Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How Do You Make Video Games?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 12, 2015

The first video games I played did not “hook” me. I mean, I liked ’em, sure. But they didn’t create the passion in me about the medium. That came later. A year or so later. There are a lot of circumstances that could be blamed, but somehow I caught the vision: Imaginary worlds in a computer. Anything was possible. WOW.

Somehow, that translated almost immediately to the idea of making these games. I dunno, I guess the fun of games always came down to a creative desire in me. But I couldn’t comprehend the process that would go into making a game. Computers still sounded alien and futuristic to me. I imagined describing the look and the behavior of this ships to a computer a la Star Trek, with me correcting miraculous assumptions the computer would make when I tried to explain what the triangular space ship from Asteroids would look like.

The funny thing was, I knew my idea was far-fetched, but even funnier was how on some levels, I wasn’t as far off as I thought.

Back then, the Internet was not an easily accessible place overflowing with good and bad information. Back then, even programmable computers were something of a rarity. The information was out there, but you had to physically hunt for it. Hit bookstores and libraries. Pay some money. Take some missteps.

Today – well, today it’s almost ludicrously easy. Thus the overflowing quantity of video games, actually. Finding the information is easy – and free. The tools you need are likewise cheap to free. The only thing that’s really hard is making the game (and it’s a lot easier than it used to be).

And how do you learn how to make a video game? It sounds like circular logic, but it’s by making video games. It’s a lot like learning to play a musical instrument – you need some basic instruction to get started, and can definitely use help and feedback as you go, but you learn by doing. You start simple, you start rough, and you practice. Plain and simple.

So where do you start? How do you get that initial instruction?

Pick a cheap tool that takes you in the direction you want to go that comes with decent documentation, support, and tutorials, and then follow the tutorials. Seriously. Yeah, this may require some homework on your part to find the game engine / system / API that’s “right” for you. That’s easier than what we had to deal with back then.

Back in the day, we’d just type in the code from our books and magazines and hope everything ran in the end. Nowadays, this is done by following the tutorials. But it’s the same kind of process, and we all went through it. Yeah, all you are doing is repeating someone’s steps to make a game. But that’s how you learn.

From there – you make small changes. Tweaks. Change a few small things, maybe a few big things, and see how it’s done. Then you follow another tutorial. Or you try something different, following the pattern you just learned. Rinse, repeat, until you are finally doing all your own stuff.

That’s how we learn. And yeah, it sounds boring. And yeah, there’s nothing revelatory here. What, did you think my advice would be some bolt of lightning that contracted human nature and learning in all fell swoop? No, it’s boringly traditional, but it’s how things have always worked, even before “high tech” was about making fire.

If you find that the tool you chose isn’t doing what you thought it would — choose another one. Nobody’s chaining you to it. I mean, these days, you can get Game Maker Studio, Unity 3D, Unreal, and a dozen other game engines for frickin’ free, and you can make decent, even commercial games out of any of ’em. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you start down the “wrong” path, you’ve really lost nothing. Not even your time… you are still learning, remember? And the knowledge you’ve gained learning to make games far outweighs the no-longer useful knowledge of the specifics of a particular tool / language / SDK / engine / platform.

Trust me. My brain still has a bunch of information about how to code for the original Sony Playstation, the Commodore 64, the Sega Dreamcast, and DirectX 7. While I doubt those particular skillsets will ever be of direct value again, what I learned making games for those obsolete technologies is a much bigger deal, and is with me still. The principles persist – and improve / grow deeper – even if the details keep shifting around.

So don’t get bogged down in analysis paralysis. Don’t agonize for months over which engine you should go with (in that time, you could have written one game in each of them!). And don’t go out on the game dev forums asking incredibly general “how do I make my game?” questions that really come down to requests for someone else to make your game for you. Nobody else really could even if they wanted to.

It’s all down to you, and you knuckling down and getting to work.

If you really are a game developer at heart, it’ll be some of the most fun you’ll have ‘working’ in your life.

Filed Under: Game Development - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Cuthalion said,

    I also almost immediately translated my enthusiasm for playing games into a need to make them. I’ve needed to make video games since I was like 10. Other things I enjoy doing don’t quite have the same persistent, glowy, slowly pulsating draw. (Except tabletop RPGs, apparently.)