- This is just in my own experience.
- This sort of career really is a lifestyle.
- This is just general advice for Programmers, Artists and Designers.
- This is from the point of view of an “Indie” developer without joining a company.
- I am very much still learning.
“Making a game is like having a girlfriend, and making a game AND having a girlfriend is like having two girlfriends” – Peter Moorhead
When I started to make games I thought it would be so easy. I had the idea, I had the tools, what could possible go wrong? The problem is I had all of these ideas that I thought would make fantastic games but very little experience in what actually makes a good game, sure I can play them but would it be fun?
When you are developing your own games, time is your enemy. No matter how much time you think a project will take, times it by four and you might be close. Originally when I started development on FaceAche I had planned for it to take two weeks, but as with most projects it suffered from project lag along with being interrupted by external projects. But this is something you learn to gauge the longer you spend developing things, you learn where the choke-points are and how to avoid them as best you can.
No matter the project, you will be sacrificing money for it. You may think “Oh but I’m using free software, free this, free that.”, Well yes, but for every hour you are working on your project, you are losing income if you were to have a “Real” job.
Failure – It’s not so bad.
When you “Fail” at making a game, it’s not the end of the world. You should ask yourself:
- What went wrong?
- Why didn’t it work?
- What could you change?
Start from square one and finish that game. Which leads me to the next point.
Finishing projects is a skill like any other.
You have to learn not to give up on projects regardless of how much you don’t want to work on them. If you can finish something you’ve grown to hate, you can finish anything.
Only if the project is beyond saving should you drop it completely and start over. I am the worst person for this, I used to just get to a point that I couldn’t work around, or people bail from the project and I become unmotivated then the project falls over. Stick with it, it gets better.
Making games with the intention of just making money. Bad.
Money complicates things, if you just want to make money from your game you will end up with a half-working game with features and adverts that just gain revenue. Players can sense when they are being farmed, and they will not stay (With the exception of players of some Facebook games, though that can be down to a bunch of other things like addictive mechanics). Why compromise what could possibly be a great, interesting game with in-game mechanics just designed to drag the player into spending money.
So, now I’ve got some of the downsides out-of-the-way. We can start making games! But what sort of games should we make you say?
Small games are the best kind.
Small games let you try out a game style, genre or just a technique without investing yourself too much in it. They generally don’t take very long to finish either which can free you up for more projects.
Game Jams, Go to them.
This is a huge point, go to game jams. They vary from event to event, but they are the best way to learn how to quickly make games. You generally are given a very short deadline between 3 and 24 hours to create a game. They generally run over a weekend or 3 days so there is a huge amount of games pumped out in a very short amount of time.
Another thing is the atmosphere, you meet people with the same passion as you and it really helps to be able to bounce ideas off one another.
It could be a bad game, it’s still a game!
Regardless if the game runs at 10 frame’s per second and the main character can’t shoot to save his life. It doesn’t matter, you’ve completed a game that you designed. Enjoy it, heck burn a copy off and frame it! Once your done doing that, make your next game better using the knowledge you gained from the first game.
Push yourself, don’t stay still.
If you stay still in anything, you get used to it. Constantly explore new technologies, new styles, new ideas. If you don’t like them you can always go back, but if you get stuck in a certain way of doing things you can easily miss out of more interesting ideas. This is a creative industry after all, be creative!
Building on your experience, your second game!
Before starting another game, take a look at your first.
- What worked?
- What didn’t?
- What did you struggle with?
- What did you find easy?
Think about a game idea that can encompass everything you learnt from your first game, try to reuse assets from the first game too if possible as it will reduce the total development time down.
Prototyping, make sure it feels right before investing too much time.
How do you prototype a game? Well it varies really, some people use paper prototyping where they design the game on paper and literally play it in real life, some people act out the game (I love doing this at game jam’s) and others make it into a board game first. I have heard of may other ways of doing it, but they don’t generally fit into most game ideas. Regardless, make sure you prototype your games!
You may want to make a game that involves a weird mechanic that you aren’t sure will work, sure! Go for it, I encourage crazy ideas as they are generally the most interesting. Just make sure they work in theory.
If you are working in a team, a prototype helps to get everyone on the same page. Explaining an idea only goes so far and having a solid understanding of what they are making within a team can help avoid a lot of problems later on.
Keep a notebook with you.
You never know when you might have a flash of inspiration or an idea that you think would be perfect for a game. I recommend keeping a notebook / sketch pad with you at all times to make sure you get that idea written down before you forget (You always forget regardless of how good your memory is!)
Networking, meet as many people as possible!
