8 min read

Game Dev Therapy: Advice For Aspiring Developers

So you want to get started making your own video games, eh? Well there’s a few things that you should know before you dive headfirst into what is a vast and deep ocean of possibilities. Let this article, along with our advice compilation video, guide you.
Game Dev Therapy: Advice For Aspiring Developers

So you want to get started making your own video games, eh? Well there’s a few things that you should know before you dive headfirst into what is a vast and deep ocean of possibilities. Let this article, along with our advice compilation video, guide you on the path to your first complete project!

Press Start

It all begins with a straight talk with yourself: what kind of games do I want to make? Do I want to try to make this my job or do I simply want to be a hobbyist developer? When I say “video games”, what do I mean? Do I mean first person shooters, platformers, role playing games, racing games, real time strategy (and so on...)? Do I picture playing my own game on a television with a controller (it is still a very difficult task to get a game onto your console), or on your computer?

I know it seems like a lot of questions, but really preparing yourself for what you are going to create is crucial to video game development. Here at design3 we’ve polled dozens of developers from many different parts of the game industry, and generally it is agreed that for various reasons, many people get discouraged at some point in development and don’t see their project through to completion. The questions posed in the previous paragraph should help get you ready for these frustration points.

For example, imagine yourself wanting to make an Xbox Live Arcade game, spending time doing art, concepts, planning levels, getting friends involved and then realizing that your chances of getting on XBLA are very slim. A simple realization like that could very well spell the end for your project if you’re not emotionally prepared for the hurdles you’re inevitably going to encounter. Don’t worry though, this article, in tandem with your own research and the videos listed below, will help get you in an optimistic mindset and beat those gamedev blues!

Start Making Games ASAP!
Now that you’ve been bummed out a little bit, it’s time to get back into the fun of videogame development. You are looking to make games at a point when development is the most accessible it’s ever been; 3D engines like Unity and UDK are available to everyone, web and mobile games are comparable to high end console titles from 8 years ago, and innumerable resources are available all over the internet. Keep your mind open, examine the features in each tool, and weigh which options will work best for your concept. Also be sure to check out what kind of games are already being developed for each platform; you may not imagine using an engine like Unity for the 2D sidescroller you’ve got in mind, but with a cheap sprite extension you might find the workflow more enjoyable than traditional tile-based methods.

The main point in getting started is developing a desire to “mess with things”; check out example projects, start off on some tutorials, bring a texture or tile into the engine and get it working, and so on. The game creation tools of 2012 and beyond are so easy to use that development can almost feel like a game in itself, which is also an extremely helpful way to keep motivated. Many of the developers we’ve interviewed, when asked for advice, quite simply say “do it, make videogames”, so if you haven’t actually opened up some software and poked around, you need to as soon as possible. Another great way to get into full-on videogame creation is to start with modding; consider your concept and determine whether or not you truly need to reinvent the wheel so to speak. If you’re picturing a first person shooter set on an abandoned space ship, starting with some prefabs in UDK might be your best bet; similarly, if you want to make a 3D RPG, I can confidently say that starting from the ground up is not your best option.

Scope It Out
This brings us to another highly critical part of making your own videogames, which involves successfully finishing your projects. Setting the scope of your project can make a world of difference, and is crucial to finishing your first game (which is really important, as almost no one wants to play an unfinished game). This is resoundingly pointed out during interviews about game development, and reveals a pretty big difference between making videogames and making other kinds of digital media. For example, an unfinished song might still be enjoyable and catchy, and will definitely never crash during playback; a videogame, on the other hand, is fundamentally more complicated due to interactivity. This means that you could have 99% of the game done, but a single error in one line of code might cause it to crash on half the computers that try to run it.

It is for this reason that game developers often claim that the last 10% of making a game is as much work and stress as the first 90%; it’s also a great reason to keep the scope of your first projects small. This doesn’t mean only 10 levels in your means get one environment working, get basic statistics working, get your animations functioning, and then get that running as a contained prototype. Declare your first small project done, then decide whether or not to build upon that idea or try a completely new project (which should be fully finished and self-contained before moving on to the next). Keeping the development times down help you to use the lessons you’ve learned more effectively, rather than working on something for 2 years and wishing you’d switched the project to a 3D engine, for example.

There’s Not Necessarily An ‘I’ In Gamedev
Another important part of the evolution of game development is the strong support of collaborative development, made possible by everyone’s favorite invention: the internet! Sites like IndieDB and our own design3 Community allow for development teams that span multiple continents, which can make your game a lot more detailed and also help greatly with motivation. Even if you’re working on your own game, you should really take advantage of the communities of developers available online, as they can offer invaluable support, give ideas, offer help with assets, and be your beta testers once your creation is nearing completion. These resources can prove to be the most useful ones available to you and are almost always free, as long as you make sure to give back to the community by helping others with their projects! If you’ve already got an interest in some aspect of the game development pipeline, start there and fill in the rest with other developers looking to gain experience. When you’re part of a community of game developers, you have the unique opportunity to engage with other like-minded people about something that many people never get to experience. Plus, your games will look, play, and sound much better if you don’t stress yourself out trying to do all parts of the pipeline alone!

Making Fun
Most importantly, you need to enjoy the work you’re doing in order to keep your motivation going even when you’re stuck somewhere in development. Now is as good a time as ever to say it: you will get stuck, you will get frustrated, and some of the initial excitement of development will wear off. Inevitably you’ll arrive at that point that every developer warns of...but hopefully, armed with the advice contained in this article, you can power through the initial feelings of “eh, I don’t feel like doing this anymore.” Plus, the new tools on the market today are designed to make it easy for you, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of how fun actual development can be? Keep in mind that making games 10 years ago was almost impossible without 100% dedication, months of work in addition to a steady income...and that’s all without the intuitive, accessible tools that are now available. So, cheesy as it may be, try to find some additional motivation in the fact that you have opportunities that previous developers have only dreamed of. Be sure to check out the video below for additional advice not given in this article, and after that, get going!

Our "Advice for Aspiring Game Developers" compilation video features advice from world-renown game devs. We highly recommend you take 10 minutes out of your day to view this insightful, inspirational, and motivational video - it's the ultimate therapy for game developers!

Looking to dive into development already? Start here on our Engines & SDKs page, browse around, and figure out what software you’d like to check out first!

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