Can you be good at designing games without knowing how to code?

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Theory: Only an experienced game coder can be good at designing video games.

Reasoning: To be good at something, you have to practice it a lot. Coders make dozens of games while learning to program them. There’s no other cost effective way to train this skill.

Evidence: The threads on the collab forum, where someone with no programming experience has a really poor idea and tries to get someone else to make it

Discuss

 
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No.

My reasoning is that designing games isn’t just making up shit, it’s making up shit that can realistically be done. To know exactly what can and cannot be done you need some programming skills and experience.

For instance, non-programmer “designers” are quick to smack on features like massive multiplayer, real-time action with no latency, randomly generated qualify content, and so on. Although it’s “design”, it’s so unrealistic and useless that it brings no value at all to the process of creating a game.

 
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Design without code is just the same as “Hey I want to make a game that is metroid + zelda + pokemon + call of duty + RPG Final fantasy + sonic imma sure people will like it I already have the idea planed out”.

 
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Disagree, there’s a difference between someone talking about an idea for a game, and a design for a game. The difference between someone saying ‘I have an idea for a game like Diablo 2 where you run around as a barbarian or sorc chopping up/burning zombies & various monsters’, and someone explaining that….eg, skills have a cap of 20 but can be pushed further with items, each different ‘scene’ (fields/monastery/desert/palace&arcane/jungle/kurast/hell plains/hell fire river) is intended meant to take 10-20 mins to get through, describing how exactly strength affects damage on each weapon type, having worked out how many treasure classes it’ll need…etc.

You can come up with good game designs without knowing programming. People make board games without knowing code, and it is the same principle.

To get your design made though, you need to either be the coder or the (good) artist. Or pay. There are perhaps some games based around text/music where a writer/sound guy could attract a coder too, but it’s not common. It certainly doesn’t seem too likely that anyone’s gonna come along here with a design and convince people to make it for them, no matter how professionally they’ve done it.

 
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It depends on whether the person understands how code works…. not on whether they have coded before or not.

A person could understand OOP and other simple programming concepts and come up with a pretty well designed game, despite never having done programming.

On the other hand, the likeliness of coming across a person who knew that stuff and didn’t do programming is well… not super promising.

 
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I disagree.

Just because one person may not be able to implement the design doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. You may just need more resources (time, money, coder). A good design for me would be a game which a lot of people enjoy playing and that can be made. A complete world simulator would attract a lot of people but would crush every storage limit. A game where you just run in a circle, without any other components, could be easily made but no one would play it.

It surely helps yourself if you have programmed games before and want to implement your own design. But this can backfire too. Your focus may shift too much from the players’ perspective to the coder’s. I have seen some games where you have different factions but the only difference between the units in the different factions is their name and their look. From a coders point of view this is a good thing because you can reuse a lot of your code and the factions are perfectly balanced (let’s assume there are no other differences). But from a player’s point of view this is just f***ing boring.


Edit: I disagree with the theory and answer the thread question with: Yes, you can. (Just to be clear)

 
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There is more to games than video games. So the answer is yes. Take just one example: Richard Garfield, the man who created Magic: The Gathering, possibly the most successful CCG ever published. He is a professional game designer. Does the man know how to code? I don’t know, but he didn’t code the computer version of MtG: the computer game, and he’s not the main coder for Spectromancer, a flash game on this very site for which he has designer credit. (I know because the coder actually answered PM’d suggestions at some point and, while friendly, he was clearly not a native English speaker.)

So yes, game design and programming are completely distinct specialties. Realistically though, the OP is likely not Richard Garfield or Sid Meier, and for the rest of us if we want our design made into a game, it often means making the game ourselves.

 
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Another thing… if you try to pove something you have to prove it for all possible instances (for every possible non-coder). Giving an example (some OPs in the collab forum have bad game designs) is not enough. However an example is always enough to falsify a theory (the guy who invented MtG is a good designer).

Just some basics in logic so that even more people can hate me :D

 
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Originally posted by Yawgmoth:

Another thing… if you try to pove something you have to prove it for all possible instances (for every possible non-coder). Giving an example (some OPs in the collab forum have bad game designs) is not enough. However an example is always enough to falsify a theory (the guy who invented MtG is a good designer).

Just some basics in logic so that even more people can hate me :D

We don’t hate logic, we hate smartasses; not you BTW just saying.

 
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Being that I’m in a game design program and most the people don’t know code (just art or how to use unity’s standard assets); I would say the school’s point of view is yes. Also, in industry; the designers are a completely different branch than artists or coders. “Level Designer” for a living is exactly what it says on the tin, they make designs for levels and a lead designer for a game project isn’t necessarily it’s programmer (for a famous example, the lead designer on Super Mario Bros. was the artist); though it’s even more true now. As a game design major in college, I’m one of the few in my program that knows coding which makes me a coveted asset, though not always the lead designer, just the “implementer”.

