Sophia George on designing games

Sophia George on designing games

By Rachel Segal-Hamilton 01/08/14

At just 23, games designer Sophia George has already won a BAFTA, set up her own company and spent the past year as the V&A’s games-designer-in-residence. Ahead of this year’s Dare ProtoPlay, she talks to us about the process of making a game...

Games design is something I’ve always wanted to do. I did a BA in Games Art & Design and then an MProf in Games Development. When I was doing my A-levels, some of my teachers did say maybe it’s worth doing a more general art course but there’s a difference between painting a picture and painting something for a game. So I thought, I’ll go for this; if I don’t end up doing games I’ll still have artistic skills that will carry across to other jobs. 

I won a BAFTA with my company, Swallowtail, for our game, Tick Tock Toys. At Abertay, where I did my MProf, they have a competition called Dare to be Digital. You apply with your game idea and a few bits of artwork and 15 teams are chosen to make their games. The three overall winners get nominated for the BAFTA. It’s all students or recent graduates.


Coming up with ideas for games is like coming up with ideas for anything. For me, it always starts on paper. I do mock-up screenshots to see how it would look, then start building a prototype with a programmer. You put in placeholder artwork so you can see how it’s all going to work, then you keep polishing it and the programmer tweaks the mechanics until it feels right. 

When I made Tick Tock Toys I began by thinking about the mechanics. I want this to move to here, with these things happening, but Strawberry Thief - the game I’m working on now - is inspired by the V&A so that started with a picture. Sometimes I think of a character and then fit a game around it.


Work-in-progress image of Strawberry Thief

In a small games team you have programmers, who do coding, and artists. You can get lots of different types of games artists: concept artists, 2D artists, animators or 3D artists, depending on the type of game. I work as a games designer and art director. In a bigger studio you’d also have producers to keep everyone on track.

There’s also audio to consider. It has to fit. When I was making Tick Tock Toys we went out and bought some toy xylophones so it sounded really playful. For Strawberry Thief, I’m working with the Royal National Scottish Orchestra because I want that classical feel to the game.

It can be hard to get funding for games. A lot of my friends do contract work making little games for clients, while working on their own projects. They could be anything: someone wanting an app for an event or companies making games for bigger companies like Moshi Monsters, say.

Distribution is a lot easier than it used to be. Ten years ago, if you wanted to make a game you’d have to have it printed on a CD and sold in shops. These days you can self-publish through the app store or the Android store. There’s also Steam, which is a PC gaming store, and some people just release games through their websites. Obviously the problem then is discoverability. 

I’m making my game with a programme called Unity. You can download it for free if you want to play around with it. I work on a Mac and use a Wacom tablet for drawing. All the other residents at the V&A have to spend money on getting clay or getting fabric but I can just sit at my laptop.

Being at the V&A, there were miles of galleries to be inspired by. Part of my brief was to look at the Britain 1500 to 1900 gallery. I got interested in William Morris; I really liked his pattern called Strawberry Thief.

I redrew the pattern in Photoshop but took out the birds and strawberries. Now you’re actually painting the pattern onto a piece of paper. You use the bird to draw a line and then put down colour and detail.

A game designer needs to be good at communication. I’ll have long discussions with the programmer and write up documents about how I want the game to be, with diagrams and sketches to illustrate what happens.

Anyone can start making games, at any point. Download some free programmes. For beginners, I’d recommend Game Maker or Game Salad. They’re great for artists because there’s not too much programming and they’re really visual. Start off making something small, like Space Invaders, but give it your own artistic flair. Once you have the skills, you can make whatever you want.


Dare ProtoPlay is free and open from 10am, Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 August, in Caird Hall and City Square, Dundee.

Photo courtesy of Abertay University.

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