A Game Developers Journey: Where to begin
I don’t know anyone who knows what its like to make a game. I don’t know how to make a game anymore than the next guy trust me, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.
This journal is going to follow the process, and what it takes to get their, or fail as the case may be. Hopefully I can keep this as a weekly column covering my discoveries, hardships failures… yet if there’s nothing to talk about that week I won’t bore you or myself by writing.
The idea behind these posts is to give some insight on what it takes to make a game, and force me to look at my current process’s with an analytical eye. Keep in mind that this is NOT a guide on how to make a game, there are books that claim to do that. However if your a small developer or someone hoping to make games for fun than maybe these articles will amuse, entertain, and there’s a slight chance that they could inform. We’ll see.
First of all let’s talk about the things I’ll be discussing in these articles. In other words what are the fundamental parts of a game, and what do they mean.
Design: The how and what of a game. Every game needs it, every game has it. Even games that don’t have some of the other elements like sound, and non-video games have game design. Put simply game design is how high Mario jumps, and how fast he can run, not the actual code that lets the player do those things. As you can see this is fundamental because it creates the player experience, without a unique and fun design no one will want to play your game, it would be the equivalent of a boring action movie with no plot. Just boring and monotonous. There were plenty of games with jumping before Mario, but they didn’t have the addictive design that Mario so nicely presented.
Code: This brings us to the code. Code is the bones of any program, including the browser your reading this in. The nitty gritty behind the scenes because you never actually see the code, just the result of its 1′s and 0′s. Code is very important because it literally allows the game to be played. Games are run on top of engines that make development easier. Some buy liscenced engines to make development easier, and have a familiar tool while other create their engines from the ground up specifically with their game in mind. They both have their advantages, and pitfalls and they are both implemented by big great games. For example from the three games on my best of 2011 list, Mass Effect 2 uses the liscenced Unreal Engine, while Skyrim and Bastion both use “in-house engines”.
Art: Art is what you see, so as “video” is in the mediums name you can bet the visuals are pretty important. The art works hand in hand with design as the game world is either 3d or 2d. The art of a game can either make it very striking, memorable and evocative or leave it completely forgettable. There are two standards that visuals are usually held to, and those are technically impressive, or stylistically impressive. Obviously you can have both, although most games that do lean heavily one way or another.
Sound: Sound design has evolved immensely from the beeps and boops of old games. These days you have immersion surround sound effects and orchestra’s playing the games score. Mix this in with voice acting and you have a modern game, but of course its not that simple. Music is all about mood, and games do whatever they have to to capture that mood which means that not all games can, or even want an orchestra to be the backing to their game. Sound effects really aren’t necessary in games, but they like music can do a lot of things for a game. They can provide the player with hints, reward, direction, and direct feedback that you can’t get visually. Plus they suck the player into your game like nothing else. Remember when Bioshock was new and how crazy that game sounded? There’s a reason why for a while every freaking game had audio logs in it.
Storytelling: Storytelling while I’ll admit is not vital, is becoming increasingly important to games. Especially single player titles. Pac-man could get away with no story, but even its sequel Mrs. Pac-man had simple cut scenes. The main difference between storytelling in games vs other stuff is that the consumer is actively a part in the story. This means the player has an active investment in the story, but this also means that the story is in a lot of ways out of the storytellers hands. Their really is no right way to approach story in games. Some put the player on a linear controlled path, others create a virtual sandbox for the player to play out their own unique story, and most are some combination of the two.
Are these aspects all I’ll be talking about? No of course not. I’ll probably get hung up on some weird little thing at some point. Plus you can bet I will talk about the managing side of production. In other words the talking to people part.
Next week we’ll get into what it is I’ve found since I’ve rambled for a long time here. I hope you enjoy my commentary in the coming weeks.