Zeek: A beginners attempt at Game Design
My (Complicated) Relationship with Game Design
When I was about eleven or twelve years old, I had a dream of becoming a Video Game Designer. I remember constantly drawing characters and monsters and coming up with gameplay ideas in my mind. Then for my birthday one year, my parents bought me a program called Game Maker Starter Kit to help me start making my dreams a reality. I was so excited and I had grand expectations. I wish I could say this is one of those stories where I read all the reading material, mastered all the tools and became a game making child prodigy, but instead I came to a life shattering realization… Game Design is hard!
I couldn’t even get a few pages into the C+ handbook before I became confused, frustrated and gave up. Things simply were not as intuitive as I hoped they would be. As the years passed I played around with simple game making tools like RPG Maker and Construct, but never felt satisfied with the results I achieved. Then I heard about Game Maker Studio. I watched videos and played around with content that others had made using this program and felt as though the tools were simple yet powerful enough for me to give it one more shot. So I made a goal to try and complete at least one full level of an original game.
I had always enjoyed classic games such as Super Mario Bros. (like every gamer) and at the time was very captivated by the fun and challenge of games like Super Meat Boy and Celeste. This greatly influenced my decision when deciding what type of game to make. I was going to make a 2D side scrolling platformer.
Also, because of my great love of music, I decided I wanted to add a musical element to the gameplay somehow. I brainstormed different ideas, but had to be careful not to bite off more than I could chew.
Finally Learning to Code (kinda)
When I first attempted learning to make games, I don’t even think my family had access to the internet. So, my resources were limited at that time. However, this time around, I quickly discovered a wealth of tutorials, forums and Youtube videos on this very subject. I cannot over-emphasize how useful these tools were to me. I especially found the Video Tutorials by Shaun Spalding very helpful.
Game Maker Studio 2 has its own coding language, but to someone like me with a very limited coding background it can be very intimidating, but these tutorials not only told me what code to write, but what the code was doing and how it worked. After a while, I found I was looking up how to do things less and less as I gained a greater grasp Of how things worked. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I got things working the way I intended (for the most part).
I was eventually able to create a very basic test platformer game using simple sprites and basic coding. I created a quick song and played around with the idea of having the music build as you collect items. The concept worked, but I found it did not make for compelling gameplay on its own and I knew I would need to revisit the idea later.
Finding the Aesthetic
because I had randomly picked bright neon colors for my temporary sprites, this inspired me to give the game an 80’s aesthetic and style. I made a collection of images and characters for inspiration and began drawing up images and Sprites in Adobe Illustrator. However, I wanted to keep the look very clean and simple and found that Sketch (the program I use for UX Design) provided all the tools I needed in a much simpler package. I’m sure this isn’t the best tool to use for sprite design and animation, but I found it worked just fine for me.
I played around with several character Ideas based on 80’s cartoons such as Ninja Turtles and Rainbow Brite, but felt the designs did not conform to the style I had envisioned. I preferred the look of the simple square sprite I had been using temporarily and even toyed with the idea of using that as the main character, but quickly realized that was just me being lazy and uncreative.
I decided to try and design a character who kept a square shape and looked like he could easily be in an 80’s band as a Keytar player or other similarly bizarre instrument. I feel as though I accomplished my goal with the final design.
Composing the Music
I consider myself a fairly musical person. I started playing the guitar at the age of fourteen and have played in several musical groups over the years. However, I decided that Rock guitar would not be fitting for this game and I started looking for a different style of music to use.
I came across 80’s inspired Synthwave music and decided that I would use the genre as my inspiration. I recorded a couple of songs using Logic Pro and a midi keyboard. Although, I was not very familiar with the musical style, I feel satisfied with what I have written thus far and am excited to write even more.
Fine Tuning the Gameplay and Sprites
From this point I focused on improving every aspect of the game. I adjusted the gameplay by removing the double jump and replacing it with jump pads. I created enemies and obstacles to increase the difficulty. I also created more detailed sprites for the items and improved the design of the platforms.
I discovered the tileset tool in Game Maker Studio and how simple it made level design. I remade the level entirely using this tool and created more complex platforming challenges.
With additional tutorials I was able to add a timer to the game to add a sense of urgency and I added barriers that could only be unlocked by collecting coins to force the player to complete platforming challenges to progress through the level. I believe these additions made the game more interesting, challenging, fun and encouraged replay-ability.
What Did I Learn?
This experience has reinforced the exact same thing I realized when I was a kid… Game Design is hard! However, I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I worked on this game only in my spare over the course of about six months or so and in that time I became more familiar with coding languages, was able to practice more of my design skills through sprite work and level layout and overcame a whole lot of frustration and discouragement.
There are definitely several areas I hope I get the chance to improve upon in this game or any games I make in the future. I feel as though I have quite a bit to learn when it comes to level design. I plan on doing research on platformers to improve my knowledge and skills and give the level design another go-around.
This game is nowhere near complete (it’s only one level after all) and I doubt I will be done with it anytime soon, but I plan on making tweaks here and there and slowly improving it’s quality. I have no plans to publish the game and I’m not even sure I want other people to play it. This was simply a way of challenging myself and I found the process to be an enjoyable experience as well (most of the time). I would encourage anyone who has an interest in Game Design and isn’t sure where to get started to get their hands on a copy of Game Maker Studio 2 and start watching those tutorials. Don’t get discouraged when you get stuck (cause you are going to get stuck) and have fun with it.