Digital Animation and Game Design Are Vastly Different

Although animators are often linked to video game design, the two jobs are completely different. Both career paths require different skills so it’s important to understand the differences before committing to a single path. It is really important that you choose the path that matches your natural skillset.

The best way to see the difference between animation and game design is by looking at each of the two tasks in more detail.

Defining Game Design

Game design is the process of designing the entire game – most notably, its storyline and gameplay style. There are teams of designers that work on a game, each one focused on a specific aspect. Yes, one of these teams will focus on animation but that doesn’t automatically label it as game design.

Game design is an on-going project from start to finish, taking the game all of the way through to completion.  Design is focused on the overall playing experience including storyline and how responsive the buttons should be. Animation is just one aspect of game design.

Defining Animation

Animators are responsible for all forms of animation. They extend well beyond mere video game design, although game design companies will have an in-house team of animation specialists. With animation, we take a static object, idea, and overall concept and apply specific techniques to create movement in the desired way.

With video games, animators will make characters walk/run, create gestures when they speak, and ensure that all of this movement is fluent within the game atmosphere. They are not responsible for storyline or gameplay elements aside from the movement of characters.

Animation is one of the most important aspects of game design because it ensures that the world behaves in the way a player expects. Game designers are often the overseers of animators.

Two Completely Different Career Paths

The career paths for animation and game design are so similar, that it’s easy to see why so many people link to two together. An example of both career paths is:

  • Education
  • Internship/Junior level
  • Team Member
  • Senior

Both animators and game designers might follow that same path. They might even become project leaders but that doesn’t necessarily make them game designers.

Let’s look at a quick example of a popular video game that most of you will probably know. This will show us the difference between the two elements.

Game: Super Mario Brothers

Game Design: All levels are designed by teams of game designers. This includes the character models, level models, layout, dialogue, and backgrounds.

Animation: A team of animators are responsible for ensuring that Mario moves fluidly through the level, jumps appropriately, and that enemies all follow their patterns.

Different Educational Requirements

Game design requires a completely different level of education than an animator. Designers are going to learn about game mechanics and player interaction while animators will need more of a technical understanding. Animation is a much more technical skill so if you’re planning to get into animation, then you need to be technologically savvy.

It’s not like it was in the older days when all animation was done on paper. Highly technical programs are used for animation in today’s world, especially with the emergence of virtual reality.

Game design is more creative in nature, focusing on the creative aspects of video games. If you enjoy storytelling and playing video games in general, then you would be better suited for game design.

The bottom line is that the difference between animation and design comes down to creativity versus technical. We could probably program Artificial Intelligence to do a lot of the animations for video games, but design requires creative thought.