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21 Jan 2014

Build Your First Game, Jumpstart Your Indie Dev Career

You know, I have talked a lot about how to monetize, market, and generate new plans for creating your next big game. It’s my hope that it’s helpful information (judging by the comments, it is for a lot of you), yet what about those that are just starting out? I’m not talking about those that have made their first game and want to market their first game, nor am I talking about the individuals that are ready to form their own studio. Rather, I’m talking about you that wants to build your first game. The aspiring indie developer that is unsure as to where to start, yet knows this is their dream. Thus, I have written a pocket-sized guide to creating your first game, so use this as a mere guideline. While it won’t even come close to telling you everything you need to know, it can be used as a roadmap for what lies ahead.

But let’s get back to the topic at hand. So you have an idea for your first game. That’s great – after all, that’s the very first step to developing your game. Yet you want to know what the hardest part is?

It’s getting started, and the best place to begin is to start planning. 

Of course, you really have no idea what you need to plan (the sole purpose of this pocket-sized guide after all), so here’s what you need to do:

  1. Grab a piece of paper.
    1. Begin jotting down every idea you have about your game (i.e. brainstorming).
    2. Who is the protagonist? What is the goal?
    3. What do you want to see in the game? What is the game about? Any particular levels you want to see?
    4. Consult my post on techniques for brainstorming if you find yourself stuck.
    5. Most importantly? Allow your mind to race. Remember: no idea you jot down is bad in the beginning.
  1. Provide context to these plans/ideas.
    1. Add details regarding why each idea is jotted down on your piece of paper. E.g. If you have an idea as to who your protagonist is, write down ‘why’ they are your protagonist.
    2. If you can’t come to a conclusion regarding ‘why’ they are your protagonist? Maybe you need to find a different protagonist so you can answer this question.
    3. This is a great way to ‘weed out’ the bad ideas you have. If you cannot come up with a good reason why something is in a game, consider taking it out.
    4. If you want to stick with the idea and don’t want to throw it out, put the idea on a separate sheet of paper labeled ‘maybe ideas’ (or something similar).
    5. Think of this as the purgatory of your ideas you cannot use yet, and when you’re stuck? Resort back to this purgatory list and perhaps new/different ideas will come up.
  1. Question your ideas one more time.
    1. Look over your notes once more. Do any questions pop into your mind when reading these notes?
    2. If they do, find the answers to them.
    3. Continue questioning your notes and fine-tuning every idea you have until there are no more questions left to answer.
    4. Are you sure there are no more questions left to answer? Go over your notes a few more times to be certain.

Prior to Building Your Prototype: 

What platform do you want to develop on? Do you know how to code? Do you want to build games without knowing a lick of programming (more on that in a future post)? 

fractal binary code imageWhatever your answer may be, consider a post I wrote last week for XNA users. It details some of the best game creator software available today no matter if you are just starting out or you are a seasoned programmer. Once you have an idea regarding what software you are going to use, play around with it a little bit and get acquainted with it. Follow tutorials either on the software’s website or on YouTube. Personally, I know Unity has awesome tutorials on its website, and there are a vast array of tutorials on YouTube designed to teach anyone how to use the software.

Play around with the software for a day, a week, whatever it takes for you to become familiar with the software of your choice This will give your ideas some time to stew as well, so you can return to them and look at them with fresher eyes. Once you are ready, come back and join us.

Once you’re back, it’s time to finally get to prototyping. To begin, test the core mechanics along with the features of the game that are going to be central to your game. For example, if you are designing a platformer where the protagonist can only jump via the thrust of a jetpack, test these mechanics out and get them balanced before progressing further. The trick is to design your game around the core mechanics of your game so you have a solid, final product once you are finished.

I will state that you shouldn’t be afraid to prototype new ideas as you think of them. As you are designing your prototype, you are undoubtedly going to get new ideas, so build prototypes to see if the idea is feasible or not.

Once you have a working prototype, it’s time to actually start developing the game.

The Development Process

So you have a prototype that works – thus, it’s time to actually develop your game. First, you need to decide which platform you are going to release your game on, and when you figure that out? It’s time to make the game of your dreams. This means developing all of the bells and whistles you jotted down in your ideas initially and making it look/play like a game people would want to buy.

This is the hardest and longest part, and while dozens of posts can be written about the development process, let me state that there is no clear-cut way to begin developing your game. Just start, and if you run into problems? Consult with fellow indie developers on places such as Reddit if you run into problems. And if you really need external help on your game? Consult my outsourcing the game development process post to hire someone to help with the development process.

Again, just start developing. Start at the beginning of your game or at the end – it doesn’t really matter. Just start, then continue and continue until you have finished development of your game. The steps above will have prepared you for this step, so if you have any doubt? Consult them once again.

marketing imageReleasing Your Game

Before releasing your game, you need to hire people to playtest your game for you. Again, I have written a post here and here regarding how to hire playtesters to provide feedback for your game. Once you are given feedback, go back to your game and fix some of the problems if needed. You will want to get used to doing this, as you are going to have to do this multiple times after your game is released as you will likely need to release multiple patches after launch.

Once you are comfortable that your game is in a polished and finished state, it’s time to release it; then start developing your next game. The great thing about creating your first game is you will learn from the mistakes of your first game for your second game, and so on and so on. Yet, you never stop learning – no matter if you end up creating a few games or a few dozen. There is always something new to learn no matter how seasoned you may be, which is one of the appealing factors to game development. There is always something new to learn around the corner, and a way to improve your next game from your previous games.

But it all starts with your first game. So get out there, start planning, and get on the road to creating your very first game!

2 Responses

  1. I am trying to find the answer to start my career and I have learned somewhat through my failure. I am starting work on a game for the PC that I plan to have available for free. The way I see it is that this way I can have people playing and enjoying my game. Once I have an audience on my site hosting the game, I can ask them to follow me as a developer. However, my one question that I still don’t have an answer to, and that is not mentioned on any advice posts I’ve seen, is how do I get my name out there in the first place. Do I just pay for an advertisement on Facebook for people to play my free game? I hope you will have some answers.

    Brandon C

    1. Hey Brandon,

      Unfortunately, there isn’t one straight answer to give to you. My advice would be to scour the posts that have been written on here to get some ideas on how to promote your brand in the easiest ways possible. Personally, I’ve written a ton of different posts on Game Academy regarding how to get your name out there to the masses, but if you want to know my two cents for where you should start today, I would suggest doing a contest for your followers on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and tell them that if they share a tweet, Facebook status, etc. with their friends, they will be entered to win a free copy of one of your games. That will give you some momentum, and from there, start sharing awesome content with your followers every day to keep the ball rolling.

      I assume you’re not the only one with this question, so I may write a post on where to begin when you want to gain a fanbase sometime this week (possibly today). Stay tuned.

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