 
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I disagree with OP here

You don’t have to know game programming or any coding to give a concept to game

Example: Imagination. Every human has an imagination of some sort. You can create a whole new imaginary world in your mind. Same idea goes along with game designment. You can create concept for your game without ever coding it by yourself. You can persuade or hire someone to follow your concept. That requires leadership, organization skills and spare time but not any knoedge of a coding.

When a game designer creates a concept for a game, (s)he expects it to be fault and bug free. Coders task is to ensure that game is bug/glich free because that’s what designer wanted. You don’t tell someone to make a faulty good to be sold. You in fact, usually want to avoid that for all costs if you’re really desired to make a productive or highly rated game

Second evidence is people’s official job might be game, website or software designer etc… If you can make valid and clear concepts as a game designer, then there shouldn’t be any problems in the final product if your coders did proper job and your team co-operated together (technological limitations as an exception). People can combine their skills which necessarily are needed to make a good game (or software, app or website). Sure, one person can possess all the necessary skills while having lots of free time, but that’s not mandatory.

If you do have all the necessary skills, LOTS of free time, then yes, you may get best possible result seeing your game is fully created according to your design. Although, sometimes it’s better to listen to other peoples opinion. Sometimes, it’s hard to make self critique without other peoples opinions, which might leave some major flaws to your game

Making a game all by yourself has it’s advantages but it also comes with a risk. Same goes with collaboration

Now, to make a good game, you also need graphics. How do you add them? Hire or recruit graphic and music artists. You can still do all the designing if you’re capability of doing that

Does knowing principles and concept of coding help you to design your games better? Not really. With that you may learn to know technological limits of game making, but the same can be achieved by playing varieties of different games with different genre for years. You study games structure while you sit back and enjoy it

TL;DR: You can always collaborate and make your collaborators to code a game accordingly to your design.

 
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It’s more than just knowing the technological limits so that you don’t do certain things, it goes both ways. A programmer knows what they can do right now and what they can’t do, and what they’re good at. A programmer might even have a few specific talents that are far beyond the average in a very specific direction and that can make all the difference when designing a game. Knowing that you have an expert in inverse kinematics, optimization, network multiplayer, voxels, procedural generation, or Ai for example gives you an edge because it allows you to design the optimal game for the talents you have to work with.

You can’t fully deal with that problem just through communication, because at a more specific level a programmer can on the fly figure in their head if it would be possible to do something simply given their current skill, or whether they would need research and practice. A programmer can vet an idea in a minute or so just by considering how they would go about implementing it off the top of their heads.

You run into the same problem with graphics and audio, but it’s not quite as pronounced unless your designs are heavy on those.

What I’m getting at is that ideally you want specialists in each field as part of the design committee, as well as at least one guy who has enough experience in all the fields to help tie things together and come up with reasonable proposals.

Unfortunately, in small teams that’s not likely and the minimal requirement is of a designer who at least knows how to program and can roughly understand the asset pipeline.

 
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Originally posted by Maik50:

TL;DR: You can always collaborate and make your collaborators to code a game accordingly to your design.

This… is not going to end well especially if you’ve never made a game before. If you’ve had a lot of experience doing game design maybe this’ll work, but for beginners? Most of their ideas are just making clones of games and adding some features that sound really, really stupid and probably won’t work.

The thing is, if you want to be pure game designer without ever doing the real work (graphic or coding) then you’ll never even get your first experience. Nobody needs a non-experienced game designer, you might as well as think of design yourself. No team will get you just so you can think of another zelda clone without experiencing the hardwork behind it.

 
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You’ve got a point, inexperienced game designers tend to only design blatant ripoff cookie cutters with stupid features that might not work at all. I should have mentioned that only experienced game designers can make their game balanced

However, I’ll still firmly stick in my thoughts that you do not necessarily need to know coding in designing games. There are various other methods of studying games mechanics, interface and reasons of popularity, most simplest of them all being playing hundreds of games with different genres. You can do this either by self studying or taking courses

I cannot deny the fact knowing how2code gives you better game design skills, it’s not just necessary if you have somehow trained yourself to design games

These noob suggesters are a whole different thing than professional or otherwise experienced game designers/researchers

 
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http://roguelikeradio.blogspot.com/2012/02/episode-23-interview-with-david-ploog.html

 
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As per the initial post: Yes and no. I think someone can have a legitimately-good design without knowing how to program. HOWEVER! The more skills you have in the field of game development (design, programming knowledge, and artistic ability in particular) the more likely it is that your end product will turn out to be exceptional vs lulzy (or not even turn out in the first place). Reasoning:

Programmer: The programmer knows what is feasible/realistic for the target platform and team size vs what is ludicrous. (as in, no flash ports of wow or skyrim clones)

Artist: The artist knows the best way to piece together the visual elements to deliver something that is not only attention-grabbing, but also attention-holding; the cut scenes, dialog segments, the actual gameplay, etc.

