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  • How to Start Making Games

    [04.17.14]
    - James Cox
  • Ethos and Logos Intro:

    Q: Why does your opinion and advice matter, James?

    A: Well, my advice may not fit everyone. But I'd like to think that I'm doing well enough to share it. As of now, 2.5 years since I started making games for myself, I've created over 30 freeware games, most of which can be found on my GameJolt page, and/or on my website. 17+ of them have been written about to varying capacities on game news sites and blogs (totaling over 64 features, reviews, lists combined), and with many of then having been accepted and shown at conferences and conventions for a total of 11+ times combined (GLSArtscape, and Meaningful Play to name three). These games have also won 3 awards, with the most prominent being a silver medal at Serious Play. No doubt, there are plenty of better qualified people out there than me to give advice on creating games (professional game creators for example, as of now I am a hobbyest developer), but my thoughts on how to get started making games is still relatively fresh, and I'm still learning!

    Ethos, Pathos, Logos Back Story:

    Early in the Summer of 2012, I sat in my apartment, slightly frustrated about the shape and future of my creative endeavors. I wasn't doing horridly, as I had written plenty of stories and had dabbled in film, but what I really wanted to do was make games, digital games. That summer I was taking a heavy school course load to ensure that I would graduate on time, as well as participating in a research lab. It wasn't a useless summer, yet, as I sat at my desk in my room, I thought about the various opportunities I had missed because I didn't know how to code. Why didn't anyone want to work with me? I felt as if I was somehow poisonous. I had indeed created a few games with others, but those were either under classroom constraints (OG DarkWhite) or for Global Game Jam (MEchine). I had a good time designing and art-ing those games, but outside of confined spaces, it felt like no one truly wanted to work with me; that I couldn't just create when I wanted to. And when I tried to seek help or collaborations from developers, it usually resulted in non-committal responses.

    It was then that I decided, if I couldn't find anyone to help me code my games, I would learn it myself.

    I downloaded GameMaker 8.1 and began working my way through the suggested tutorials. I made a fruit click game. And then I made a small top down shooter. I began to watch Youtube tutorials on GameMaker. People like 14silverX revealed alternative ways to build these games, showing the multiple ways one could drag-and-drop games into existence. And from there, I branched off and started trying to make my own games; ones that, while they did use bits of the previous tutorials, were ideas I came up with. My first completed completely solo game was Landers. It was scary. I hadn't dealt with variables carrying across rooms before. But I made it, and it felt amazing. From there, I just dove in and got addicted. Friends hosting a party? Someone visiting from out of town? Meeting someone's new significant other? I'd show up to say hi, but quickly run off to get back to game making.

    I made Don't Kill the Cow, the new DarkWhite, and Cat Licker in this way; using mainly drag-and-drop, but each time including a bit more actual code as I hit barriers that drag-and-drop couldn't pass. Occasionally, I watch new GameMaker tutorials that helped teach GML.


    Don't Kill the Cow

    At some point, I realized that I was working with other people on a lot of my games. And it wasn't forced cooperation. It all had happened organically. I would need music, and I'd ask a friend and he'd say "sure thing!" and within a week or two, I'd have music in my game. Occasionally, as I continued to feed my game creating addiction, someone would ask to work with me. In some cases, they'd have games of their own, and everything worked out fine, we both understood the ins and outs of making short freeware. But other times, they wouldn't know how to make games, which is fine too. I often find that the best collaboration partners have nothing to do with games. For instance, a poet may provide the best dialogue you could ever ask for, while a historian may provide some neat insight into the time period you're trying to recreate. But those people seldom ask to make games. The ones that don't know how to create games, and ask to collaborate, have bad ideas. They pitch their game idea and expect you to make it. They design it and you do the rest. It 's a bit of a turn off. Why would I want to build their game when I have plenty of ideas of my own? Do they know how needlessly complex the game they pitched would be? I would be friendly and give these people a non-committal answer.

    Which is when it hit me: I was now on the other side of the fence. These not-yet-designers and not-yet-developers are in the same boat I was about two years prior. They were probably frustrated that no one wanted to work with them. I feel bad for these budding game creators. But realistically, there is no good reason to spend time collaborating with them when there are plenty of other potential collaboration partners with shiny games and a proven drive. It's just a risk not worth taking. This revelation felt good; but in a bitter-sweet way. If I time traveled back and met me before I made games, I wouldn't collaborate with previous James. He didn't know what he was doing and wanted way too much credit for just having ideas.

    Since then, I continued to make small-ish freeware  games, each one pushing some comfort zone for coding, design, or art. Some are successes, some are failures. Some made it into conferences and conventions, others hide in the darkness of the Internet.

    And that is how I got here today. Lots of games and lots of collaborations. I've met and become friends with some developers I never would have dreamed of friending. And the best part is that we all have the passion and drive. I'm slowly branching into larger projects as well, taking baby steps of course. I don't want to spend a year on a failed project. I still mostly work in GML but am slowly seeping into Unity.

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