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So... You Want to Make Video Games?

We kick off our exclusive serialisation of Nick Pendriis' game development ebook
So... You Want to Make Video Games?

When veteran game designer Nicholas Pendriis put his experience down on paper in the So... You Want to Make Video Games? A Survival Guide ebook, we decided to take a look so budding developers could get a feel for what was on offer.

We were mightily impressed by Pendriis' easily accessible and impressively useful insights into forging a path through the games development jungle, so we've teamed up with the author to bring you a serialisation of his ebook.

It's a slightly condensed digest of what you'll get from the full ebook, but over the next few weeks he'll be walking you through his individual steps for effective game design.

We're starting with an introduction as to what you'll be learning about.

#1: So... You Want to Make Video Games? Introduction

I wrote this book to answer a question that I get asked from time to time: “How do I make games?”

Unfortunately, there’s no single, simple answer to this. Making games is a process with many component parts. It’s complicated. Of course that’s not a real answer, so I thought about it deeply and wrote down my answer.

This is my honest, no-illusions starter guide. It'll give you a general understanding of the entire development process, in eight simple stages, and show you exactly how to write and publish your own apps - for less than the cost of buying a console game!

#2: Game development - the basics

There are over seven billion humans on planet earth and a great number of us play video games. In fact together we now spend over 100 billion dollars (£60 billion) a year on games.

To put that in perspective, we spend just 15 billion dollars (£9 billion) on music. That’s every CD, MP3 and subscription to a music service.

We spend 36 billion dollars (£21 billion) visiting movie theatres every year.

This shows how popular video games really are. Although we currently spend more on buying and downloading movies - around 500 billion dollars in total (£300 billion) - games are catching up rapidly. Video games are the fastest growing sector in the entertainment industry and there are a wealth of opportunities for building successful careers.

#3: The seven phases of video game development

No matter what kind of game you are making, your level of experience, or how many people are working on the project, the process of making games is exactly the same. I’ve boiled it down into eight simple phases.

The eight phases of video game development:

  1. CONCEPT: Find a strong idea.
  2. DESIGN: Make test versions and create a blueprint.
  3. PLAN: Organise the project carefully.
  4. BUILD: Create the computer code.
  5. ASSETS: Create visuals, audio and words.
  6. TEST, FIX and PUBLISH: Look for problems and resolve them, then release the game to the public. 
  7. PROMOTE and SUPPORT: Announce the game and respond to feedback.

It all sounds pretty easy doesn’t it? From this zoomed-out viewpoint it really is, although each phase requires very different and specialised skills. Despite this, it is completely possible for one person to make video games, designing, programming, creating graphics and sourcing audio entirely by themselves.

#4: The team

For more ambitious projects, such as blockbuster 3D console games, there is just too much work for one person. Generally, game development is a team effort, using the skills of various specialists, or even teams of specialists.

Typical industry jobs include:

  • Director: Holds the vision, calls the creative shots.
  • Cinematographer / Art Director: Framing, timing, animation, mood and colour.
  • Producer / Project manager: Keeps the project and team on schedule and on budget.
  • Game designer: Creates game systems and manages the design document.
  • Monetisation designer: Balances game mechanics to generate money.
  • Concept artist: Sketches ideas to help visualise the finished product.
  • Programmer: Writes the code.
  • Artist: Creates 2D visuals.
  • 3D modeller: Builds 3D visuals.
  • Animator: Tells the models how to move.
  • Sound designer: Background atmosphere and sound effects.
  • Musician: Composes soundtracks in various styles.
  • Level designer: Constructs individual levels and missions.
  • Video editor: Cutting and sequencing of video footage.
  • Motion capture specialist: Turns real movement into animation data for 3D models.
  • Tester: Professional error hunter.
  • Translator: Enables the game to reach global audiences.
  • Marketer: Lets everyone know about the game.
  • Journalist: Informs players about games.

There are many more besides, with new roles opening up constantly. We’ll meet some of them later.

Each specialist plays a vital part in creating the final product and then getting it into the hands of players. People in all of these jobs should know what the others do and why.

#5: Walk first, then fly

It is necessary for anyone making video games to understand the whole development process, so I’ll cover it in more detail over the next few chapters, following the eight phases in sequence.

"Great oaks from little acorns grow."

- 14th Century proverb.

If you’re making your own game, you’ll need to do all of the various jobs yourself, or find people willing to help out. So it’s best to start by making incredibly simple practice games. Once you’ve mastered the process for small solo projects, you’ll be ready to advance to slightly bigger games.

Patience and persistence are valuable qualities to cultivate. Learning new skills needs a steady approach, starting at the beginning and moving forward with small steps. Just like any other skill, learning to make games requires time and effort. If you find joy in doing it though, you’ll never stop learning and having fun!

Next: Part 1 - CONCEPT: Before you even get near a computer you're going to need the main ingredient in a game – a good idea...