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Hello World
by Brendon Chung on 04/16/13 01:40:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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Ryan Watterson
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Really liked this article. Very encouraging tone and POV. Very much agree with your opinion of jumping right into development and practice, practice, just like golf or music or anything. My kind of echo statement and 0.02c is:

Building things from the get-go is really important. We've separated things out so much into these specialized disciplines that we forgot game dev tools have evolved to the point where game dev itself can be the specialized discipline. Anyone making games who can't actually make games left to their own devices... ought to look into how to get their skills to a point where they aren't so necessarily dependent on multidisciplinary teamwork. Collaboration is great, but in my view people should gain self-reliance in terms of skills so they can make decisions about when to collaborate and with who, out of interest, not need.

Scope is one of the most important things in game dev, and jumping right in and learning your skills and your limits is how you learn what scope of projects you can accomplish

Raymond Ortgiesen
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This echoes everything I've been able to suss out from making games over the past few years and jibes with Derek Yu's often linked "Finishing Games" article. Start making a game, finish making the game, repeat. It's worked pretty well for me so far.

Bart Stewart
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I don't disagree entirely (though I probably place more value on ideas). But let me poke at this a little bit.

"Make lots of games" is not bad advice when someone asks how to be a game developer. It's the same advice writers give people who ask how to be a writer.

But "what" to do is not what they're really asking. "How" to do it is what they really want to know. And "make lots of games" doesn't answer that question.

It does sort of work for writing because the necessary tools are cheap and easy to learn and use. Beyond text editors, there's pencil and paper.

Helping someone learn how to make computer games is a lot harder. Another brief answer frequently given at this point is "learn to program in some language, any language." That's also not bad advice... but it's also not all that helpful to the majority of people who aren't natural superstar coders. I've got a degree in Computer Science, and I can program adequately well, but I'll never be good enough to bash out a functional prototype every week or even every month.

So how does "make lots of games" provide useful help to someone like that? Do you just shrug and say, "Well, some people aren't meant to be game developers" or "you'd better get your extrovert on and form or join a team, then"?

What I believe would tangibly benefit the most people would be web sites competing to be the most helpful at pulling together game development resources. These would not be mere content aggregators mostly interested in selling ads, but active sites offering customized tutorials on languages and tools and assets and processes, and honest reviews, and discussion forums specifically focused on helping people learn "how" to make games.

I've looked for such sites. I haven't seen them. I've seen sites run by the sellers of particular individual tools. I've seen StackOverflow's helpful answers to specific programming questions. What I haven't seen are sites that put all these things under one roof to create a critical mass of unbiased how-to knowledge.

I'm not suggesting such sites should do everything for the novice game developer. There's no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and *doing* stuff as a learning process. I also suspect some people want short-cuts to mastery, but I'm not advocating that, either.

I'm suggesting that making computer games, beyond the "what should I create" challenge every artist faces, also imposes a technical challenge of "how" to make that content. Practical help for how to do the technically complex things that are required to repeatedly reach that finish line of a (more-or-less) working game -- that, and not just the advice to "make lots of games," is what I think would do the most good to help creators learn to create.

So are there a lot of full-featured, non-denominational game development resource sites out there and I've just missed them all?

Or is the kind of support system I'm describing less useful than I think it would be?

Ryan Watterson
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I think something like you describe is definitely necessary. For me the Unity forums have been somewhat like that, but it is still very techie, and I've been doing this for almost 7 years now and have an advanced degree. So not very open for just the average guy I would bet. In my great vision I'd like to see a world where people have enough baseline programming literacy and game tools are accommodating enough that if someone like Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea even he could cobble together something interactive to share his experience with the world.

