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.
Someone smarter than me once described game development as jumping out of an airplane with nothing but a needle and a silkworm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then you make a new build and find new friends to rest your steely butternut eyes on.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Here’s the dungeon-master game:
Here’s the survival roguelike:
Here’s the hack n’ slash roguelike:
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.