In the general sense of things, networking is all about meeting people with similar interests. Go to events around your area (Or set on up if there isn’t any!) and meet the local developers / artists. It ‘s a great place to share war-stories (its dangerous developing games you know..) along with any tip’s / tricks to give your game the little edge its been lacking (Don’t steal idea’s though, that’s bad.)
Building your team
One great thing about networking is that you meet people in the same situation, why not combine forces to create awesome games? You will both learn from each other and both walk away with a game if you stick to it. Regardless of what you believe your skill level is, you should try to work with as many people as possible to help advance your knowledge.
Some free events
I’ve been heading down to London Indies each month now for about 5 months, each time it’s been a great laugh and I’ve always met interesting people. It’s based in a pub so that means alcohol plus it is a bunch of game developers so you can expect to end up playing prototypes of people games (Which are always awesome and inspiring to see!) along with even playing the occasional game of Ninja!
Do you make games in Unity? Are you based in London? Would you like to learn how to make games in Unity? Then head down to the LUUG, there are presentations, awesome demonstrations and some inspirational talks there. Not to mention afterwards everyone head’s down to a local bar to continue talking to the early hours of the morning.
There are plenty more events out there, but these two I can personally say that they are great places to meet like-minded people and share great ideas.
Lastly, If you don’t have Twitter yet, get it.
Why? Because 90% of the developers I have met use it every day. You can throw idea’s out there and people will reply, this article for example was contributed to by various tweeter’s. The community is very helpful to anyone who ask’s nicely!
I hope this article can help some people, if not then I apologise! If you feel that you can add to it, please let me know too! Feel free to link to any relevant articles in the comments below.
Advice from other developers
”Make games and talk to people. Basically all it comes down to.” - George Buckenham @v21
“With the barriers to making games now so low – you need to have some games you’ve made in your spare time in your portfolio complete, polished games. Demos and prototypes are not really good enough because you’ve not seen it through to the end. Get involved in community stuff; usergroups, conferences, meetups, jams, competitions. We all have enthusiasm for games, you need to show you have enthusiasm to MAKE games being proactive is key, it’s what makes you better than rest.” - Jasper Stocker
“Do your own thing. Don’t think you have to do what everyone else does.” - Jacob White
“Finish what you start. Even deciding to abandon a failing project is an ‘end.’” - Zayne Black
“Never be afraid to dive in and actually MAKE something instead of just talking about it – I learned that this weekend!” - Hannah @hannardynamite
- Make games. Are talking about making games? That’s not making games. Are you planning to make games?
- You still aren’t making games. Start making them. NOW
- Finish the games you make. A finished project, which works and is polished to perfection, is worth a lot more than a 90%-complete
- project. Finish your stuff, even if it’s hard.
- Have a web-presence in form of a website/blog. People need to find you should the need arise. Post your stuff on there, so potential employers can immediately see your skills. Have a twitter-account, so that like-minded people can easily contact you.
- Be nice to your fellow Indies. Don’t enter a competition and get angry when you aren’t immediately showered in praise & glory.
- Stick to your speciality. If you can draw, build a game around a lot of pictures. If you can write, make a compelling story. You don’t need to learn animations if you are horrible at it.
- Chose a tool/environment and stick to it. Your accumulated skills in Program A may translate only poorly to Program B. So stick to one and become a master, be it Game Maker, Unity, Blitz or any other tool.
- Don’t spend your time writing game-design-documents. Compared to an actual game they are worthless.
- When making your first game, start small. Make something that can be made from in a few days to weeks. Don’t spend 5 years on your first game, which might very well be horrible. You can learn a lot more from creating 10 small games than 1 big game.
- Get inspiration from everywhere, but avoid getting it primarily from games. A game inspired by Man With Gun 23 will be boring, a game inspired by 16th century danish flower-culture will be unique.
- Remember, you can do ANYTHING. You can make a game about monocled Victorian robots fighting white blood cells. You can make a game about controlling a giant French chef in space through nuclear detonations. Why would you even want to make a rip-off of a tower-defence-game?
- When thinking about games, don’t start with “It’s like game X”. Once you do that the rest of the process will subconsciously be influenced by Game X.
- Forget genres. Once you say “It’s a FPS” you cut off hundreds of possible directions your game could evolve.
- When brainstorming, toss out your first 5 ideas. They suck. Everybody will think of them. After they’re gone, you can start getting creative.
- If an idea doesn’t work, trash it. There’s no point hanging onto something that’s broken.
- Your first game will suck. Start another one, immediately. Perhaps that one will fail too. On to the next. You will learn, and you will improve, until you are awesome.