I think there was a time when game dev (and the kind I'm talking about here is kind of this hobbyist/small team DIY game dev) skills were learned up alongside the kind of programming institutions and brands that kids today never saw a world without, and expanded outward from there. And then in my generation what I seem to have done is gone through skills sequentially (learning media skills and programming skills) and then later going on to put those things together into the ability to make game. Having done that for a while now, though, I think what I'd suggest people in the upcoming generation do is take advantage of these 'lower level' game dev tools coming around like twine and game maker and get comfortable with the process as a whole. To me, what that greatly prevents is this pipe-dream culture of people who aren't capable of building something, but have binders full of ideas which they would find out if they ever tried to execute them are just very divorced from the realities of game dev

One thing that was greatly helpful to me in my training was a class where we made a game prototype in flash every 3 weeks for 4 months, going through increasingly more sophisticated game designs (top down shooter, then side scroller, then an original short game, then a copy of a level of a classic game). I think a web video series doing tutorials in that fashion would be really successful in expanding the pool from which we can bring people into game development.

I think what really needs to happen though is to get all this knowledge out of these esoteric, in-groupy reddit type spaces and get it out into the world where just any average mainstream person could understand and tackle it. Every time someone with a different background you wouldn't expect enters game dev, it just ends up adding so much (architects, writers, sociologists, activists -- all these people got involved in what started as a tech hobby, added a great deal of vibrance to our scene and these days with just some baseline tech skills they can make it their own hobby as well).

Politically it would be nice if we could put some energy into getting younger people trained with basic programming skills instead of having all that knowledge in the silo of higher education computer science departments

Raymond Ortgiesen
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"It does sort of work for writing because the necessary tools are cheap and easy to learn and use. Beyond text editors, there's pencil and paper."

There are free tools that a 10 year old can use to make a simple game, I'm not sure where either of you guys are coming from. Maybe it's difficult to learn how to code a lighting engine like in The Witness, but just making something interesting or fun? That can be done with almost nothing.

Bart Stewart
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Raymond, I agree that setting a reasonable scope for game ideas matters. Novice developers need to learn that they can't make Skyrim or Call of Duty by themselves over a weekend.

But "making simple games" isn't really the target, either. It's good to be able to knock out quick prototypes to test ideas, but ultimately you have you put some polish on the winners to make them playable (and perhaps purchasable) by other people.

Taking that step from a personal prototype using some simple creator tool to a game that can be distributed without too much embarrassment seems to be the really hard part -- the part where mastery and professionalism are earned.

That's the area where help seems to be most needed. Thanks for letting me clarify that.

Also, Ryan, that's a great description of how things have changed. And I can't agree more with the value of bringing people with other knowledge into the game development process. Anything that makes it easier for them to contribute helps make better games.

Jacob Germany
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@Bart I was thinking the same thing. I keep seeing similar advice on Gamasutra and other places, yet it seems to miss what overwhelms and confuses those who want to start on the design path and don't know where to begin. "Just do it" is vague and misses the point, I think.

I think your idea of an actual game design resource site would be useful, and would fill a role that simply isn't quite filled with what is out there. I've thought very similar thoughts myself, before.

Ramon Carroll
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I'm with Raymond on this one. There is a truckload of information and resources on the internet and in the many books that have been produced by actual game developers. Just adding another website is not going to change that. You will still get the "how" questions. It's because most people are looking for shortcuts. It's like jumping online and asking someone how to lose weight. Really?

When developers give the "just make games" advice, it's because that usually represents their own pathway to mastery. They don't know any other way, and that's because there really isn't. Sure, you can go take some courses, read some books, watch some videos, or listen to some advice from someone on a public forum. But information will never take the place of action. It is only meant to supplement it. It's easier to coach someone at something when you have some actual content to criticize. Otherwise, it's nothing but a bunch of theory. A person has to fail, because failure is a teacher (albeit an often stigmatized one).

We are in the age of information. Everything is available. Everything is accessible to those who are determined to learn. If a person can't find any of this information and apply it, can they truly be deemed serious about game development?

Jacob Germany
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Using the "weight loss" metaphor, it's like someone asking "How do I lose weight?" and everyone and their dog answering "Just do it. Go out and eat healthier. You'll figure it out". You get the occasional "There's resources out there. Go buy this product or go sign up for Weight Watchers."

