April 11th, 2013
Category: development

Hello World

This week I’m fortunate enough to be featured in The Humble Weekly Sale. My email inflow has skyrocketed, and amongst them I get a fair amount of messages like this:

I’m a student in high school and I’m really interested in making games, but I have no clue where to start. I was wondering if you could offer me some insight into where to start?

Everyone’s brain is wired differently. For me, my best suggestion boils down to:

Make stuff. Then make more stuff.

If you’re not into brevity, I’ll get more specific.

The Dive

Someone smarter than me once described game development as jumping out of an airplane with nothing but a needle and a silkworm.

para

I don’t think it’s important to have a great idea. I don’t think it’s important to be unique or innovative. I don’t think it’s important to be bulletproof, or for that matter, good.

When the ground is rushing toward you at a million miles per hour, what’s important? You make something.

People can’t play a design document. People can’t play a grand vision. People can’t play all the cool ideas you’ve planned out down the road.

docs

People can play the game you make.

The moment you start making objects move on your computer monitor, that’s when a flip gets switched. That’s when all your theory and ideas are forced to prove themselves, and it’s there, in that collision of code and art and sound and design, where things happen.

You start sussing out what “feels right.”

Connections start connecting.

Discoveries are unearthed.

Your skillset crystallizes.

Most importantly, your toolbox gets bigger.

hello

Don’t get stuck focusing on making it good or clean. Focus on making a game. Get good at implementation, and the game will follow suit.

The Show

I find it impossible to objectively view my own work, so I place a lot of value in playtesting. Order pizza and present your game to your family and your friends and the friends of your friends.

By “present,” I mean you stare at the player as they play your game. They play. You watch. They’ll ask you questions, and you reply with a stare. Silently. Gravely. With your steely butternut eyes.

stare

The thing is, the player doesn’t know what the game is supposed to be, or how it’s supposed to play like.  The verbal feedback they give sometimes matches up with the game design, but actions speak louder than words here, because actions can’t lie.

You’ll see them fidgeting with the mouse, not knowing what to do next. You’ll see them completely miss the giant glowing button in the middle of the screen. You’ll see them do everything wrong.

And so you stare, and don’t give a single lick of help as they click on every incorrect thing. You’ll have a notebook where you write down every horrible thing that happens, and this notebook becomes the new center of your galaxy.

path_notes

Then you make a new build and find new friends to rest your steely butternut eyes on.

The Finish

The hardest part of making a game is the last ten percent. By now, your elegant work has matured into a tattered tower of popsicle sticks held together by wishful thinking.

But the game’s not done with you. The tower is gluttonous and hungers for more, making the tower more shaky, more warty, more farty.

And you’re going to release this warty farty thing into the wild.

dove

More poetically, you’ll let your caged bird fly free.

More realistically, it’s going to be a bloodbath. It’ll be educational, it’ll be enlightening, you’ll emerge covered in a thick coat of goopy blood.

And you’ll restart the cycle all over again, because you know your next project is going to be ten times better, and damn that’s addictive.

Et al

I started dabbling in game development during elementary school and began earnestly putting time into it during sixth grade. This was stuff like QBasic, DEU, and Autodesk Animator.

Years later, Gravity Bone was my first game that I was satisfied with, in that its execution began to match my taste, and in how it found an audience.

gravitybone_1

That’s a span of about fifteen years between me first starting game development, to making something I liked. Fifteen years of making really awful stuff.

Actually, that last sentence is deceptive. It implies I no longer make awful stuff. Truth is, my hard drive is bursting at the seams with broken, clunky prototypes. After shipping Atom Zombie Smasher, I spent the entirety of 2011 making prototypes, all of which explosively failed:

Here’s the multiplayer space RTS:

space_rts

Here’s the dungeon-master game:

storygame

Here’s the survival roguelike:

survival_roguelike

Here’s the hack n’ slash roguelike:

dungeoncrawler

I fail frequently and I fail quickly. It’s a natural part of the process, and because I’m human, this parade of failure does get discouraging from time to time. Everyone has to find their motivations to push onward.

So, to wrap it up: make stuff. Then make more stuff.

16 Comments

  1. JimmyKillemJimmyKillem  
    April 11th, 2013
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  2. There needs to be more articles like this. It’s a good read and motivating for those in the industry! Make games, then make more games, after that, guess what, make more games!!!!

    1F

  3. BlodyavengerBlodyavenger  
    April 11th, 2013
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  4. Well said!

    2F

  5. Paul McGeePaul McGee  
    April 11th, 2013
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  6. This is amazing. Thank you. Here’s to warty farty things!

    3F

  7. EmEm  
    April 11th, 2013
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  8. Emily approves.

    4F

  9. CheesenessCheeseness  
    April 11th, 2013
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  10. Great advice! I always tell people that momentum is the key – only once you’ve got the rhythm and ability to persist beyond hurdles can you really start doing interesting stuff (it also helps if you can find joy in creating failures). :D

    5F

  11. MikeMike  
    April 11th, 2013
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  12. I think one last thing you missed was, for people just starting out: start simple. Don’t get too ambitious with your ideas. Making games is a lot of work and if you haven’t experienced it you could easily become frustrated with an over-scoped project. You don’t have to make your dream game first, just start with something simple. You’ll find that even a seemingly simple idea can be a ton of work. Then once you’ve got that down you can get more and more complex (if you want).

