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  • How to Start Making Games

    [04.17.14]
    - James Cox

  • The advice:

    Make games. It is as simple as that. To break it down further:

    • Yes, you can code. Sit down and watch tutorials. Take in what they say and implement it yourself. Reinforce the tutorials by completing other tutorials of the same game. It seems that many not-yet-designers and not-yet-developers believe that they simply can go from school, or their current job, to a top game company; zero games under their belt to working on the next big thing. That rarely happens, and you're not the exception. You need to practice and learn. Take that first step and mess around in GameMaker. You can download a free version from their site, and it's really not hard. It just takes time.
    • Yes, you have time. If you're doing well enough on Maslow's hierarchy of needs (I'd say somewhere above the red), then you don't have any excuses. Its simply a matter of what you value higher. If you'd rather join friends in a cross country trek, go for it! It sounds like a great time and I wish I could come. Just don't tell anyone that you don't have time to make games. Same idea applies to social gatherings, TV, movies, the Internet, and, most of all, playing games: if you have time to spend on those, you have time to make games. To go a bit further, if you really want to make games, you should perpetually be making games. Any free time you have should be devoted to games (within reason of course, I wouldn't skip a wedding or funeral to make games. That's just silly and alienating).
    • Your idea is too big. Throw it out. You're not going to make the next Bioshock or Portal or Mass Effect. Even when you're good enough to be on a team to make such a game, the team is making the game. Not you. As such, your first game ideas should be about 15 minutes of play time or less. This is also a good way to power through many different games. Ones that you can learn something new from each time, and ones that you can put online and get feedback on. If you spend a year on a large project that ends up being scrapped. That's demoralizing and a year you just lost. You may have learned things from it, but there probably won't be anything to show.
    • Your game is too feature heavy; prune it. Making games are like constructing arguments. Only the best and most important points should remain. If your game is about the anxiety of being a pre-treen, then allowing the player to pick out what clothes they wear would fit the theme (you don't want to get bullied in school for your outfit, do you?) but I would find it hard to merit this game having achievements or leader boards. Those would undercut the significance of the player's choices in game and refocus their play to racking up points.
    • Throw out your first five ideas. I'd feel bad if I said "Don't even write them down," so I guess you can do that. Just make sure to hide the paper somewhere you can't find it. Your first five ideas for any central game topic will be the same ones everyone else is coming up with. It probably will look a lot like games already out there. Not that Mario-clones aren't useful or good in their own right, but it is a surefire way to blend into the crowd.
    • Find your voice. Much like writing or film making or any other medium, everyone has their own unique voice; their own style. While making games you learn about yourself, what kind of games feel good to make, what art you like to use, and what mechanics and themes you revisit. This will also help you stand out and become unique.
    • It takes time. You'll need to spend a lot of time working on your craft. Be sure to make friends along the way. Find communities of people that fit your style and speed and talk with them, and once you're comfortable enough, even collaborate with them. When I wrote this, I was about 2.5 years in and, even now, I still have a lot to learn.
    • Do it for you. If you want to make games, you should enjoy making games. This shouldn't be a painful process and don't expect anything from it besides bettering yourself. Plus, in the case of turning it into a career, no matter what area of game making you want to end up doing, having a general well rounded sense of all the elements that go into games will prove to be extraordinarily helpful (its easier to talk to a graphic designer if you know how .gifs and images work within the code). And if you find the process of game making to be too tedious, boring, or painful, then maybe making games isn't for you.

    That's about it, I think. Even though others told me the same advice here and there, I had to learn it the hard way over the course of three years. I'm sure some of it won't sink in for others until they learn it first hand as well. But maybe someone might find this useful! And that would be splendid.

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