The same survey mentioned in Part 1 included some short answer questions, too. I offered two prompts:
1. Have you started making a game project which you were unable to finish, and either moved on from or put on the back burner? If yes: if you could reset time, would you still go through that again?
2. When you meet someone who knows nothing about making videogames but wants to get started, what do you recommend they do?
Why These Questions?
For question #1, I’m hoping to better understand the role of having an “Icarus” project as part of the learning path. By Icarus project I’m referring in general to the overly ambitious game that many of us try taking on much too early, and inevitably fail at. Do people feel there are unique lessons learning that make up for the time and morale lost?
For question #2, I figured it’d be interesting to triangulate a bit about what advice developers offer to beginners. I’ve asked similar prompts before, but responses here were no longer limited to tweet-length.
Ever Take on a Project Too Big to Finish?
1. Have you started making a game project which you were unable to finish, and either moved on from or put on the back burner? …
Nearly everyone who participated in the survey had taken on a project that was too big to finish. In summary:
Thus the second part of the question applied to nearly everyone:
1. …If yes: if you could reset time, would you still go through that again?
Here responses were more divided. Among all respondents lumped in together, about 3 out of 4 felt that the overly ambitious projects were a valuable way to learn:
Splitting these responses based on earlier answers in the survey about commercial or non-commercial game development, something else interesting pops up.
Here’s the division of opinion among the respondents who are developing indie videogames professionally:
In contrast, here’s the division of opinion among the respondents who are not developing indie videogames professionally:
What This Might Suggest
As least from this group, it looks as though professional indie developers are much more likely to see consider early unrealistic projects as counterproductive.
I’m of course not someone who believes that hobby game development is somehow less valuable or valid than professional game development. I am interested though in how attitudes and practices may be different on both sides of the (sometimes hazy) line, and it’s also of interest to me for learning how to better aid those present-day hobby game developers that have a longer-term interest in making games professionally.
Reminder: This is Not a Scientific Poll
But, of course, correlation does not imply causation. We can’t necessarily say, from this little blip of data at least, whether people’s attitudes about time spent on unfinished large projects affects their likelihood of making independent games professionally. Perhaps what we’re seeing is some other correlation: a connection between these and a developer’s age (and thus probable experience level, or the state of technology and game development tools when they got started?), what roles they specialize in, whether they’re mostly self-taught or received formal training, etc. These are all potentially relevant factors, along with many others, that in this initial case I didn’t gather information on or control for.
To reiterate the disclaimer from the Part 1: this is only 50 developers surveyed. The group is neither a large enough sample size to extrapolate, nor a scientifically selected set of respondents to be representative of developers more generally. As a preliminary study this has piqued my interest for some future questions to ask and share, and I hope it promotes some interesting dialog between members of the community.
That said, these are 50 real people all with real experiences. Much like when we engage in informal playtesting with friends and family it’s a way to help get beyond our own narrow personal experiences, biases, and assumptions. It’s perhaps at least a slightly better indicator than simply what’s in any one person’s head.
There are many ways to go about learning game development, and no matter what you or I personally believe about the process and activity there are plenty of smart people that think totally differently about it. There are many aspects to learn, many ways to learn them, and no two people are alike when it comes to interests, preferred learning style, and circumstances.
Do People Who Found Unfinished Projects Useful Encourage Others to Try It?
Another interesting finding is that some respondents indicated for the first question that they had no regrets over taking on projects they were unable to finish, and yet for the second question, when offering advice for beginning game developers, would say something along the lines of:
“Pick your favorite classic game. Pick one aspect of that game and try to implement it yourself (like moving the paddle in Pong). Once you get that working, pick the next aspect and get it working with the first (ball bouncing around screen and off paddle). Repeat until you have a full game.”
Even though this anonymous developer found it worthwhile to have taken on a project too big to finish, that isn’t part of advice offered to beginners.
Nor was this respondent alone in this. The next person to take the survey, who also opted to remain anonymous, had taken on a project early on that was too large to finish, and likewise indicated it was something they’d do over just the same way again to learn. That person’s advice for beginners: “Start simple.”
What if our feeling good over having spent months or years on massive incomplete projects is just a form of Stockholm Syndrome, rationalizing to make ourselves feel better about the abandoned game? Maybe on the surface we tell others that if we could do it all over again we’d go through the same futile struggle – but if we don’t recommend the same step for others might this imply that deeper down we don’t truly believe it was worth it?
