Game design is the process of designing the content of a game, this could be for a board game or a video game. Obviously for the benefit of my future im going to focus on game design for video games here. Game design includes a number of core elements which include the content and rules of a game.
The design of a game will always begin with an idea but today the initial design will take the form of a game design document which will consist of the games design for use during development. The document will include things such as background, gameplay, storyline, environments and levels, characters, the rules of the game etc. These documents are extremely effective today as game studios usually have large teams working on any one game which means that as the game develops each element remains consistent with the next. Early in video game history (70's), video games sold commercially were developed on a much smaller scale and often developed by maybe only a handful of people who would take on several roles, the actual game designer would of most likely of been the lead programmer and in the case of Sid Meier, this individual sometimes made up the the entire art team as well.
Today the design document will be very concise and detailed, it will also be clear and well ordered to ensure that the whole team working on a video game know everything there is to know regarding the titles direction. The primary function of a design document is to serve as a reference or instruction manual for the development team (artists, level designers, animators etc.) so needs to be easy to read and follow and today the document will typically go into lots of detail regarding all of the key elements of the game including, objectives, level and environment design, character design including characteristics and personalities, enemies, music, graphics, narrative and gameplay etc.
So what's the difference between game design and gameplay? Well for me it seems 'game design' is everything, the hole shabang! and gameplay is an integral part of the game design, one of the 'key elements'. The actual gameplay within a game design document should detail how the player interacts with said game. There's a very fine line between the game design and the game play it seems, as gameplay would most likely be one of the largest components of a game design document, but what sets gameplay apart from the other aspects of the games design is that it describes the interactive elements of a game. Actually another word sometimes used for gameplay is game-mechanics, and it is what distinguishes a game from other non-interactive media such as books or films. Certain elements of game design may be listed under gameplay which might include reward systems, the actual interaction between the player and the environment including objects within the environment. To summarise gameplay is the overall experience of the game design.
So what makes good game design? Well I'd say that all entirely depends on the games genre, and more importantly whether the game is a new IP or a sequel and if the game is fictional or based on true events such as a sports game. Overall its the vision for the final product which is most important to me and the more detailed a games design document is the more likely that final vision is likely to be attained, but this would also be affected by the size and skills of the team working on an individual game.
So were do I stand as a video game artist within the game design? Personally I feel I play a huge role, and not only within the games industry but in any. The actual artistic approach with anything will always play a vital role in the interaction of the viewer and the subject, ie; the gamer and the game. The artistic approach of a game is needed not only to make levels and characters, but to convey emotions and feelings. I'd like to think that any artistic role should be creative and within the game's industry it is the artists job to create what a game designer can only put into words as best as possible in relation the designer/ designers vision.
SO just to keep you happy Mike, is FEAR greatly different to Pac-Man? There are so many answers and all of them are right I'd say, if you pull back the curtains then the two games would appear very similar, particularly in terms of gameplay and objectives, you run away from enemies through corridors which is meant to be quick, jumpy, and increase suspense but newer technology means that FEAR is more interactive and therefore provides a greater experience for the gamer than that of Pac-Man.