to know here to make your first game, or just perfect your skills at higher level tasks. They can teach you about the Unreal Engine 5, or 3D Modelling in Maya and Blender, all you need to do is sign up and you can watch as many tutorials as you need, to help you get your game off the ground.

Also if you’re stuck in minimum wage food service, or security or retail or something like that, you can pretty quickly displace your 9-5 job with game design work at equivalent or higher pay if you do a little bit of study and practice with the Unreal Engine or Unity. Become self employed on Upwork, and you can make games for a living, instead of doing something you hate, and there’s actual upward mobility, a rarity in this job market, and a real chance to improve your station in life. So if you’re struggling, and you like games, or making games, this might be the thing that saves you.

Worked for me, I hate security.

Anyway back to business.

How to design an action RPG

I’d like to briefly discuss the framework I am using. I bought the Easy Survival RPG v2.5, and it has really jumpstarted my game in a big way. A lot of the larger design problems are already dealt with, I have a character controller, which is genuinely fun, it is functional, it works great. It plays like a modern AAA style game would, and after I plug in my own characters, it looks great, and functions great. Everything you need in a character controller is there, it’s fully featured and just really great…

What else is included?

It also covers enemies, there’s only one enemy type, although you can give them different weapons…. However, the enemies are pretty functional, they patrol around the area where they’re spawned, they do the job they’re designed for quite well, you can switch out their weapons for a variety of different options. (no ranged combat unfortunately, but the player can.) You can set them to respawn after a certain amount of time has passed since they died, or you can place them individually, and they don’t respawn until you reload the level.

It covers inventory, it has a crafting system, a loot system, research, spells, all kinds of stuff, you have an inventory with weight and encumbrance. You have a stat system, covering melee damage, agility and speed, hit points, etc, etc. It has a fully functional UI system, it has a dialogue and quest system, persistent characters across scene changes, and a number of other options which I don’t have time to get into yet.

Overall, it has everything you need to build your game, it is the perfect framework to serve as the foundation for your action RPG. Actually this framework is unique in being extremely high quality and an all encompassing solution to your foundational design issues. If you have this as the basis of your game, then design will go a lot smoother. Whatever you choose, get a good foundation for your project, something where you won’t need a whole lot of moving parts to make it work. Typically you should have 1 create project asset, as your foundation, and a whole bunch of add to project assets as supplements to your base.

How to design an RPG

Well if you have Easy Survival RPG v2.5, this becomes a simple matter, your gameplay systems will already be constructed just drag and drop into your game, and problem resolved. You’ll still have to balance things, get a feel for the weapons available, decide what will be available to the player from the beginning, through to the end, you’ll need to playtest enemy placement, and get a feel for what the player can survive without getting mobbed down and killed. Try to find a sweet spot of difficulty, where the player is challenged, and even brought to the brink of survival, but victory is still possible. As your game progresses, introduce other systems, in ESR you will be able to introduce research and crafting stations, shops and things of that nature.

Your gameplay should in some way, speak to the message you’re trying to send in the story, Kojima games do this a lot, the story and the the themes are woven into the gameplay quite seamlessly. Your gameplay should say something about what you’re trying to achieve with your vision and storytelling.

Pathologic by Ice Pick Lodge does this very well

Pathologic is an example, in that game, you are in a small cozy town, walking slowly from place to place, a lot of the game is just the monotony of walking around, through the plague ridden town, avoiding natural menaces and sources of plague, and fending off fights which really should be avoided at all costs. The game is deliberately difficult and disempowering, they don’t want you to feel like a terminator, with augmented legs jumping over houses, the gameplay serves to make the player feel small, weak, insignificant, and powerless, swept up in larger machinations beyond their control, and the story reflects this. The messages and themes of the story, are women seamlessly into the gameplay, and as such, they are in service to the grand vision of the project.

