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  • A Beginner's Guide To Making Your Own Games

    [07.28.20]
    - Joey Heinze

  • 3. Start with your first projects

    Before you start working on your personal dream project you need to learn to work with an engine. The best and fastest way is to pick one of the previously mentioned engines and follow a few tutorials. 

    You will get practice in working with the engine which improves your workflow. You will learn important terminology and you will learn how to create certain features that can be used for later projects as well. In addition, following these tutorials will get you working results relatively fast which keeps up the motivation. 

    In the beginning, it is also totally fine to just follow and copy what you see in the tutorials. With time you will get more confident and can start trying out your own ideas. Once you think you have watched enough videos, you should start trying to copy existing games with what you have learned. But don't overdo it. Take old arcade games, try to copy them, and give them your own spin. The important part about this practice is that you consolidate what you have learned and that you get a better feeling for how much work it actually is to create a game. Especially the last part is important because underestimating the amount of work needed for a game is a common problem in game development. Your goal should be to get familiar with the engine and learn how to create basic mechanics so that you are able to create your own project.

    4. The basics of game development

    So you feel confident enough to start with your own game? That's great! But keep your idea that you have (hopefully) written down in the first section in a drawer for a second. Before you go on your journey I want to give a short lecture on the process of video game production. It sounds boring, and to be fair, it kinda is, but it is also important to know the fundamentals of game development. This will help you with finding the right idea, setting up a plan, and following through up until the end of the production. I try to keep it as short as possible. After all, you don't need to know every single detail right now.

    4.1 Pre-Production

    • Think of an idea
    • Try it out
    • Keep changing it and testing it until it seems good enough.

    "That is exactly what real game designers do", writes Jesse Schell in his book The Art of Game Design. So let's start with finding ideas. 

    Often someone gets inspired by other games. But it's possible to find inspiration in all sorts of things, even just by taking a walk through a forest. Whenever something pops into your mind write it down somewhere. This is important because you might get more ideas while you are writing and you make sure that you won't forget it. It also frees up your mind for new thoughts. Another common approach to coming up with ideas is brainstorming. There are different ways of doing it but in case you are not familiar with this method, it works in general by choosing a specific topic and then just writing down everything that comes to mind. The results don't even need to make sense but they often give you new ideas. You can also do this together with other people. That is usually more fun as well and leads to unexpected ideas because every person thinks differently.

    If you found your idea the next step is to start working on a prototype in your engine of choice. Depending on the idea you have, this prototype might only cover the core gameplay loop to see if it is fun to play, but it can also be a prototype made to test a certain feature. Maybe you want to have procedurally generated levels but you are not sure yet how this will work out in-game. Whatever it is, prototypes are there to answer questions and to solve problems. If you spend time on making a prototype, it should serve a purpose. And ending up with something that is not fun or does not work is still a win because you don't waste time to keep working on that project. 

    You got your idea and prototype, but there is still something missing to start working: documentation and planning. Unfortunately, these two are the most boring parts but they are also quite important. In the end, it is up to you, but especially if your project is going to take longer than a few days you should take some time to prepare documents and create a plan. 

    There are a few different types of documents that are important in a production. The most common document and also the most important one is the game design document (GDD). It contains all the mechanics of your game with a description of how they work. Changes and iterations of your game should also be applied to your GDD. Always keep it updated so that you keep track of your work.

    Another benefit of writing everything down is that you may already spot flaws and possible issues in your design. It also helps with answering open questions of your ideas because now is the time you should explain the mechanics in detail so that another person could understand it as well. Documents are also a form of communication and if you are working together with other people it is important that everyone has the same understanding of what is written down. Other documents that might be interesting are the technical design document, the art bible, and a document for the story. But again, you have to decide for yourself if these (or more) are needed for your type of project. 

    The next step is planning. If you are working on a project just for yourself you don't really have a deadline. You can take as much time for the game as you like. But that is not necessarily a good thing. The idea of this guide is to get you into making games but also finishing them at some point. Without a deadline, it is likely that your project will go on forever (depending on the scope) or that you will abandon it at some point. Especially if you are a perfectionist you will never come to an end. Therefore I suggest you set yourself a deadline and make a proper plan that you try to follow. And now the reason why I told you in the beginning that your idea might not be the best for your current situation. A lot of people, especially the ones without experience, tend to have ideas with a scope that is way too big. Now that you have to create a plan, you should evaluate if that idea you have is still something you can manage to do in a reasonable amount of time. 

    If you know what you want to do then it is time to start writing down your plan. How detailed your plan should be is up to you. I advise you to list up every single task that needs to be done and try to estimate how much time it is going to take you to finish that task. From there you could set yourself a deadline. Always put in some extra time because a project never goes as planned. After you have written down all your tasks (that is now your backlog) it is a good idea to sort them after priority. There is a method called MoSCoW which basically means that you sort your tasks after the following factors:

    (M)ust have

    The tasks that definitely need to be done in order to finish the project. These tasks are essential.

    (S)hould have

    Tasks that should be done after the important features have been implemented. They don't break your game if they are missing but they significantly improve it.

    (C)ould have

    Features that are nice to have but won't be missed if they are not there. 

    (W)on't have

    Features that are probably not going to end up in your game. 

    With proper planning, you are good to go. However, game development is a creative and iterative process. This means that your plan, as good and detailed it might be, is not going the way it is written down. That does not mean your plan is bad or that you are bad at planning. It is more like once you start working, you will notice that some features might not work out in the way you have thought. Or you will get an idea for a new feature that will greatly improve your game. Or life comes in and demands your attention. If those things happen (and they will) then update your planning. It is totally fine to move features around in your backlog and give them new priorities. Or maybe you really just need one more week to get this one important feature working. In the end, it is your project and your plan. Just try to be reasonable. 

    4.2 Production

    Now that the boring stuff is out of the way it is time to start working on the project itself. In the production phase, all the assets are created and the game is put together. Writing code, building levels, creating animations, designing the UI, etc. Everything the game consists of is produced during this phase. 

    At different points during your production, you should try to get feedback by letting other people test your game. Doing proper testing can actually be quite complex, but a good rule of thumb is to get people involved that you think would enjoy the type of game you are making. The reason for this should be obvious. A person who likes to play strategy games but has to test a racing game might criticize things that are usually totally fine for racing games. So that result is not really helpful and in the worst case, it can lead to wrong conclusions and decisions. But even if you cannot find people of your target group for testing it is still possible to get feedback from other players. Just ask the right questions and maybe focus on other parts of your game than the gameplay. Important is that you let other people play your game. Most of the time you can already spot issues just by watching somebody else playing. In addition, it might be refreshing to get input from the outside. Working for a long time alone on a project makes you lose your clear view of the game. 

    4.3 Post-Production

    In today's times, it is common practice to keep releasing updates for a game even after its launch. These updates can be patches that fix some bugs or they add more content to the game. But if you are not working on a commercial game then I assume you will just move on to the next project if you are done.

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