Or, this discrepancy could be hidden in how the questions were worded. No time limit is presented for the first question, so these experiences may have come well after starting simple, and therefore may not seem as relevant to mention to someone who is just beginning. In this interpretation, a pattern such as this might fit how this often unfolds:
(implied) 1. Learn enough code, design, and art basics to do anything at all.
2. Make one or more simple games to get bearings, doing what you can. Finish them.
3. Bite off more than you can chew, to learn your limits and practice dabbling in advanced stuff, stretching beyond what you’re prepared to do. Accept that this can’t actually get finished.
4. Recover from the morale crash of leaving that game unfinished, then move on wiser from it to not make those same mistakes again. Plan projects with newfound consideration for conscious tradeoffs around your now better understood limitations.
Were Big, Incomplete Projects Worth It?
Here are excerpts from some representative responses, again which were written to the following prompt:
1. Have you started making a game project which you were unable to finish, and either moved on from or put on the back burner? [virtually everyone said yes] …If yes: if you could reset time, would you still go through that again?
“I would wait until I had more experience with creating games, I tried to take on a project that was much bigger than my abilities and it killed me until I abandoned it.”
“If I could reset time, I would still go through those, because even in those, I’ve learned something new or developed a new technique so it has helped other games that I have finished or am actively working on.”
-Infinite Possibility Games
“Probably not. The game wasn’t worth the time and effort. We felt that it did not bring anything new to the table and was just another 2D RPG game.”
“I totally would still go through it again. It helped me learn so much even if I didn’t complete it.”
Another interesting explanation of the underlying issues:
“I got stuck in the trap of wondering if I was implementing something the ‘right way,’ tried to learn it, then either burned out either implementing it or ran out of motivation. I’m planning to try again, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.”
One person found it a little therapeutic to even have an outlet to discuss this:
“[After listing some descriptions about more than a half dozen abandoned projects] Thank for this, it was like confessing my sins.”
Although this excerpt comes from a bit of discussion and doesn’t specifically speak to the yes/no aspects of the question, it’s a well-put observation that I too have often found true for most of the larger projects that I’ve worked on over the past decade:
“Most of the games I’ve released I was working with someone else and that tends to bring with it a sense of responsibility to that person to not waste their time. When a project is solely your own effort, that pressure is not there.”
Advice From Others About Getting Started
For the remainder of this entry I’ll share, in no specific order (i.e. these aren’t top-to-bottom those which I most disagree with, or anything like that), what our fellow videogame developers filling out the survey explained as their recommendations for beginners.
The exact prompt:
2. When you meet someone who knows nothing about making videogames but wants to get started, what do you recommend they do?
“Watch YouTube videos for beginner game development tutorials”
“I started with tic tac toe and moved up from there. I recommend finding games that have released source and read that. The internet is rich with tutorials, the most important thing is to resist the urge to have your first project be a ‘World of Warcraft’-killer. To learn you have to go through feedback cycles, the larger your projects the slower they will be. Start small and get incrementally larger. Even after 15 years of hobby game development I learn stuff all the time and I’ve yet to attempt an mmo. One of the latest projects I’m working on is in fact the first time I’ve tried to incorporate multiplayer at all.”
“Find friends who also want to do it with you. Also, use game jams frequently to get stuff done.”
“If it’s as a hobby, I’d tell’em to jump right in and start playing with something simple and expressive, where you can get interesting results quickly. Something with a level editor. Or something moddable. Then something simple such as GameMaker.
If it’s as a career indie, I’d have them look at everything coming out on Greenlight and tell them that that, plus everything AAA, is their competition.”
“Try to replicate your favorite game mechanic. Participate in a game jam. Get started NOW! Reinvent the wheel. Once you exhaust yourself doing that, start using others’ libraries. You have to attain a balance between appreciating the insane amount of work that goes into complicated systems vs. using game maker software. If you want to know if this field is for you: http://scratch.mit.edu/. If what fascinates you is programming, get something a bit more low-level, e.g. Torque 2D”
“This all depends on what people are looking to do. What are they trying to use? …Most recent example is a programmer friend of mine that I have toyed with making games with a couple times. He was interested in Using Unity3d for the 2d tools they brought in and it’s ability to work with C#. I pointed him in the direction of pixelnest.io tutorial series as well as Jesse Freeman’s newest series of tutorials you can access. In addition I pointed him to the scripting resources for Unity so that he could familiarize himself with how Unity operates.”
“My main recommendation is to start small. Very small. Make a simple, fun game based off a preexisting concept with your own personal twist / flavor to make it yours. An arcade style game is best, since you’ll learn basic game mechanics and gain much needed experience through this project.
