Join Brenda Romero for an in-depth discussion in this video Start making games…now!, part of Game Design Foundations: 3 Pitch, Propose, and Practice.
- [Announcer] If you listen to no other video in this series, it is my sincere hope that you will listen to this one. It is the most important message that I can conceivably deliver to those aspiring to make video games. Just start makin' 'em right now. You don't have to wait until you get to college, and if you're in college, you don't have to wait until you take that specific course, and if you're already through college, it doesn't matter, you can start making games this weekend, or even tonight, or even right now. So often, I hear kids in the prime of their learning time discussing their plans to study game design in college.
Months pass, summers go by, they play games and they pine for the future, but as college at long last approaches, they're already eight years behind the greats of the industry, who started making games at 11, 12 or 13. I made my first analog game when I was five. My husband learned to code when he was 11. You don't need to have any idea what the heck you're doing, none of us did, we just did it, we did it poorly almost universally, but each time we did it, we got better, and we took that experience with us.
I probably made 30 analog prototypes before any of them made a mark. If you're still in school, start now while your responsibilities are few and your days are many. If you're older, like me, don't let the time behind you dissuade you, I changed my life profoundly in 2015 to live the life I most wanted to live. I used all the hours I could spare to get from where I was to where I am, and I did it with four kids at home, you can do it too. It doesn't matter how fast you do it, just start now.
Get your not-so-good games behind you, the more games you make, the better they'll be. Start learning, you can start today. Next, you don't need to learn how to code. Knowing how to code is absolutely great, don't get me wrong there, but you don't need to know how to code to make a game. Arguably, I'm best known for my analog work, and for that I never even touched a computer except for research. Start making games at whatever level you're comfortable with, there are dozens of tools out there to help you make games.
In fact, game making has never been more accessible than it is right now. You can start making a level in Mario Maker, or a new level in your favorite first-person shooter. You can easily download a tool like Twine or learn how to tell interactive stories. You can migrate up to Java, the language behind Minecraft, or Lua, or even Unity. There are even videos here to help you learn how to use these tools. Most importantly, don't be put off by the learning curve. If you're a gamer as well as an aspiring game developer, you've probably seen Game Over thousands of times, but you still try it again.
Learning is the same way, just respond and restart. If you're confused, ask for help. Don't give up your dreams just because of a failed compile. You don't have to make a good game. Let's just get this right out of the way. You don't need to make a good game, the odds of you making something epic, or even good, on your first foray into game development are about a million to one, at best. Most of the game developers that I know who've experienced a substantial degree of success in their careers have found that success only after ten plus years of experience.
Their great games were built upon the mistakes, missteps, and partial successes of their past. Strive to make a game, any game. You don't need to make your magnum opus. And please, for goodness' sake, don't. Start small, many aspiring game developers set out to make their dream game, without any idea of how nearly impossible it is for someone that's just starting out. They go big, and when they realize that they've created the equivalent of scaling Everest in digital form, they give up, overwhelmed and disappointed.
Save your magnum opus for the game developer you will be in 10 years, you'll do it better then. When you're just starting out, start small, learn by trying to replicate classic games of the past. In this case, it's not to publish them, but rather, like a classical artist learns by following in the steps of the masters, you'll see how challenging it can be to create something as seemingly simple as Pac-Man or Space Invaders. And you'll get great experience as well. These are manageable projects, though.
If they seem too big for now, start even smaller, but start. You don't have to wait for your teacher to arrive. Experience is the teacher you're looking for. You don't need a specific professor or mentor or technology, all you need is you, time, drive, and imagination. Look for your flaws, ask others to mercilessly critique your work, and do better next time. You are your own teacher if you have the ears to listen or the will to take feedback.
One of my favorite things about a fellow game developer is that he's so open to feedback after having made 150 games. You don't need to wait until you get into the industry. The great truth is that you are in the industry when you say you are, from the very moment you start making your first game, you have entered the game industry, welcome and congratulations. I've been here nearly all my life, since I was 15 years old, and I'd not trade it for anything in the world. You don't need to release a game to be in the game industry, I don't think anyone would argue that the folks who are presently working on an unreleased title at Electronic Arts are not in the industry just because their game is not out, nor do I think people would argue that Sid Meier only got into the industry when he first released Civilization, and it made its first dollar.
You're an artist when your brush hits the canvas, arguably, you're an artist when you first start thinking about your creation. So start thinking, and then start doing. And welcome, I'm glad you're here. You don't need money, not a dollar. You don't need investors or grants or big savings to make whatever it is you want to make. In fact, why would you sell off part of your dream to a VC anyway? Don't stand at the starting line waiting for the dollars that may never come. Instead, start working, you already have the only currency you need to make games, time.
Take the hours outside of your work, take your weekends, save like crazy and take a few months off if you can, I've known developers who've done it, but don't wait. When I stood on the fence of money and games back in 1988, my brother, a professional musician, had some choice words for me, he said, do what you love and the money will follow. I didn't realize how important that ordering was until I was in my 40s, if you do it for money, you'll probably lose the love.
The last point is you don't need happiness. Game development, game creation, can be a refuge and an outlet. I've made some of my best work at the darkest time of my life, it was a catharsis. Some of the most beautiful games in recent years have begun to explore topics outside of what we might consider traditional fun, and there's no reason to wait, whatever your topic might be. My last point is you don't need tomorrow. You can absolutely start today.