Game Design is something that is a part of every games creation process, without Game Designers there would be no games, period! But what is Game Design is it about A - Gameplay, the actions the player is allowed to do, formed in a way so that it is fun? Or is it B - the story of a game? Aka the reasons why the player character is driven to slay aliens, take revenge etc.
Most people would say B, but in reality it is mostly A! Something that people like Shigeru Miyamoto, a game designer that tries to be at the cutting edge, because he realizes that Game Design is not about writing cool stories, its about making excellent and “unique” Gameplay. When you look at the Super Mario Games from the N64 onwards, you’ll see that each one has had a unique game play feature for its time.
Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64, was big worlds and relative freedom to tackle said worlds. Super Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube was to use a backpack that sprays water in different ways to combat and get around the world. And Super Mario Galaxies for the Wii puts in simulated gravity for their “worlds”, using them to create a new form of challenge not found in platformers before.
But where does all of this take place with the developer? Well right at the beginning, without a Game Design document to work from, if you don’t have a set goal to work to then your game will only wander aimlessly and it needs to be updated through the entire design process, as things change and if you don’t change it with it, then your stuck in the same problem.
But don’t worry your not alone in this; most companies have dedicated Design teams that think up new content for games all the time, some of the designers are specialized, for example in making levels, while most are usually just general designers. But of course if you are a freelance worker then you are on your own.
Now not all games require the same things in design, you tailor it to the genre that you are making it for, you know that you wont need to control vast armies in a FPS, it would just be confusing and you know that in a RTS you don’t need to put in a stealth feature like a Stealth game would. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but they are not many exceptions, as its hard to make both the FPS and the RTS sections of the game fun, thanks to you splitting your resources.
But what do I think is most important is that, the gameplay must be something that’s fun and doesn’t get stale easily, so I can do it again without it getting old and boring, otherwise the game is shelved in 30mins and I start thinking that I wasted some money.