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Ask the Experts: How to Practice Game Design (On The Cheap)

One 13-year old reader asks whether it’s worthwhile to make ‘just the rough paperwork’ of a game, rather than build a full video game. GameCareerGuide.com’s
May 05, 2008
In the latest ‘Ask the Experts’ advice column on GameCareerGuide.com, Jill Duffy has advice for the young and underfunded about how to can start practicing game design skills -- with no money down! Gamasutra is also running this breaking-in column. For more information about getting into the game industry, see GameCareerGuide.com’s Getting Started section. Dear Experts, I am seriously interested in creating a game, and by that I mean just the rough paperwork, not the actual game considering that I’m young (13). If I spend a couple of months looking at other games and finding what’s good and bad and applying that to my ideas will I get anywhere? If my ideas are good where should I go to present my idea? Or where should I start to create the game? I appreciate the advice. Thanks, Kam Dear Kam, You are on the right track. If you’re young, inexperienced, or underfunded (or all three), there is a way you can start working on your game designer finesse. The secret? Old-fashioned games. Making non-electronic games is a great way to practice being a game designer. You can make paper-based games, card games, dice games, ball games or other outdoor games (like variations on tag), or board games. The barriers of entry are so low, they’re almost non-existent: low cost, low tech, low resources commitment. What is the value of making a paper-based game? Any game design student will tell you that there are certain elements of game-making that you can’t wrap your head around until you try them out. Working by trial-and-error -- by building prototypes and play testing -- is one of the primary ways game designers test out their ideas. It doesn’t matter if these prototypes are on paper or on a computer monitor. Another added benefit of making paper-base games, especially while at the young age of 13, is that it will give you a starting point for your future portfolio. You asked where you might present your ideas – the answer is that for now, you probably won’t present them at all. But once you’ve developed a few paper games and prototypes (remember game designers need to have hundreds of great ideas to work in this business, not just one or two), you can use them to start a portfolio. A portfolio is simply a collection of you work. You’ve probably heard the term used by artists or even investors (as in “financial portfolio”), but it applies to game design, too. Brenda Brathwaite, a game industry veteran who now teaches game design at Savannah College of Art and Design, wrote an article for this site called “The Game Design Portfolio: Is There Such a Thing?” In it, she explains what the game design portfolio is and what kinds of things can go into it. She wholeheartedly advocates having paper-based games in the portfolio. But she cautions against including design documents, as they tend to be too long and too stagnant to really show your strengths as a game designer. “Game design is an interactive medium,” she says, “and you can’t judge the value of that medium unless it’s in motion.” Some of her students actually sent me a postmortem of a board game they made called Rats! Read it to get an idea of what actually goes into making a board game, as well as to prepare yourself for some of the likely pitfalls you’ll face along the way. When you’re ready to move into the electronic realm, you might have the best chances of success if you start by porting one of your tried-and-true paper games into an electronic medium. That way you can focus on the more technical stuff and not worry as much about the game design aspects, as you will have already worked through many of those issues. Good luck! [Jill Duffy is editor of GameCareerGuide.com and senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine. She believes in the power of non-electronic games and would love to find some old ladies to teach her to play bridge or canasta, but preferably bridge. If you have a question about the video game industry or game development education, send it to theexperts(at)gamecareerguide.com. Please note that GameCareerGuide.com does not endorse specific educational institutions or programs.]

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