How to design a first person shooter

Again, you will need a framework for design. Actually, despite the wealth of options available, there is a hole the marketplace when it comes to a framework for a shooter. You have a lot of options, but there is no killer app that solves all your problems, you’re going to have to go with partial solutions for this one.

A good option is the FPS Game Starter Kit, it’s not that expensive, less than 30 bucks on sale, and you can get your shooter game started, it’s not too difficult, it’s powerful, it has a lot of weapons to choose from, a nice assortment of them. It comes packed with enemy AI, both zombie and combat ready human forms, it’s easy to switch out your characters for new ones. It has cars and car combat, swimming and water. It has most of what you need for a shooter, but maybe it’s a little thin. This is not quite Easy Survival RPG levels of completeness, you will have to build a lot of your own systems after buying this, but it is a good option, and there are other decent options out there as well.

A first person shooter, should have lots of interesting environments to walk around in, with enemies who push you to the brink of death, without quite being able to kill you. Level design is important in an FPS, moreso than in other genre’s. An RPG can get by on it’s story, but and FPS is primarily about moving around in the world shooting things, so the world itself takes on an outsized importance. The choice of environments should also speak to your larger themes, in a kind of The Fountainhead sense of, the setting is a main character in itself.

How to design a survival horror game

This one is difficult, and it shouldn’t need to be. There is currently no Killer App for designing survival horror games, maybe someone will release one soon, but for now, you don’t have many options except Horror Engine. Horror Engine is not that bad, it is a moderately fully featured framework, you can build your game on this. It also comes with the advantage of being free, so if you want to develop your game on a budget, or you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of money, this might actually be the framework for you. But I would happily pay 300 dollars for a REALLY GOOD survival horror engine, if the features justified the cost.

Silent Hill shows you the right path

Survival horror is just plain fun to design. In a game like that, your environments and enemies are the star of the show, think Silent Hill 2, that atmospheric, fog filled town. The enemies in that game were psychological reflections of the main character. In Silent Hill 1, you were in a haunted school, which switched from normal to evil mode and back again, fighting strange stunted dwarf characters. In Silent Hill 2, the main character’s let’s call them romantic feelings, are played out in the bizarre and misshapen nurse monsters that he fights along the way. The common enemies you fight, in the streets, have echos of homeless drifters. The atmosphere, and the thematic style of the enemies are crucially important in a game like this. You will also have to design lots of interesting puzzles for the player to work through.

It’s one of the easiest and most fun types of game to design for, with some of the most interesting options in terms of design, and the psychologic of the player, and the main character, but it is also one of the most structurally difficult genre’s to get started in, in Unreal Engine. You will have to add a lot of functionality yourself to your game, if you want to succeed at this.

Wrapping things up

It is not an exaggeration to say that the pre-production design phase is one of the most, if not the most important phase in the design of your project. If you do not have a good foundation, the rest of your game will suffer, don’t think as much about story or characters at the start, instead you should focus your efforts on making a good core gameplay loop. You should have one level to walk around in, and the gameplay should be fully extant from the beginning phase, before you even think about going into full production mode.

When you have a working framework, from which to develop the rest of your game, then you can focus on things like level design, characters, story, exploration, and other higher level concepts, but in the beginning, you need that foundation to be strong. If the foundation is sound, then the wind comes, the rain blows, and the house still stands.


If you don’t put enough effort into the early design phases of your game, then you will tripping over yourself to fix them once you get into full production, you will constantly be going back over your work to plug the holes in your foundation. I would suggest acquiring Easy Survival RPG v2.5, despite the cost, if that is the kind of game you want to develop, it will save you, literally years of production time. It’s worth saving up for. For other genre’s, you might have a wait a while for new tech to get released if you want a good working solution to your game base, but don’t let that dissuade you. Decide what kind of game you want to make, think of other games in that genre you have enjoyed, and try to approximate them.

If you do a good job, you’ll have something you’re really proud of, I know I do.

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