NEVER start big. Don’t plan on making your first project a large RTS game, some grand RPG, or a AAA style FPS. You’ll lose motivation and the game will never be finished. Plus, making complex games requires a very in-depth knowledge of programming and potentially a team. Start small.
Use online forums and guides for help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as well. Game Maker by YoYoGames is a great starter game development tool, and many very successful indie games have been made using it. Find it here: http://www.yoyogames.com/
Beyond Game Maker, learning Python and making games using that language is also a step in the right direction. Utilize GitHub to keep track of changes in your code. Use the Internet to your advantage.
Don’t go into game making for the money. For every successful indie game, there are thousands of unsuccessful ones that are played only by a handful and then buried under the constant onslaught of new games. If you expect to make a living after just a few games, then you will be sorely disappointed. While it is possible to make a killing from a game, this usually requires experience, a genius idea, a team, tons of resources, EXCELLENT marketing, and a good amount of luck.
Make games for the sake of making games.
tl;dr: start small, make a simple arcade game, use the Internet, ask questions, don’t do it for the money, and make games because they’re fun to make.”
“Particularly for people bored by Asteroids, Pong, and other such ‘practice games’, make something you like. If you’re wanting to jump straight into making the next Saints Row, consider like a stick-figure sandbox game (like this!). Look at what you like, break it down into little pieces, and go looking for information on how to make them.
Also, Game Maker and Stencyl specifically are BY FAR the most beginner-friendly tools out there. In the long term both are flexible enough to create professional-grade work if you come to really like using one.”
“I recommend some good entry level software – Game Maker or RPG Maker.”
“Learn about the process and find out more about components of video game (design, programming, art etc.). If all the concepts are completely new to them I would maybe even recommend starting with Scratch. It seems to be the simplest way to understand the logic behind games.
They also need to establish which aspects of game creation they can handle (are they willing to learn programming or do they want to just run with ideas that they can prototype using visual tools).
For later on i think Unity is a good and well rounded tool, and there are tutorials all over the place.
I usually don’t recommend any beginner level books, I had to go through quite a few for University and they are often no better than free internet resources.”
“This largely depends on what they want to do. If they want to learn how to design, for example, I would recommend deconstructing existing games (not just playing them, but breaking the systems down into spreadsheets, flowcharts, etc.). I would also recommend designing simple paper prototypes and, most importantly, have people unfamiliar with your game play it. Rapid iteration is key.
On the side, I would also recommend picking up a more easily defined trade, such as programming, conceptual art, environment art. There are several great, free programs that one can use to learn, such as Unity, Blender, GIMP, etc.”
“I try to have them think about things in terms of rules/states (if you do this, then what happens? Then what happens? Then..?) and it kind of gets to the point where they come up with how the interactions in the game are related to each other. I used to recommend flixel pretty heavily, but I’m not sure what’s a quick and easy to recommend platform for beginners nowadays.”
“I tell them the #1 most important thing is to just start doing and making finished products. It’s ok to practice by making quick and simple (and derivative) games to learn. When I started learning I was hung up on the idea that any game I made had to be amazing and super creative and unique. With that type of thinking it’s really easy to get caught up in the idea stage when I would have been better off just jumping straight into production.”
“Usually I ask them what they had in mind. If it is simple… tell them to go with it using resources, if it sounds too big, I talk to them about a smaller aspect and point them to sites and tools for that. For example, instead of Unity, more like Sploder.”
“I just recommend they start small, that’s all. Making big games is overwhelming and a good way to never finish a game. Cut, cut, cut ideas until you’ve got something really small and manageable. Then finish it. Then move on to bigger things.
Now I’ve just got to learn to better take that advice myself!”
“I would recommend to start with an engine that is easy to learn like Construct or Unity, depending on their programming skills. Then start with tutorials and start with very small games that you can actually complete.
The tutorials and live training on the unity3d website are pretty good.
“Previously I’d suggest learning python and making pong, but now I think it really depends on what they really want to do. Tools like Game Maker and RPG Maker are not bad places to get started. People who are more mathematically inclined should have n o trouble jumping into even Unity with C#. I love my books, but now the internet has tons of great resources and answers freely available. That and just making stuff is so much more valuable than reading about theory for even just half the day.
This is assuming they want to try solo dev or making their own games. Others, especially artists and musicians, have tons of avenues to participate in projects through jams, gamedev classifieds, open source games, or even just making resources for places like opengameart.org”
“Pick your favorite game type for the first one. Action, strategy, whatever (except RTS; that’s just way too hard of a start). It has to be something you’re genuinely interested in and passionate about, or it’ll be impossible to get through the making process.