    Great post, thanks!

    6F

    […] Hello World « Blendo news "Someone smarter than me once described game development as jumping out of an airplane with nothing but a needle and a silkworm." Brendon makes good games, and this is a good post. But I really liked this quotation. (tags: games development design creativity ) […]

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  13. MrWeddersMrWedders  
    April 12th, 2013
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  14. Cool piece mate, and so true. I’m three prototypes in on my game design quest and I’m hoping this might be the first one to see release… Exciting, but terrifying every time I find a new bug that requires (to keep the analogy going) a few more popsicle sticks jammed in to hold the whole thing together. That said, most of the code is there, my worry now is art because I suck at art :-(
    It’s not unique, or clever, or going to set the world on fire, and it doesn’t even have a name or a main menu yet, but it might just not suck when I’m done! (SHAMELESS ADVERTISING: http://nerdshack.info/)

    8F

  15. K9K9  
    April 12th, 2013
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  16. It’s all a joke, it’s all a fucking joke.

    :'(

    9F

  17. BrendonBrendon  
    April 12th, 2013
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  18. @JimmyKillem, @Blodyavenger, @Paul – thanks!

    @Em – I’m glad she approves.

    @Cheeseness – I agree. It’s pretty amazing how much you can get done once you get into that “zone.”

    @Mike – That’s a great point. I’d definitely suggest making something you’re confident you can complete.

    @MrWedders – awesome! Keep at it.

    10F

  19. PrzemekPrzemek  
    April 23rd, 2013
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  20. Great article, I needed exactly this right now. Motivation ++. Thanks!
    Just one question:
    “I fail frequently and I fail quickly” – how do you recognize a failed prototype? How do you decide whether a game needs just more work or should be abandoned and considered as a failure?

    11F

  21. Steven HarmonSteven Harmon  
    April 24th, 2013
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  22. I just want to let everyone know how true this article is. I started making games about a year ago and have been making them ever since; I’m still in the phase of making crap games, but I’m gradually tackling bigger more ambitious projects with more effort and time. Thank you for posting this it gave me some clarity on life. If you want to follow my game development check out my website maybe? Although I’am only a teen soo nothing too special. http://stevenharmongames.plisweb.com/

    12F

  23. BrendonBrendon  
    April 25th, 2013
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  24. @Przemek – For me, a lot of things come down to recognizing potential. It’s not always necessarily about the idea itself, but you yourself: do I have the skill set for making this game, do I have an adequate budget for this type/scale of game, do I have enough passion to subsist the development cycle of this game?

    And then you do a playtest and see if the game falls flat on its face.

    @Steven – nice! You’re very prolific, and I like that.

    13F

  25. greggreg  
    April 27th, 2013
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  26. Was trying to comment on this a week or two ago but the animal captcha kept refusing to believe that I was correct.

    Thank you for posting this. I have been in this trap in my writing and pursuit of game development for the past year or two where I didn’t want to write anything too bold or risky because I didn’t want to offend anyone or scare anyone into thinking I might be weird. But really, those “weird” ideas I had were the best ones. When I finally shared them, people loved them and couldn’t believe I wasn’t already working on them. I realized that the best work you create is motivated by what you can relate to in your life. If you suffer from a disorder, create something that deals with the emotions you feel from that as a result. If you just dealt with a devastating death, write about or make a game about someone going through the same struggle.

    Just because you love Pulp Fiction or Killer7 doesn’t mean you should try to make movies or games just like those. Maybe take some inspiration from how those artists practice their art (such as their management or directing style) but never use their work as reference points thinking “Oh, he had a girl addicted to drugs so I need that, too” or “I loved his cartoony style so I better use that.” That is cheap imitation, and while that may be flattery, most people viewing your work are just going to see it as a cheap imitation or a blatant rip-off, not as a love letter or tribute (unless it expands upon the gameplay in interesting ways, such as FTL with the rogue-like formula).

    I will stop before this gets too lengthy, but I really appreciate you writing this, Brendon. This and the book Mindset (on Amazon) really helped me snap out of thinking that if everything I make isn’t brilliant, I’ll be a failure. It’s really the exact opposite. If you don’t work hard and get as much practice as possible, you’ll be twiddling your thumbs in the corner waiting for someone to help you out while everyone else is snatching up the opportunities because they have more experience and more creative inspiration to draw from.

    14F

  27. BrendonBrendon  
    May 11th, 2013
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  28. @greg – yes, a thousand percent. When you include things that you yourself relate to on a personal level, that personal connection finds a way of affecting people who play/view your work. There’s a human, earnest quality. I think it’s oftentimes a terrifying prospect to open yourself up like that in your work, so I always love it when I see people take that plunge.

    15F

    […] Brendon Chung’s amusing guide to getting started in video game […]

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