You may even stumble onto sites or books that have a few healthy-eating recipes. But, at least in the games industry through this metaphor, there is no real resource that tells you the principles behind cooking healthy-yet-tasty food. Maybe snippets here and there, maybe a recipe book filled with pre-made recipes, but nothing talking about the cooking fundamentals underlying healthy cooking.

To break out of the metaphor, there are resources that talk about some aspects of design, especially programming or art and very specific questions related to them. There are many tools like "Gamemaker" which circumvent skills, like low-level programming. There are even snippets, here on Gamasutra and elsewhere, about the design itself. But there is *no* solid resource portal about design. There's barely a common thread even in industry designers concerning how to design, let alone some web portal focusing on the design side of development.

Frankly, I'm not even sure how "free tools" or the like relates to the concern, considering that these tools never actually help an individual design a game, but simply allow an individual to skip steps with pre-made resources and systems.

Edit: I'm also not certain why only those "serious" about game development, enough to scour the information supposedly out there to find detailed explanations concerning their confusion, should be encouraged to try to explore the world of game development.

Ramon Carroll
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The weight loss metaphor works fine. There is tons of information online, and tons of products. Telling a person to eat healthy and find an exercise program is fine enough. If a person is serious about losing weight (not just experiencing a temporary emotional ďboostĒ, but willing to do the work necessary), then thatís really all they need. Again, we arenít in the renaissance age anymore. Everyone has access to pretty much everything. Iíve lost weight on my own by doing my own research, changing my diet, and putting together my own workout plans from random Youtube videos. A person that really wants something bad enough will figure out how to get it.

And free beginner tools that just circumvent the hard stuff at least help to give the user a foundation for game design principles by allowing them to put them into practice. Theyíre not useless. There are even friendly communities developed around these tools that will happily help you learn the ropes and coach you through your first games. This applies to pretty much every major beginner tool, including gamemaker, and even video game mods. Heck, you can start learning by designing analog games. Thereís stuff online for that too.

If someone wants to learn how to cook all of the above applies all the same.

And I never said that only those ďseriousĒ enough should be encouraged. Iím just saying that those are the only people that will make it anywhere. You could give the non-serious person all the free tools in the world, but if they arenít motivated to do the work, then itís an absolute waste of time, and people like the author of the above article know that. I just donít see why this website idea is so necessary, seeing as all of the information is available online if you are just willing to look.

Celso Riva
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Great article, I'm in full agreement with your motto of make stuff and then make more :)

Curtiss Murphy
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"Make stuff. Then make more stuff." Your article is the perfect embodiment of deliberate practice and I am grateful you wrote it!

Hats off to you!

Martin Pichlmair
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"I fail frequently and I fail quickly". Wise words.

Herbert Fowler
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Great article, I like how you injected that what you make will most likely be a bloody mess. Something I struggle with coming to grips with.

Gavin Koh
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"Donít get stuck focusing on making it good or clean. Focus on making a game. Get good at implementation, and the game will follow suit." - Too often, the focus is on making it meet the deadline... stretch it if you really need to make that game. Don't be afraid to delay the release of your game.

"Make stuff. Then make more stuff." - Let the world know your true passion... make stuff that rocks!

Dominique Da Costa
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As someone says in this thread : "focus on making games", because being able to create something is a gift.

And when the community discovers your creation, it can be painful, disappointed, but it can also offers the best moment of the creation process (I'm currently experiencing this with my first release,

For me, this thread speaks also about the game creation process when you're an alone developer, with the importance of having peoples' feedback during the prototyping phase, even if I found always difficult to navigate in a middle of feedbacks coming from ten different directions !

Jason Chalky
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Good article, and thanks for the tips. I am currently studying usability and what you talk about in the article about showing friends,watching them play the game and mess up is really part of usability. This can really help someone understand what is going on in their game that they wont be able to see themselves.

nick ATpainttehDOTcom
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I do like this: wife then kids then friends :)

Lewis Wakeford
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"Make stuff. Then make more more stuff." Might not work for everyone, but that's certainly in line with how I like to do things. IE just do it.