Tuesday, May 24

On Where to Begin

Well I talk a lot, and not just here.  I often have trouble shutting up in day-to-day life.  I’m told it can be annoying, but if you’re like me, you understand that some topics are just going to keep you going, and I don’t blame you at all.  But occasionally one must realize the sense in making sure they actually talk about the really important stuff.  If you’re like me, you’re not a successful game designer, working out of Ubisoft, Valve, or (One day, gods willing) Bioware.  You don’t have to put in the long hours and sleepless night designer are burdened and blessed with, and you don’t have a team implementing your ideas, helping you every step of the way.  No, if you’re like me, you have yourself, your friends, whatever game pieces you can pick up from goodwill, and a free video game creator program.
But maybe you don’t have that.  Gaming is a love of yours, so you have games, but you don’t know where to find the proper stuff to make games.  Well, I'm no aficionado, not yet, but I can tell you where I get my best help and all the pushes in the right directions.
What's that?  You don't want to study for
hours upon hours?  Aw, poor baby.  Let's
back up the Wambulance.
First off, let’s pretend you don’t have any programming skills.  Well, they’ll definitely be helpful later, so start learning yourself a language.  Game designers work more in Perl and Python than C++, so far as I’ve heard, so those may be your best bets.  In addition, to get started on game stuff right away, or more quickly, there is Game Maker (Windows) and Game Salad (Mac).
Actually, I should stop right here and tell you:  Watch this video.  Then watch the rest of their videos.  Twice.
Done?  Good.
Anyway, let’s say that you want to know some more specifics of design, you want something practical and detailed.  Know that almost regardless of what you decide to study, it will fall victim to an author’s bias.  You’re creating art, and art is always subjective.  The main two books I’ve enjoyed reading are Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design, and The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design.  Level Up is a book full of practical game theory.  It’s a book that can get you to really look at individual bits of your game and analyze them thoroughly, whether you’re making a 1 player side-scroller or 4 player smash-up, Level Up can give the extra details you’ll want.  The Ultimate Guide is more tuned toward the troubles of making a game in the industry and understanding how game writing works.  I believe these two books work wonderfully together because of their very different goals.  The Ultimate Guide will give you an idea of how the aspect like art and writing fit into the design of the game, and Level Up gives the polish to that design.
But you don’t have the money for books.  Okay, that sucks, yes.  I know the feeling.  Boy, do I ever.  So look to the left of this post.  See that “Additional Reading” stuff.  It’s not there for show.  Those links represent some of the most helpful information I’ve found.  Design Robot is unfortunately on hiatus right now, and I’ve already plugged Extra Credits.  Gregory Weir has made some very fun and amusing games, and has a lot to say about the indie side of the gaming world.  David Sirlin’s site is your one stop shop for balancing your game and learning the psychology of multiplayer games.  Teaching Game Design chronicles a teacher’s tasks in bringing important design lessons to the world, and gives an experienced eye on the medium’s trends.  Lastly, the Game Overthinker.  I just like him, he puts up ideas I often find I conflict with (especially the idea that game creators are “toy makers”) but he does so in an intelligent and thought provoking way worthy of consideration.
So that’s a bunch of reading and listening to do, but you want to know what to do on almost no budget, with little programming knowledge and not enough skill to get your game ideas across in Game Make or Game Salad.  Well, there are a couple things you can do.  Practice writing Game Design Documents for your ideas.  Even if they never go anywhere, it’s good to show that you have the ability to write these sometimes very long winded, very thorough documents.  Try to write documents while imagining varying sizes of teams.  For instance, a team of 100 people or a team of 10.  Your games will differ quite a bit, and it will get you thinking about what truly matters in your game.
And in all seriousness, head to goodwill, head to garage and yard sales, head to Value Village.  Find old board games, whether all the pieces are there or not, you can get some parts to work with.  I’ve always found that actually having parts makes the process much, much easier.
That's right, play with these guys.  Nerds are a great
learning tool.  And let's face it: You are one.
Lastly, get your friends to play.  Gather them up to test out your game and let you know what they think.  Make sure they’ll be honest and open about it, and boy, make sure you’re able to take criticism.  If you aren’t, you’re in the wrong business, pal.  Also, understand that your friends are probably not game designers.  Try to separate the true problems of the game from the ones they complain about when they’re losing.  And of course, recognize that your game isn’t that good.  Probably.  Like every artist, you have to run before your can walk, and the critiques of others can always help you move forward.

Speaking of…

In addition to all this hopefully helpful advice, I’ll be doing another post in a few minutes to announce the first version of my board game: Elemental Gate.  This is a definite work in progress, and I’d be more than happy to receive all kinds of critiques surrounding it.  I’m already starting to twist and change aspects of the game, but I’d love to hear more if anyone’s willing to share.  Thanks to everyone who reads, and thanks to those who tell me why I suck.

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