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Why you need a Technical Designer

by Franck Fitrzyk on 04/01/20 11:02:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The same way the role of technical artist has won its letters of nobility during the last few years, the technical designer role is starting to take an important space on the game industry job boards. After seen the necessity and the benefits of having a technical supporter to the 3D modelers, environment artists and other visual asset creators, we understand more and more, during productions, the need to help other major content creators: designers.

Whether they are game designers, level designers, AI designers, system designers or quest designers, those content creators need a technical support during the production, some help to solve and tackle technical issues, simple or complex ones. That reveals the technical designer position as to be a key role in the design team.

So, the technical design is first a support role dedicated to facilitate the creative designers’ job and to be the interface between the designers and the different technical department of the production.


What is technical design? 

Technical design is the bridge between the game design principles and the technical problematics (for gameplay programming or tools). Depending on the teams and the projects, the technical design can have different shapes from the definition of the design team’s needs in tools and features to create the game content to scripting, prototyping and the creation of any content needing some technical knowledge in programming or different software.


What’s the responsibility of a technical designer?

Cédric Hauteville, level designer at DeepMind, said during his GDC 2019 conference about technical design that “technical design is the missing link between game designers and programmers.”

Depending on the needs of the project and the skills of the team, the technical designer can become an impactful member of your production. First, his role is to understand the game design and the creative direction of the project in order to anticipate the needs of the designer to create the game content as simply and as efficiently as possible. So, he/she is the right person to express the needs of the game design or level design team to the technical teams, whether it be the gameplay programmers, the tool team, the procedural team or any person that is creating an element that the designer will have to use. He works too with leads and producers to defend the designer’s requests by providing prototypes, presentations and proofs of the benefits of their requests.

For example, while I was working at Ubisoft Annecy as a Technical Level Designer, I was not developing the tools by myself. I was following the development of those with the teams in charge of their development. I was in charge of making sure the requested tools were going in the right direction and were answering my fellow designers needs properly. We were working on an engine needing C++ knowledge, which I don’t have. Nevertheless, I was able to give feedback on the tools and features, use them, prepare templates and pre-sets ready to be used by my team.

From the expression of the design team’s needs, the technical designer follows the development of the tools that will be used by the team or any element that’ll need settings (quests, procedural generation, exploration content like collectible, AI, interaction with environment, etc). It means that he/she is the first tester of those features and so, the favourite person to talk to for the tools team and other programmers but also to leads who like to know the progress on their future workflow.

As the start of the project as well as the during the production, the technical designer identifies the weaknesses of the workflow and does what it takes to improve it. This can very well just be the preparation of certain tasks that the designers will have to do later during the production to ease their work, trying to automatize things or just creating templates and pre-sets. For example, for quest scripting, he/she can prepare reusable functions or even full script templates that will be used as a good work base.

He/she is responsible for the User Experience of the tools used by his team and assures they have tools and features that answer their needs. His/her goal is to reduce the friction and the technical tasks of the creative designers so they can spend more time creating content rather than solving issues due to tools. 

In the end, he is the support role of the design team all along the production. He/she has a capacity to understand the design and the technical constraints which allows him/her to anticipate the needs and the potential problems. Properly used, he/she can be a serious assert of your production and a core team member. He/she is the technical point of contact of the design team: if they have a workflow or tool issue, they know they can get an answer or help beside him. He/she also becomes the friend of programmers who really appreciate to get only one person to talk to to share their instructions and information.

It is a position for which you really need a person in which the whole team can be trustful.

He/she gathers the need, the requests, the feedback, the information, knows how to share them and summarize them. He/she has a full vision of the complete pipeline.

Then, it is also the responsibility of the technical designer to train his team members to the new tools and other features of the workflow. Training but also documenting! The creation of a proper technical documentation and tutorial is one of his mission too.

I hope you see now how extremely useful a technical designer can be and how central to your design team it can become: the interface between the content creators (game designers, level designers, quest designers, etc) and your programmers (or any other technical team member).

The Benefits

  • Improve the processes to gain production and iteration time on the game’s content;
  • Gain flexibility and iteration time to work on game content;
  • Reduce the technical workload of creative designers to let them focux on creativity;
  • Get advice from an expert and make strategic choices for your production;
  • Work with a strong source of documentation to avoid loss of information;
  • Train your design team to technical workflow;
  • Improve you team’s wellness and efficiency.

What the Technical Designer is not…

The technical designer is not a programmer. He/she can have a programming background but his/her new role doesn’t necessarily require programming skills. We still can see online job offers that absolutely require the candidate to have those skills but to me, this seems to be a try to get a system designer and a programmer through only one person and one salary. We saw above that a technical designer can take care of numerous tasks without programming knowledge. I can be, but it’s not a necessity.

Who is the Technical Designer?

The technical designer usually comes from one of those two backgrounds:

  • A designer that has a strong affinity with tools, technical skills and a good understanding of the technical challenges of his department;
  • It’s a programmer that has a special affinity with design and who is able to understand the needs of designers.

The different technical designers 

  • Technical Designer (generalist)
  • Technical Game Designer
  • Technical Level Designer
  • Technical Quest designer
  • Technical AI Designer
  • Technical World Designer
  • Technical Narrative Designer

The Technical Designer skills

  • Strong analytical skills
  • Strong understanding of game design and programming principles
  • Ability to summarize complex topics
  • Be a great pedagogue
  • Be proactive and be a true creative force
  • Create technical documentation for the team
  • Develop human relationships with the co-workers
  • Fast learner for development tools
  •  Curious and technology intelligence
  • Be attentive to other people, understand their needs and constraints
  • Be pragmatic
  •  

“I don’t have the financial means to hire a full-time technical designer in my team…” 

Well, hire a freelance technical designer! He’ll bring you the expertise and methodology to improve your content creation workflow. Your designers will be more than happy!

What I can help you with as a freelance technical designer:

  • Help you to evaluate and plan your future needs in tools and features for your designers;
  • Produce templates and presets ready to be use by your designers;
  • Produce clear design and tool request documentation to ease the development of your tools and gameplay feature;
  • Create a technical documentation adapted to your project constraints and your team needs;
  • Train your team to existing tools or the new one that we’ll create together.

If you plan to recruit a full-time technical designer for the first time, a freelance can help you to integrate this new role into your production pipeline by guiding you on the topics this person could take care of and plan your team organization with this addition.


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