On New Year’s Eve, I decided to break my no New Year’s resolutions rule. On Twitter, a new challenge had been issued to would-be indie game developers, and it was #1GAM. That’s (for those challenged by acronyms) one game a month, which in my mind sounded simple, trivial even.
Oh, how I was wrong. Now, this article is by no means meant to discourage you from making games. I’d prefer to inspire, but with the experiences I’ve had so far, I just want to pass on a few tips that I feel may be of use to any aspiring Notches or Cavanaghs. So without further ado, here are my tips for any budding game creator.
Coding is Hard.
Some coding languages are easy to pick up, like GML, the language used with the GameMaker software, the latest version of which is available on Steam right now. Other languages are harder, so frankly, it’s all up to your personal choice and level of competence. What I’m trying to say is that for a beginner, learning to code takes time. Researching tutorials on Google, the inevitable frustration when it takes 10 or more lessons to begin coding anything near what a game might look like. So you may, like I did, look for another answer. What I found is that there are many pieces of software like GameMaker which are designed to get you from 0 – 60 as fast as you can learn to drag and drop, which is quite quick really. You can find a decent list here.
“Free” Game Making Tools Are Frustratingly Limited.
Programs like Construct, Game Maker and even Unity, (if you want to go 3D) are really, really cool. That such programs are released for free is an absolute blessing, but there’s always a point where you hit a wall. You’ll find you need a “pro” version to publish in anything other than HTML 5 or some other obtuse and expensive barrier to making your dream game and you’ll wonder if maybe going back to traditionally coding your game might be better after all. That being said, if you wait until the biannual Steam sales, you may be able to get GameMaker: Studio for a pretty low price. I paid about £15, so it’s one of the more affordable options.
Having A Cool Idea Isn’t The Same as Having A Cool Idea That’s Actually Achievable.
When you make a game, there’s a lot to consider. Art style, genre, game mechanics, story, music, platform, the list goes on. You may well decide that your game is going to be a pixel art puzzle platformer where the main character manipulates time so that strange and wonderful things happen. That sounds good on paper, but in my case, I had nowhere near the knowledge and expertise to go straight away and make that vision happen, and it’s a crappy feeling. A really crappy feeling. It’s hard to downsize your vision to something you think is “manageable”.
You Can’t Do It All On Your Own.
This may seem obvious, but when I started to make my game, I wanted to do everything. Sound, visuals, game design, the whole shebang. I found very quickly that even producing visuals is a very precise thing with your art needing to fit into boundaries and tiles well, along with other issues that don’t occur to you when you’re doodling a pixel Twitter icon on MS Paint. Recruiting other people and making your game a team effort means accepting their vision of the game as well. It’s been said that indie games often contain something of the people who make them, and a game which is personal to you might be hard to share in that manner. That being said, Fez and Super Meat Boy were both made by dev teams with 2 members. Mojang are another prominent and much larger example.
It May Just End Up Not Being For You.
If after a month has passed of you trying to make a game, and your deadline passes like mine did, on the last day of January, don’t worry about it. Maybe there’s one part of the process that you’re good at, which you’d like to push further.
Musicians are always in demand, whether your music is orchestral scores or simplistic chip-tunes. Writers are making really cool interactive fiction with Twine and it’s extremely easy to use. Artists? Your skills are always welcome, making tilesets is a great help to devs making prototypes, and who’s to say that one day, you game designers won’t meet a programmer who can make your crazy time-jumping game mechanics a reality?
Game design blogs are starting to become quite popular, why not start one and share ideas for people to be inspired by, and discuss together?
I just want to say that, at the end of the day, if you want to make a game in a month, go for it, enjoy it, and make the best game you possibly can. I’m working on Twine games, and I honestly do hope that one day I can make my one game a month. Until then I can rest easy in the knowledge that I’m not alone, and that maybe, just maybe, my failure to make an indie game can help someone else to make theirs.