Advice About That First Game

A good friend of mine tweeted today:

Been learning game design. I am having a lot of problems with it so I just need to take it slow.

I have been giving him advice where I can, and today I wanted to share some of that on my blog.

Know Your Limits

This is the most important piece of advice I feel I can give to those people who are beginning the journey into game development. You must understand your limits. We all want to create the next Elder Scrolls; I did, and it was awful because I was horribly under-prepared and ignorant of the true scope of that task.

My friend has a solid grasp on the basics of computer programming, which I consider essential. Let’s be very clear: ‘game design’ and ‘computer programming’ are two entirely separate disciplines. But the latter is often the gateway into the former. So his knowledge of programming is what allows him to execute his game design ideas.

The key is to limit those ideas to one’s knowledge. For example, I was quick to warn him about some early ideas because they sounded too complex. People who have never written a game before—or any type of software honestly—usually do not understand how rapidly the complexity of a project increases. That is why everyone’s first game should be simple, as simple as absolutely possible while still having an element of gameplay. To give an example, my friend decided on a game where the player explores a map. He talked about randomly generating the maps—something I plan to write an article about—but decided to use static maps for simplicity. Simplicity is the best attitude for approaching one’s first game.

I encourage everyone who wants to make a game to do so. But start small. If you have to then begin by re-implementing a game like Asteroids, something that is not intensely complicated but also is not trivial. If your first game idea has the phrases ‘role-playing’ or ‘massively multi-player’ in it then you are making a mistake.

Make a small game work. Then build from that. That’s how the greats have done it. You think Quake was the first game John Carmack wrote? No, he started with more simple games. Budding game developers should adopt a similar path.

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