GameDev Protips: How To Get Started Making Glorious Indie Games

Today, video game development is much more accessible than it’s ever been before. There is an immense amount of guides floating around on the web to help you improve and explore your specific interests in the topic. Despite this, however, new video game developers dread starting in the first place as the competition is fierce and they’re afraid that their game won’t stand out among the juggernauts. Luckily, you can utilize what others have learned to better your experience and push aside this mentality. There’s definitely enough room at the top for newcomers as well.

First off, at least when you’re starting, keep your projects small. It’s common for newer developers to think they can build the next amazing game in the genre. Obviously these are great dreams to shoot for but there’s absolutely no way you can do this single-handedly in a reasonable amount of time. Even Stardew Valley, a game known for its development team of one man and the quality that came from him alone, took more than 4 years to develop with him working about 10 hours a day. This amount of dedication to your work and the subsequent potential burnout can cause you to sloppily implement features towards the later half of the development cycle or give up halfway through the process. If you want to actually finish your first project and be satisfied with the result, keep it small.

Focus on a single game mechanic if you’re aiming to finish that project in a reasonable amount of time. If you’re making a platformer, all you need is jumping, falling, damage mechanics, and movement to make it happen. You don’t have to add a bunch of extensive features to the game like leveling up to make it a game. After all, your focus is to actually finish your project, so don’t bite off more than you can chew!

Secondly, leverage your video game skills. It’s no secret that creating video games requires very diverse skill sets. Maybe you’re a social person with strong communication, or maybe you’re experienced with more technical fields like programming or the graphical design. Even if no skills particularly shine in you, the most important thing is to know what you know and know what you don’t know. None of us are perfect so naturally some skills will be more developed than others. Choose a game design that suits those developed skills and slowly work up the skills that are harder for you. When you do this, you’ll produce a much better game and you’ll likely enjoy making it more too!

In a similar vein, embrace your failures. Your first creation will probably not be a hit, and neither will your next few either. Despite this, the best way to learn what you’re doing wrong is through making these mistakes. You can’t make a hit with no prior experience or knowledge; nobody can. Notch might be known for Minecraft but he had been making games for nearly his entire life before that so it’s no surprise that he knew how to make a good one. It can be hard to take in criticism from outsiders without being personally hurt by what they say, but it’s crucial to try and separate your personal involvement with how it is received. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t put your heart into it, but realize that the world is seeing your creation at face value and disregarding any amount of personal sacrifice put into the game, eliminating bias and showing you what you’re truly doing right or wrong.

Next, make sure you’re actually choosing the right tools. When I first started programming video games, I was set on building everything myself — this wasn’t wise; in video game development, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel because it hasn’t been reinvented for a reason. Use an engine. Both GameMaker: Studio and Unity are engines that I have learned to love; they’re great for 2D and 3D games respectively, and it’s relatively easy to figure out for a newcomer with the number of guides for it.

Most importantly, have fun with your development. I just stated this but again, this is the most important aspect of video game development. Video game development isn’t something you’ll go into just to make a few quick dollars; it’s something to have fun with, exploring your creative mind and sharpening the skills of what you love doing. You need to love game programming to be able to put up with all of the bugs, errors, and goofy outcomes of what you code. You need to love your mistakes since it’s a step on the way to success. If you’re not enjoying the creation of your game you’ll just end up making some generic shovelware since these problems often plague those types of games and they never get fixed. Every day you develop your skills will grow, and eventually, as long as you keep going, you’ll make a great video game.

Important Takeaways: In today’s world video game development is more accessible than it’s ever been due to all of the resources available to a developer. Despite this, new developers often worry about making their games topple juggernauts which simply shouldn’t be a concern this early in their career. A new developer should keep their project small in order to ensure that they actually finish it. In addition, their game design should also utilize the skills that they’re strong in so that the game is both better and more fun to produce. With time they can improve the skills that they’re weak in but for a first project you should always use your strong cards.

In a similar vein, a new developer should embrace any failures in their games as it shows them what they’re doing wrong and lets them make a better game in the future. They should choose the right tools for development, and by “right” I don’t mean something they make themselves, as there are plenty of viable game development tools already usable that are likely better than anything the new developer would make. Finally, and most importantly, the development should always be in the name of fun, as a game that’s made in a state of boring will retain that same feeling for players playing it. Even if a new developer’s first game isn’t a hit, as long as they keep going and keep improving as a result they’ll eventually make one.