So yeah, while I agree that being experienced (or even semi-experieneced) as a programmer is important to being a good designer, I really do believe you need an artist’s spark as well, even if just a little bit.

I get the feeling that a lot of the “GUD IDEA GUISE” people on the collab forum are missing 2 out of these 3 dimensions, which is why their ideas are goat balls.

 
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Yes, you can!

 
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I don’t think you need to be a coder, but you need to have some sense of the technical limitations of the platform that you are designing for (whether that be pen and paper, RL collectible cards, or a computer) to ensure that your game is realistic. Everyone understands that you can’t have real time MMO with D&D in your back bedroom, but computer game designers who haven’t done coding tend to assume that anything they see in any other game can be added to theirs, which often isn’t realistic for the resources they have available.

 
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Well i deffinately a person who knows how to code. But i am 14 and i do notice things in games, like differences and likes. Well im not sure but in order to design a game you need to know how to code because an idea is an idea but designing the idea so your not the only person who sees it. So in a sense no you can not. (if i am reading in to the definition of ‘design’ correctly)

But that doesnt mean that you just because you dont know the the EXACT limits of coding, doesnt mean that you cant pitch realist ideas from past gaming experiences. I read a lot of things like people saying ‘Call of Duty+Zelda+Whatever the heckz else’. But i have ideas for games in the ‘Under Judgement’ section that i KNOW are possible because ive seen other games with the same or almost the same as my ideas. Ex; The ideas have for one of the Under Judgement games called ‘Driving Cars’. More map varieties, More cars, point/cash system to gain and unlock new cars/misc. Also make little things like (trash cans) moveable i dont want a 2 pound trash can stopping a car going 150mph. Also some buildings have like a parking garage-ish type structure so you can go inside of the bulding/structure also add pedastrians, dont need to make them have every humanly possible characteristic but people to hit/ run over. Blood should be an optional button in the options menu (or in the main menu)

Anyways (i just kinda sorta wanted to get my idea on the game out…*cough**cough*) games should not be stuff like game + game + game no. A game should be its own. If you came of the game bc you would like to see Zelda + Modern Warefare. Then thats not a good game. A game should be its own, its own ideas, of course you can inspiration here and there, and the internet is such an endless void of course there’s gunna be something like your game. But as long as you started the game idea with your own intentions ofmaking a game that you can claim your own, and not someone elses game you altered. Then thats all that matters.

 
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Well first of all find
 
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No? why do you think there is game design courses and people who specialize in game design.

 
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Originally posted by c0rupt3d_l0l:

No? why do you think there is game design courses and people who specialize in game design.

And how many of those people actually get a job as a game designer at a non-indie studio? Those courses are laughable at best. Any game studio would rather have someone who made a decent portfolio on their own accord or a Mathematics/Physics/IT graduate.

 
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First, as many of the posters before said: not knowing code isn`t the same thing as being naive. For example, I don`t know much about coding (yet), but I can still imagine it`s limitations.
After all, many people think they couldn`t understand programming because of all the code you have to learn, not because of the logic behind it. It`s like speaking a foreign language, the problem isn`t speaking itself, but learning the vocabulary.

I may be going too far, but…
It may be harder to design a game than to program it.
Really, I don`t want to degrade what programmers do. But coders and designers are not as easy to compare as you like to do.
You won`t find that many terrible programmers, because you need actual knowledge to call yourself so – while everyone can say “I have a idea for a game, now I`m a designer”. If we would actually look at the people with more than just an idea, we`ll see that even without knowledge of programming they can make great concepts.
Otherwise you could easily call somebody with a bit knowledge of HTML a coder too and say “Coders can`t design games, because this guy never made one”.
You can design a game without knowledge of coding, but can`t if you don`t know game design either.

 
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Originally posted by SniperFox:
Originally posted by c0rupt3d_l0l:

No? why do you think there is game design courses and people who specialize in game design.

And how many of those people actually get a job as a game designer at a non-indie studio? Those courses are laughable at best. Any game studio would rather have someone who made a decent portfolio on their own accord or a Mathematics/Physics/IT graduate.

Im not even going to dignify that with a response.

 
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game design is easier to learn, everyone without the imagination a tree stump can learn to do it. Programming takes more skill and difficulty and brain power, everyone with enough motivation and concentration can do it. Both are valuable. A lot of people only think they are game designers. Game designers usually know how to program. All game programmers are capable of designing a game. Not all Game designers are capable of programming a game.

Just the facts.