There’s a lot of engines and coding options available. Look at screenshots and get used to hunting things down on forums.”
“I usually try to dissuade them. They have no idea what they’re in for. Plus I read a Robin Williams quote that he always tried to dissuade people from getting into comedy, because he figured if his word was enough to discourage them, they were never going to make it anyway. I think game development is a lot like that.”
“I would recommend that a newcomer should start off by learning how to become a computational thinker. This can be accomplished by learning how to code, or even using software like Scratch.
In recommending someone how to get started, I would make sure that the barrier to entry is low. Any tool where they can click install and then get going would be ideal.
I would recommend that they find others interested in making video games as well. It’s a long and hard road to go at it all alone, and is way more fun to have friends with you on the journey.”
“MAKE A GAME!
It doesn’t matter how you do it. Go home and google “Unity Tutorials”, download RPG Maker, or Game Maker! Start playing with some Mod tools for your favorite game! Grab some index cards and make a playable card game!
The biggest thing standing in your way is that stupid voice saying “I don’t know how to do it” or “I can’t do it.”
You need to build up your confidence and improve your ability find answers. Before you have these skills, everything is going to be difficult and tiring. But as they improve you’ll start to enjoy the process.
At this point, you can focus on learning more complex processes or tools. You won’t be discouraged that you don’t know the answer because you can find it! You can make a game.
(Interesting note: A good portion of my professional work hours were spent finding answers on google or in help files. Get used to not knowing things.)”
“I recommend engines like Stencyl, Construct2 or RPGMaker.”
“This is not something I’ve personally done too many times yet, but I would advice people to finish a game. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small (though I would advice starting small), but by making something from start to finish (and bug free) is important (and very rewarding). Game jams are a great way to try this out, since your time to finish the game is limited.
I would also advice to try and find a good middle ground between what you want to do and what you are able to do. All game developers have their dream games they’ve always wanted to make, but you don’t need to (and probably can’t) make that as your first game (unless your dream game is like Pong or something).
For software, I would recommend either Unity or GameMaker. Unity because that’s what I started with (and still use) and I think it’s fairly intuitive and there are a lot of great tutorials for it. I haven’t used GameMaker myself, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it (particularly how it is easy to get into) and played good games made with it.
YouTube is a good resource for tutorials. I would recommend just searching along the lines of “(engine name) beginner tutorial”, and finding a tutorial you can make sense of.
I would also recommend watching “The art of screenshake” by Jan Willem Nijman and “Juice it or lose it” by Martin Jonasson and Petri Purho at some point. These talks are great at demonstrating how small changes in the game can make a huge impact in the overall experience.”
“Game Maker. It’s free and a great tool with great tutorials. I tell them to start writing out all their ideas and getting into more game design conversations. I know these conversations are rare, but you gotta find them if you want to learn.
There’s also modding/level editors if you want to get right to the level creation.”
“I recommend they start with Unity, and that they make use of the HobbyGameDev Unity tutorial if they have any kind of coding experience and are in high school or are older. Younger than that, especially with no coding experience, I suggest starting with Scratch or Alice.
I also suggest working first on a very simple game, and try to give them examples they’re aware of such as a match three/Bejeweled-like, flappy bird, or a barebones 2D runner game.”
“In the past I would always recommend making a simple Tetris clone (to me, every game developer has at one point constructed Tetris) because the assets are easy to come by. No particular books or links though.
However these days I tend to recommend Game Maker as an easy way to have the heavy lifting done for you so that you can concentrate on the game part of the game.”
“Make a game following constraints. You must limit yourself or you’ll never finish a game. For example: every element of the game is represented by a colored square or rectangle and the view does not move or scale. Also use a pre-existing collision system like Box2D, Unity’s implementation of PhysX, or GameMaker’s solids and bounce mechanics.”
“Go to a game jam at a physical location, like Ludum Dare or Global Game Jam, and participate. Even if you do nothing, you can still see how a game is actually made, and how easy it is to actually start making a game from nothing (and of course, how hard it is to get to a playable state).”
Depends on what context they are asking in:
“‘I want to go to college to learn to make video games’: I always recommend they get either an art degree or a general computer science degree, as those enable easy entry into games but don’t lock them in.
‘I want to start making games today’: I recommend HobbyGameDev.com, Unity, and the Jesse Schell book as good starting points, and stress that making a small but complete game is the best first step, rather than trying to jump right in to that epic RPG or open world adventure they have been thinking about since middle school”
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