Game design is a fundamental part of any computer game. A game can have amazing graphics, or a brilliant storyline, but without well thought through fundamentals, it will almost definitely fall flat on its arse.
Game design is quite a loose term, but what it generally summarizes are elements to a game such as the planning of the game mechanics, scoring system, levels and generally actions taken by the player to advance through the game. These elements are also called 'Gameplay'.
It is hard to say who the leading lights of game design are, as there are many fine developers in today's industry and past times. However it is a certainty that the player is of the utmost importance to anyone designing a game. It is essentially the player that dictates what is in, and not in a game. The many different types of players we have in today's industry influence the types of games that are being developed.
All kinds of design start in one place, the human brain. Whether we are designing a chair, garage, painting or computer game, the first baby steps of design start in the head. In the games industry development within a development studio is often handed straight over to an employed 'games designer'. It is up to these people to design a gameplay that is enjoyable for the player. However, it is not always like this, some smaller games studios design their games either with a democratic studio wide approach, or by giving experienced members of staff the responsibility to make sure that the game is enjoyable.
Every game released today can generally have the gameplay dynamics traced back to a few classic games, or trends. An example of this would be to look at almost any first person shooter on the market today, and compare them to the genre classic: Doom.
There are many trends passed down the generations of computer games, of which Doom has passed down quite a few. For example, Health, Armor and ammo. These names for stats have stayed with the genre right up to the present day. Also, Red Barrels Explode in shooter games.
Doom Barrels -
Crysis barrels -
Common design principles such as these help the player recognise the genre. however is still vitally important that games are different from one another, as people can qucikly get bored of the same thing.
"Though balancing an original game is a hideous amount of work, cloning a game has its own pitfalls.
When an original game is created in an iterative fashion, each iteration builds upon the past iterations. The rules begin to support each other in subtle unexpected ways. It's almost like you are building a pyramid, with each additional level supported intimately the rules below.
When you clone a game, you look at the obvious rules of the game and implement them. However, the subtle interactions of the rules are not immediately obvious and are therefore not implemented. These interactions are lost, and the emergent gameplay is destroyed. It's as if you made a plaster cast of a digital watch, painted it exactly the same, and then wondered why it didn't tell time." - Daniel Cook
For me personally, it matters less than some. While I still enjoy playing a well thought out and fun game, I find that my deep interest in 3D causes me to analyze games. To research how the artworks were constructed, techniques used, and then download the development tools and take the game to pieces.
When playing a game, I can't help but ask myself "How could I make this better?". Or "I wonder what the texture map for that object looks like". I suppose in my circumstances, this is probably better for me, but I can't help but think my ability to blindly play and enjoy games has suffered. Though, not to suggest I don't love modding them anyhow.