What is your favorite game? The one you couldn’t put down when you were a kid, or the one you can’t stop playing now. The one that you poured tons of time into, and one day said, “I wish I could work for them, and make their game even better!” The one that inspired you to click on this article in the first place.
Chances are, the creator of the game you enjoy so much has their own game that made them feel the very same way. They were inspired to make games, and pursued the craft doggedly until they saw their dream come to life. There’s no reason to say you can’t do the same thing.
This article is aimed at the novice, the absolute beginner game developer / designer. You can make a game. But you need to be very smart about how you do it. I will outline how you can get started making your very first game.
Always Remember Your First
Remember — this is your very first game. Your goal is just to finish something! Get something out into the world, show your friends, your partner, your parents, your cat! This is your very first step into the game development world, no matter what you do, do not get bogged down by details and baseless apprehension.
Looking for a place to start your game development journey? There is a constant influx of online game jams on https://itch.io/jams that usually have a Discord community supporting them. I wrote another article on the joys and benefits of participating in Game Jams, check it out and start your quest!
Make a Plan of Attack
“Okay, time to crack open a text editor and start programming my game!” you may think. NO, SILLY! You need to plan your game out. You don’t want to become a victim of “scope creep”, otherwise known as, “my project keeps growing and I don’t know what to do! I’ll never finish!”
Start small. I know I asked you, “What is your favorite game?” earlier, but there is a 99% chance you will not create the next Halo Reach overnight. Start small. What are your interests? What are your favorite game genres? Are you an artiste, or musically inclined, or maybe you are a fiction-writing machine? Start with what you’re good at. And, did I mention to start small?
You will need some tutorials to get started. There’s no shame in following a basic tutorial and making the game your own once you have a little more experience! Here are some great YouTube channels with tutorials (read the next section to pick your engine before going to these sites)
Start Your Engines!
Decide on a game engine to work in. There are plenty of choices out there, and I will not get into the intricacies of “which one’s better”. Each game engine has its own pros and cons, and you are better off not thinking about them with your first project.
If you have never written a “for-each loop” or you’re thinking “C-plus what?”, and you are clinically code-averse, then I recommend the following game engines to get started, as they have popular and extensive “no-code” interfaces that you can take advantage of:
If you’ve worked your way through a couple programming courses back in college, or just know your way around some basic programming concepts, then you are well equipped to get started with any game engine. Heck, if you are feeling like learning how to code with zero experience, then just go for it! You’ll be surprised just how little coding is required to make a game!
Don’t spend too much time deciding on this, it is really more of a formality. Once you have had some experience making game, you will have significantly less friction moving to new game engines
“Just get it through the door!”
Next, start working on a playable version of your game. In another article I discuss tips for prototyping your game, and the key is thinking about your MVP, i.e. “Minimum Viable Product”. What is the most barebones version of your game that is still playable? Start building this out, and determine if your idea has legs to stand on.
You may get tempted to add in some cool art, or a great theme song immediately, before building your first game mechanic. Don’t fall for it, try to get along with as little “flair” as possible, so long as it is not detracting from your game’s core offering. “Super Mario Bros” needs a Mario, some platforms, coins, and pitfalls to be playable, but if they are all represented by plain-old squares, the game is still playable enough to be deemed fun, or not fun.
Also, just a gentle reminder, it’s now or never for reigning in your inevitably complicated and impossible idea. We both know your MMORPG, MOBA, hit Battle Royale idea sounds great, but is not feasible with your level of skill. Take a look at your scope, and tell it to stop creeping!
The art doesn’t need to be your own. With proper attribution, you have plenty of free 2D and 3D art assets you can use!
Music and sound effects are the same way. Here are some great places where you can find use with attribution assets, some of which allow for commercial use!
Iteration is the key to innovation
Let’s talk about the gritty reality — your first game will likely not be a best-seller when you first release it on itch.io. Nothing of worth was created in a closed environment, and so you need to take player feedback and incorporate it into your game. Again, and again, and again. This is the only way to create a very successful game!
You may receive some feedback that is less than constructive, but focus on the valid issues, and even build out a few requested features. No promises, but players flock to games when their voice is heard! Iteration also has algorithmic benefits — games that receive frequent updates are pushed to the top of game search results on platforms like Steam and the Google Play Store.
Now you need some places to submit your game for constructive feedback. Here’s the rundown of the most popular places:
- Itch.io — Completely free and you can even sell your game here!
- Google Play Store — One-time fee of $25 to become a developer
- Apple Store — $99/month for the right to publish your game
- Steam — $100/game on Steam direct. I recommend you try Itch.io before coming here. It’s costly to pay Steam without a following.
- Gamasutra has additional articles on some great low-price publishing options!
Play to your Strengths
Finally, after creating your MVP and getting some initial feedback, it’s time to polish your game. Polish is a catch all term for the sound effects, the screen shake, the almost tactile feedback that games give you. I talk about polish extensively in my tribute to Game Feel, but just know that without polish, your game may play more like a boring pointless task than a fun and thrilling video game.
Are you a fantastic musician? Then play to those strengths and create great lietmotifs that drive your game’s story to emotional highs, a la the award winning game Undertale. Are you a skilled artist or graphic designer? Then add those little artistic flourishes to your User Interface when they play just the right card during battle, like in hit game Slay the Spire. Playing to your strengths will make your game stand out!
Your game development journey may just be starting, but it is always important to look towards the future. Your first game may not net you tons of cash or catapult you to stardom, but it will be your launchpad for many great creations, and a journey of exploration and learning.
Are you hooked on the concept of making your own games now?! Check out some of my other informative articles on how to make it as an indie game developer!