Meet Kelly Toyama, Video Game Designer
Kelly is known for his design work on such titles as Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines, and Age of Empires: Mythologies. But his design work doesn’t stop – or start – with video games. He’s been designing pen-and-paper games as well as board games since he was a child, and draws design inspiration and techniques from traditional and non-traditional games alike.
Kelly’s advice is deceptively simple. But if you’re thinking about a career in video game design, then you need to hear it and turn it into action. Don’t miss the part about how to manage the vision of your team.
How would you describe what you do every day?
A little bit of everything. Design is really the go-between with all the disciplines. We have to ride between art, code and production, driving the product forward. It’s design’s job to try to have a vision of how the game works, what makes it fun, and to be a leader on the team to guide them towards that goal.
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How did you become a Game Designer?
Long story short? Lots of luck, and lots of trying.
I started in Q.A. but design has always been my passion. Game design is a funny thing: Just because you have the title doesn’t mean you can do it, and not having the title shouldn’t stop you.
The thing that served me best is that I have been making games since I was five years old. Card games, board games, DMing homebrew RPGs. No one is going to give you permission to be a great designer, you have to go out and take it. You don’t need anything but a pen and paper to get started.
What’s your favorite part of the job? What’s your least favorite part?
The best part is the collaboration. Making games is a team sport and being a good designer is about recognizing good ideas, not necessarily having them yourself. Working with a team of talented people to make fun, elegant games is the best part by far.
The least favorite is time. I’ve never made a game that I didn’t think I could have made better with 6 more months of time. But at some point you need to call all projects finished, and push them out to the world. But that part, the letting go, is the hardest part.
What aspect of the Game Designer job would be surprising to people looking in from the outside?
I think design is mis-understood generally. We don’t code, we don’t draw things. Design is a lot like doing sound work in theater (a thing I did in high school), the only time it gets noticed is when it’s done wrong. When it’s done right, it’s so seamless that it should look like you are doing nothing at all.
What kinds of talents and personality does it take to succeed as a Game Designer?
Passion and teamwork are the things that get the job done. The best games are made when the whole team believes in it and understands the idea. If you find yourself at a point where you are dictating or mandating, then you have lost the thread of the design process. You are the visionary, but that means gathering together the vision of the team, not forcing your own vision down their throats.
What would you recommend for education, books, or other learning to start down that career path?
In a more practical sense, if you’re looking for video game design work then look into statistics, programming and art classes. These will help, as the more you understand what the other disciplines are doing the better you are going to be at forging them together.
Lastly, writing and public speaking are your friends. You’re going to be doing a lot of communicating. If you’re intimidated by standing in front of a room and going though your ideas, or getting your ideas down on paper, you will have a hard time being a successful designer.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about Video Game Design as a career?
Start! Like I said, nothing should stop you from doing design right now. Go make a game. You don’t need a programmer, you dont need an artist, you just need yourself and some paper and you can start designing.
Design is something that is best learned by practice. So get out there and start doing it.
Kelly can be reached at his latest game’s online home, www.TitansTactics.com. If you liked this article, return the favor by sharing on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.