A Dive into Game Dev
By far my most time-consuming hobby is creating my own 3D games. As you can imagine, my general excitement over how it has slowly infiltrated the set of expected deliverables at PlusNarrative is off the charts. While brand growth , data collection, digitisation is more so our focus — rather than the explicit creation of gaming mechanics — it’s always super interesting to venture into this creative realm while at work. In short, game dev added a new point to my usual content production to-do checklist: as well as looking good and working well, almost everything I touch now has to have a intuitive and refreshing user experience.
Most of all, the interaction process should be engaging and fun.
I penned this article as a quick summary of (somewhat profound) realizations I happened upon while working as hobbyist game developer at home and UI/UX designer in our office. Take it as some general advice from a curious newbie.
How to Start Making Your Own Games
The original Mario levels, designed by hand on graph paper
I’ll begin with a bit of history as I tend to err on the side of caution when collecting my thoughts about how one should make their own game.
I have never actually been employed by a professional game development studio and neither have I released a game commercially.
There’s always a ‘however’, however:
I have been experimenting with game engines and tools since I was 14 years old. It was always fascinating to build an idea or vision I had in my head.
Due to the curse of a short attention span probably 80% of what I made never reached a level which I could deem FINISHED.
Let’s not even go into the relative quality level. I’m sure my 16 year old self thought my creations were great. To my benefit I have made a enormous number of levels and failed game concepts over the years.
Luckily, my current position as UX/UI designer ties in nicely with my hobby. I find a lot of comfortable overlap between my professional and personal thought processes.
History over! Let me give you some broad snippets of insight into what I think about when I go about making games.
An early Half Life prototype showcasing various development features over 20 years ago
Do Make a Dirty Ugly Prototype
Endorsed by the pros
Game are meant to be fun, right? If you hash out the idea in a basic building-block form you can actually see if it’s fun or not.
This is one of the most important aspects of building from scratch, and yet many game devs seem to forget or neglect this entirely.
To remedy this, in the spirit of #inktober , game designers have started the trending #blocktober to show initial stages of building levels in their games.
This demonstrates the process of ‘blocking out’ or putting together the rough game world shape before adding details such as lighting, props, effects, and debris. Check it out sometime!
Don’t Be An Ideas Guy
This is one of my favourites, and it can apply to any industry really. I’m sure you full-time developers out there know this all too well ( more than I do at any rate).
Ideas can be liars. They often tell us what should work, even when it can’t once it exists as something in reality. In an age full of ideas I think we need to have some form of constructive fabrication in order for it to have relevance.
Sometimes we don’t know what’s good until it’s in front of us.
RPG games made in Excel are possible so there is no blaming lack of tools. This Riskology article perfectly summarizes the ups and downs of being an ideas guy as opposed to a guy who makes things happen.
Don’t Try to Reinvent Some Sort of Wheel / Fire Hybrid
Don’t try to build your own game engine. The returns do no match the required investment.
In most cases, I presume most people (that’s you and me, by the way) lack the skills, time and resources to effectively build their own game engine, but modern prefab game engines offer extremely flexible robust solutions which allow you to build interesting creations.
Unity offers additional premium paid functionality, while Unreal deploys a royalties system once you game is officially published.
If you want to get started just like I did, you can check out the links I’ve left at the end of this post. They include a beginners course for Unity on Udemy.com (spoiler alert: its awesome).
Do Get Premium Assets for Your Game Dev Adventure
Dungeons & Downloadable Assets
You can find a wealth of content suited to aid you in developing your game. Online marketplaces feature a plethora of useful content ranging from full game templates to visual props to useful sounds.
Let’s say I want to build a game that takes place in a sprawling forest. There are plenty of resources available that would provide the 3d art and texture content to essentially save you months of work.
People tend to be scared of using assets as they can take away the ‘uniqueness’ of their own titles but it will usually provide you with a strong starting point when you’re just getting started.
In summary, making games is a lot of fun. It also involves a whole bunch of head-scratching and (very occasionally) throwing keyboards at walls. There are always some difficult yet interesting problems to solve.
If I can leave a final tip for fellow aspiring game designers: try recreate seemingly simple but well-known games.
Try remake a title like Pac-Man and you will be surprised at the complexity of the mechanics lying in wait underneath the hood. For parting context, here is some insight into the thinking behind the Ghosts’ AI in Pac-Man.
“To give the game some tension, I wanted the monsters to surround Pac Man at some stage of the game. But I felt it would be too stressful for a human being like Pac Man to be continually surrounded and hunted down. So I created the monsters’ invasions to come in waves. They’d attack and then they’d retreat. As time went by they would regroup, attack, and disperse again. It seemed more natural than having constant attack.”
– Toru Iwatani, Pac-Man creator
Start Your Dev Adventure
UDEMY Course: Coding games with the Unity Engine
UDEMY Course: Coding games with the Unreal Engine 4.0
Look out for sales on Udemy, these courses often go for somewhere between 75% — 90% off. It happens so often that I suggest only buying when these sales are on.