Beginner’s Guide to Game Design: Learning the Terms and Lingo

Diving into video game design for the first time can be a nerve-wracking process. To beginners, industry-seasoned game design teams can sound like they’re speaking an entirely different language. Knowing game design terms and the names of development tools is one of the first critical steps to becoming a successful game designer — you’ve got to talk the talk before you design video game characters that can walk the walk. To help you take that first step, here is a beginner’s guide to game design that include the terms you’ll hear from day one on your video game career.

Game Design Term #1: What is Game Engine?

There are a lot of assets to manage in game design and development, including graphics, sound and the physics of how in-game objects interact. Game engines are powerful pieces of game development software that help game designers manage all those assets, including art, sound, and code.

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For example, Telltale Games uses the self-named Telltale Tool to develop its story-driven titles like “Batman” and “The Walking Dead.” At the heart of each and every major video game release is a game engine, and it’s a tool I’m immensely thankful for — especially platform-agnostic game engines like Unreal and Unity that can be used for multiple projects across multiple computers (mac & PC) & multiple mobile devices (Android phones, iOS Phones, and Tablets).

Game Design Term #2: What is AI?

This game design term, Artificial Intelligence (AI), might sound like a fantastic plot device out of a sci-fi novel, but game design professionals are already very familiar with the concept. AI is the code that guides every character in a video game except the one the player is controlling — these are known as non-player characters, or NPCs. Think of AI as a list of goals that these NPCs will try to achieve.

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For example, in “Final Fantasy XV,” the enemies of player character Noctis have AI goals of “attack the player,” while his three allies have AI goals dictating how they help the player, whether that is “attack enemies” or “defend the player.”

Game Design Term #3: What is GUI?

You’ll almost never hear the full game design term “Graphical User Interface” being used in game development — for brevity, it’s almost always referred to as GUI. This video game concept includes everything onscreen that the user is going to see as part of their gaming experience. Common elements you’re going to find on a GUI include the player character’s health and gear, or like in “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” a map helping guide the player to his or her next objective.  The start screen and all the icons also make up the user interface being important parts of the overall user experience.

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Game Design Term #4: What is Alpha and Beta?

You won’t need to learn the entire Greek alphabet to become a video game designer, but these two game design terms are awfully important. They describe two critical parts of a game’s development life cycle when it’s almost completed. The term “alpha” is the first build shared with testers where most of the game’s assets are in place and functional — but with a lot of the finishing touches still needed before a commercial release. The “beta” version takes that a step farther — it’s extremely close to the final video game design, and like last year’s “Battlefield 1,” can even be released to the public for a hype-generating play test before the commercial release. When game design teams do that, it’s an “open beta,” rather than a “closed beta.”

We’ve got more Game Design Tips and Trends to get you started, including how to find inspiration for your video game design ideas.

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