So You Want to Make a Computer Game: The Path Leads On
Janaury 22, 2016
Hopefully you’re still basking in the success of completing your first computer game. Even more hopefully, you’re interested in starting—or have already started—work on your next computer game. Once the game development bug bites it’s hard to shake it. For this, my final blog on game creation (at least for now), I’d like to provide a few closing remarks and some suggestions on where to go from here.
Working with Others
Making computer games is a lot of work and can involve a lot of different disciplines: game design, artwork, computer programming, writing, music composition, et cetera, et cetera. It can be challenging for one person to tackle all those areas alone. A natural thought is to pull a team of some sort together.
There are pros and cons to doing this. On the pro side of the equation, if you get a team together you obviously have multiple people to do the work. This allows you to create games more quickly or tackle more ambitious projects than a single person working alone could do. As well, if you have good team members, you’ll find more motivation by having a more social experience than working just in insolation.
Over on the con side, having even one person on a team who’s not pulling their weight can be detrimental to morale. If the game creation is a side project for people, then getting everyone to consistently putt time into creating the game can be quite a challenge.
If you are interested in working on a team, first I’d suggest making at least a couple of simple games by yourself, like the one we did through this blog series. This will give you a better understanding of what’s involved in making a game. It will also serve as a portfolio of sorts. When looking to join a team, you can show them the games you’ve already made to prove you’re serious. I’d also suggest that you ask politely to see the games that other people who may be joining the team have also created for the same reason.
One final note on teams. One of the big faux pas on game development forums is to go on and say “I have an idea for the best game EVAR please make my game for me.— Ideas, even really, really good ones, are dirt cheap. An idea is nothing unless it’s actually realized. As well, I doubt you’ll find anyone interested in making games who doesn’t have their own ideas on what games they want to make. Off the top of my head, I could list enough game ideas I have to keep me going for over a decade working at them full time. If you want to join a team, you need to prove to people that you’re serious and that you have skills to offer beyond being just an “idea person”.
Note that you don’t necessarily need to form an official team. There are plenty of programmers out there looking for a little art and plenty of artists out there looking for a little programming. Or music. Or good writing. Or some other area that one person may be lacking. You may be able to temporarily trade your skills for something from someone else.
I’d also suggest looking around for local groups of people interested in making games on such places as meetup.com. Even if you’re not actively collaborating together on creating the same game, just getting the morale boost from working in the same place—a cafe, for example—can really help you get through making your own game. It will also give you the opportunity to see what other people are doing, how they do it, and the chance to learn from them.
For this blog series, we used Adventure Maker to create our first computer game. I intentionally picked this game creation system for this game because it didn’t require any actual computer programming skills. Along the way, I pointed out several of the limitations imposed on creating games with Adventure Maker.
There are a bunch of game creation systems available for free or for a nominal fee on the internet. Just Google “game creation system” to start exploring some of these options. Depending on which of these options you choose you may have to do some computer programming to a greater or lesser degree to make your game do interesting things.
Most of these game creation systems will call programming “scripting”. Depending on the context, there are some important differences between the terms “programming” and “scripting”, but if you’re just starting out on the programming path you can think of the two as the same thing.
Inevitably, as you grow as a game developer, you’ll find the limitations of most game creation systems to be too, well, limiting. At that point you’ll have to dive into the programming side of things, which gives you more control over how your games work.
Adventure Maker was useful because it allowed us to explore the concept of variables, which are at the core of any interesting computer programming. However, there are more concepts to learn beyond variables in order to get good with programming. Enough so that an entire blog series of its own could be written on programming. However, if you’re looking for a simple place to start learning more about programming while still working on games I do have a couple of suggestions:
- code.org – Code.org is a group dedicated to raising the knowledge of and exposure to computer programming worldwide. They provide free, online programming tutorials to help you learn the basic concepts of computer programming. This is all done within the format of simple games like you might play on a cell phone. You can even create your own games based on properties like Star Wars and various Disney characters and share those games with other people online.
- Twine – Twine is a simple game creation system that essentially allows you to build virtual “choose your own adventure” books. These are stories where you read a page of text and then have several choices that take you to different pages of text. That’s the basic description, although Twine allows you to do more sophisticated things such as dealing with variables and having the game respond to choices that the player has made earlier. This is a great way to start expanding your knowledge of basic programming concepts while creating finished games at the same time. Plus it has the benefit of not needing graphics or sound (although you can add these if you want to). Twine has recently released a version 2 but I would suggest starting with version 1 as, at the time of writing, it seems to be more capable and more tutorials and other help are available for it (although I’m sure the acceptance of version 2 will expand over time).
While creating our first game for this series, we kept the graphical requirements simple. For the most part we just took still pictures of scenes we wanted to use. In some cases, we doctored a few images with Microsoft Paint to give our game a little more visual spice. Depending on the type of games you want to create this may be enough. However, it’s far more likely than you’ll need to get more sophisticated with creating the art for your games.
Artwork is a broad topic. It has been with humanity since the first caveman picked up a charred stick and started doodling on his cave wall. Given the breadth, there’s a lot of ways you could go here. I do have a few basic suggestions though.
- Take a Class – I was fortunate to attend a high school that had a great art program. I highly recommend taking even just one basic traditional drawing class (by traditional, I mean good old pencil on paper). This will give you a grounding in such topics as perspective (how objects in the distance look smaller than objects nearby), foreshortening (how you see less of the sides of an object as you turn it away from you), lighting and shading, form and substance (how to make a two-dimensional drawing seem to have mass to it, which is also useful to know about if you’re doing 3D artwork), and so on. Having the basics of drawing will really help you when moving to the digital artwork for your games.
