When browsing various forums, boards and groups online, a very common question I see from beginners is “How do I get started in game development?“. It’s a fair question to ask; going into game development can indeed be a daunting prospect as the subject covers far more disciplines and fields than other similar industries. It’s easy to get lost in the complexity of it or to not even know what first steps to take.
Now we’re at the start of a new academic year with several fresh faced and eager new developers joining the society, I thought it would be a good time to share a few pearls of wisdom I’ve picked up having both been new to the industry myself and having taught several beginners too. Therefore, I give you my
7 Golden Rules for New Developers
1) Learn by Doing
It may sound obvious, but one of the best ways of learning to make games is by making games. Reading textbooks and articles is all well and good but you’re going to be learning the most with hands on keyboard/graphics tablet etc.
A good starting point is online tutorials. Rather than trying to strike it out on your own for your first project, it’s probably a good idea to find something you can follow along with. YouTube and other websites are packed full of guides that will lead you through the process of putting a simple game together and should give you a strong foundation and the confidence needed to move forward on your own.
A side-note on tutorials: don’t feel like you have to follow them to the letter. If you’re feeling confident, try doing things a little differently, or adding something extra of your own after you’ve finished the tutorial. It’s a good way of testing yourself before swimming out to deeper water.
2) Keep it Simple
That massively multiplayer fully featured game idea you’ve been sitting on for years now? Put it to one side, it’s not going to be your first game, or even your twentieth.
For your first game keep it really simple, I’d aim to have it finished within one week, which isn’t going to leave you a huge amount of time for development. As such, scale the design appropriately, strip out all but the most basic features of your idea and strip some more.
3) Be Inquisitive
When I’ve taught classes in the past, I’ve learnt the students that tend to make the most progress are the ones that ask questions, even the ‘obvious’ ones. My personal rule when it comes to questions is that no question is stupid if you learn something from the answer. Don’t be ashamed of maybe appearing naive or incapable: you won’t.
This applies outside the classroom too. Devsoc’s Slack channel is the common haunting ground of some of our more experienced developers, who will be only to happy to help with any development troubles you’ve run into. You can also reach out to the wider community at places like Stack Exchange.
4) Join Competitions and Jams
One trap almost all hobbyist or learning developers fall into at some point is procrastination. Why do it today when you can do it tomorrow? If the project is going to take 2 months, what difference does one day make?
Competitions and game jams are a great way of cutting through the excuses and delays and getting you to focus on delivering a game in a short period of time. Plus, I guarantee you’ll be surprised at just how much you’ll be able to achieve.
There’s almost always something you can take part in too, alongside DevSoc’s own competitions there’s the world-famous Ludum Dare, the annual Global Game Jam, the ongoing #1GAM Challenge and even the informal jams on itch.io.
5) Get Feedback
Not only is feedback a great way to improve, as it gives a fresh pair of eyes that might spot something you hadn’t thought of, but it’s also great for morale.
I’ll always remember the feeling I got from reading the comments on my first Ludum Dare game. It had been a difficult 48 hours and the game was barely finished and missing a few features I wanted to add. But, reading comments from people who not only played my game but also enjoyed it made me proud of my achievement and my game. If work ever starts to stress me out or wear me down, I still go back to moment’s like that.
Many of us get into game development because we enjoy playing them and we want to give others that joy too. Don’t forget that.
Also, give yourself feedback. It’s a commonly overlooked tool, but it works well: after completing a game, sit down and write yourself a ‘review’. What went well? What went badly? What have you learnt? What would you do differently?
6) It’ll Take Time
Some people who are getting started in game development expect to be able to turn out award winning games within a year of starting. They then get frustrated when the aren’t the next Notch or Jonathan Blow by Christmas and give up.
In reality, like any skill, game development takes time to learn and years to master. If you’re serious about getting good, you’re in for the long run.
In a similar vein, don’t expect to turn out a fully finished Action-RPG with deep narrative in six months. Again, if you’re serious about this, you’re in for the long run.
7) Try your Hand at Everything
This last bit of advice comes from my partner in crime, Nathan, who’s a designer and, as such, needs to work with people from every discipline in a game’s life-cycle.
“Have a go at every part of the development process before you specialise into your own field. It will help you to gain an appreciation of what other people on the team are doing in their jobs as well as what they need from you to do it.”
Additionally, I also believe that you should work alone for your first few games. While it is tempting to work in a team to lighten the load, working in a group adds factors such as needing team management and co-ordination along with the fact that you, and possibly other members of the team, are trying to learn your own jobs on top of that. In my experience, this tends to complicate things more than it simplifies them.
So, those are my seven golden rules for new developers. I wish all of you the best of luck in learning what is a fun, challenging and productive skill!