Smash the Baddies First, Code Later
Much like reading novels to understand how to write them, you should play games to understand how to make them.
Got a killer idea for a video game? Know precisely how the finished product is going to look? Great. Put a pin in it and play on your Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, or your computer. Hell, play on your phone. You’ve got to put in the time.
You might be wondering if you already have your big idea. Why not just start building your game, right? After all, you’ve probably been playing video games your entire life. Why should you have to play more? Well, unless you’ve been building games for a while, you are diving blind into an industry that is as wide as it is deep. If you’re going it alone, you’ll have to do everything that a team usually does, and you’ll need to do it before your idea is no longer relevant.
You see, once you’ve decided to make a video game, you need to know what’s possible. Before you made your plan, you likely played video games for fun, but now you need to play them to see what is possible. You need to see how other developers have pulled off making their games. You need to know how the pros do it before you’re going to be able to pull it off.
Fine! I’ll Play Some Video Games.
Great! Now make sure you work in various games, don’t stick to your favourite games that you’ve been playing for years. While playing those games, you’re going to want to try and visually take them apart. Unless they happen to be open source, you won’t have the luxury of seeing the code.
Even without the code, you can start to tease things apart, however. Perhaps in the distance, you can see two distinct domes. One outer dome has the sky and an inner partially transparent dome (or three) for a parallax effect. Little effects like this will bring your world to life and help to immerse your future customers in your vision.
Pay close attention to:
- How does the UI vary from game to game? There are many different ways to set up your user interface, and you want to make sure that however you set yours up, it’s easy and convenient for your player base;
- How do they handle multiplayer? How a game manages multiplayer, if the game has multiplayer, will tell you a lot about their desired audience. If there is a small single-player campaign combined with an elaborate online matchmaking service (think Clash of Clans), then the single-player folks were NOT their intended target;
- If the game is in your genre, see what elements work for you and which ones don’t. If it’s not in your genre, see if there is anything that you can use to give your game an edge on the competition;
- Pay attention to reviews on these games. Reviews can be an invaluable source of information when deciding where to spend your time. The needs and wants of your potential customers will change by the minute, and having an idea as to how they think before you put out your game will help you to win them over. Reviews give you a snapshot of those desires at any given time. While playing the game, see if you agree with the reviews that you read, try and decide on how you would make it better.
Planning My Game
Okay, so you’ve played some games, made some notes, and now you’re ready to start in on yours. You’ve purchased ( or made ) some assets, downloaded the Unity or Unreal Engine, and you’ve started putting your scenes together. That is fantastic. However, if you don’t have a plan, you will eventually run into an issue. That issue is that in game development, there is so much going on. You can lose yourself and focus on one feature too much.
The most effective way to use your development time is to make a plan for the features you will implement, and then stick to that plan. If you decide not to follow a plan, you may find yourself waving wildly in the wind, with no real direction, adding many additional months of development time, which may have been unnecessary.
A plan won’t just maximize the time spent on what you need to get done, but it will also help you have a much more cohesive product. Following your plan, you will see a final product that is not the cumulative result of a series of individual decisions, but rather the work of a group of decisions specifically made to bring your vision to life.
To make your plan, you can use the following as a guideline:
- Choose an engine that your game will run on. Whether this is Unity, Unreal, or even custom built doesn’t matter. What matters is that any change made to this step at a later date will more than likely cause you extra work. If you are working with Unity and want to try Unreal, do it later. You can always make another game, but if you never finish one, you’ll never make the second.
- Decide on your assets, whether you are designing a 2D game, a 3D game, building your game assets from scratch, purchasing assets, etc. These are all decisions that you will want to make now. If you are buying assets, try and make sure that they are all in a similar style. If you find down the road that you need additional sprites or models, make sure they resemble the same art style as the rest of your set.
- Make a list of features that you want in your game. It doesn’t have to be final, but you do need to have a plan. Do you want an inventory screen? Different levels? Maps? Do you want particle effects? Are you building for AR? All of these considerations will help you to build out your plan.
If you’ve made it this far, you have an excellent idea as to how your game is going to look and how you are going to go about completing your project. Now it’s time to put some code in those empty files and assemble your game.
Sticking to the Plan
It is at this point where the benefits of your plan will be most apparent. When you’re building your game, you will find that some aspects are more comfortable than others. Without a plan in place, you may avoid working on the more challenging aspects of your game.
If you have a plan, however, you can ensure that you spend the time to properly research and learn how to approach these more challenging tasks, and you will see your game come together much more quickly.
Try and do a few easy things each time you work on your game, and one of the harder ones. Those easy tasks will boost your confidence for the moments when you tackle the difficult ones.
Don’t forget to share your progress on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook with the various indie dev communities. These communities can and often do provide invaluable feedback that shapes many of the most influential indie games today. For example, you often see the creator of Rimworld on Reddit discussing patches and various balance issues, and through that interaction, his game becomes that much better.
Get to it!
So that’s it. Play some games to get a good idea as to how you want to approach your game. Make a plan, and make sure you stick to it and finally share your progress as you go. Not only will these steps help your game reach completion, but you’ll build a following along the way.