- Paint.net – Paint.net is free software that replaces Microsoft Paint. I haven’t used it myself, but my understanding is that it keeps much of the simplicity of Microsoft Paint while adding in several features, such as the ability to have multiple “layers” in a single image, that are useful when creating so-called “pixel art” for computer games.
- Milkshape 3D – If you’re looking to make a game with 3D graphics then you’ll need software to help you create the 3D models that inhabit such a game. Milkshape is software that is free for a 30 day trial, after which it has a nominal fee. It’s rather old, very rudimentary, and quite rough around the edges, but creating 3D models in it is basically as simple as drawing dots and then connecting the dots with lines. You can think of this as the 3D object equivalent of Microsoft Paint. For a completely free alternative you may want to consider Blender although its learning curve is MUCH steeper.
If you’re really interested in creating artwork for computer games, I would also suggest investing in some hardware to help you out.
- Scanner – There are many scanners available and some are quite inexpensive these days. In the early years of my web comic over on my other site, www.CubesComic.com, I used to draw the comics with pencil and paper and then scan them into the computer and clean them up using the mouse. I still find it useful to sketch things out on paper and scan then in to use as the basis for graphics—both 2D and 3D—I create today. In theory, you could also use a digital camera or cell phone with camera feature to act as a make shift scanner.
- Digital Drawing – If you’re interested in drawing predominantly 2D graphics then I can’t recommend enough getting something to help you draw digitally—that is, straight into the computer. In my case, I have an old, but still serviceable laptop that allows me to draw directly on its display. You can also get separate drawing surfaces or slates that plug into your computer. I’ve tried those in the past, but the issue I had with those is that you draw on the slate with your hand while you’re looking at the monitor of your computer to see what it is you’re drawing. I was never able to adjust to the disconnect between the two. Regardless, of whether you’re using a laptop/tablet or a separate drawing slate, you’ll want to make sure you get one that uses a hard-tipped, fine pointed stylus/pen. Those rubber tipped styluses are too inaccurate to allow you to draw fine details with them. When I got my laptop, my productivity increased significantly, to the point where I could complete graphics in about a quarter of the time, if that, of drawing on paper, scanning the drawings into the computer, and cleaning them up.
For our first computer game, we used music and sound effects prepared by other people. However, recording your own sounds and music can be a lot of fun and you don’t have to worry about licensing issues.
On the sound effects front, at a basic level you’ll want to invest in a good microphone to record with. I looked at several “prosumer” options and settled on a Blue Yeti microphone, which I’ve found useful for recording both voices and sound effects. The Blue Yeti is a USB microphone that works with both Windows and Mac OS. I’d suggest pairing it with a laptop or tablet that doesn’t produce much fan noise (you’ll find that keeping noise out of your recordings to be one of the bigger challenges you’ll face).
Once you’ve recorded your sounds, you’ll probably want to edit them a bit, if for nothing else than to remove any excess recording time from the beginnings or endings of your sounds. For this, software like Audacity or GoldWave will likely be useful.
As for music, well, I’m not an expert on music by any means. However, if you can play a traditional instrument, you could record such playing with a microphone just as you would sound or voices. Or you could invest in instruments that can be connected directly to computers to record straight into the digital realm rather than via a microphone. Traditionally, this type of music recording is done with an electric keyboard (the piano kind not the typing kind) that can be adjusted to mimic any type of instrument. However, I understand that you can get these kind of electric instruments in any shape or form now, such as a violin or guitar if those are your instruments of choice.
If you’re planning to make games with a narrative (story) or with character dialog, I can’t recommend enough taking at least an introductory course on creative writing. Everyone is taught how to write in school and so everyone thinks they can write. But there’s a difference between writing and writing well. An introductory course will give you a lot to work with. It will help you understand story structure, character development, dialog, tension, and all that fun stuff that is not taught when you’re learning grammar and punctuation in school.
There are a lot of game jams going on out there, like the thrice-yearly Ludum Dare. These are typically challenges to yourself to create a computer game from scratch in a limited period of time, usually only a handful of days or a month at the most.
These are great events to participate in as they give you an opportunity to practice and develop your skills on a small scale. When you only have three days you can only do so much and you have to stay focused. When you’re first starting on game development, doing your own game with no real deadline, you may find yourself spending a lot of time on tasks that aren’t really important. Having the imposed deadline of a game jam will help you to get a more disciplined approach to making games. And at the end of the jam you’ll have another game to show to the world.
Whew! Another long blog post today. And yet, as you can see, it barely scratches the surface of where you can go with game development. I personally find creating games to be absolutely brilliant. It combines so many of the things I love to do, from programming and design to artwork and writing. There’s no other creative form quite like it.
As you grow as a developer, start with simple tools and games that play to your strengths. As well, use those projects to push yourself a little bit into new areas or to learn new, more powerful, but more complicated tools to help your developments.
And stay tuned to the blog. You never know when the fancy will strike me to write another entry on some aspect of game development that I’m currently working on.
Good luck with your creations and I look forward to playing them in the future.
Read up on the whole “So You Want to Make a Computer Game” series:
- Part 1: The First Step
- Part 2: The Artwork
- Part 3: The Virtual World
- Part 4: Interactivity
- Part 5: Inventory Items
- Part 6: Custom Artwork
- Part 7: The Critical Path
- Part 8: Sound and Music
- Part 9: Deploying
- Part 10: The Path Leads On