Tag: games

Advice For People Wanting To Make Games

July 15, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

What advice would you give someone wanting to get into the games business?

I get asked this question a lot.  My first thought is, don’t bother. But that’s just my evil, English sense of humor talking. I recently did an interview where this question was asked again. This pretty much boils down everything I think about the subject ..

I’m a programmer and have always been a programmer, but I’ve worn many different hats over the years. There are a number of really important things you need, in order to succeed in the games business. First and foremost, you need to be good at something, be it programming, design, art, whatever. Obvious right?  You’d be surprised. You need to be smart and be able to problem solve and talk intelligently to other people. You need to be flexible and adaptive and be able to turn your hand to things outside your skill set or comfort zone. You need to be resilient and able to cope with stress and long work hours. But most of all, you really, genuinely have to love making games, and really want to do it. In fact, I’d say, unless you live and breath making games, and carry around a notebook where you sketch design or art ideas, or write programs, while on the bus or sitting waiting for your latte, don’t bother.

There’s a BIG difference between playing games and making games.  People often get that mixed up. Playing games is fun, and if it’s a well made game, you don’t see the complexity or pain that went into making it.  Making games is also fun, but it’s not all fun. It’s hard and there’s a ton of BS you have to deal with and there’s a massive amount of really tedious stuff to do, especially towards the end.  It’s not glamorous at all, despite what you see in the indie dev documentaries, and a lot of people don’t realize that or understand that until they give it a go.  That’s why most people who try and make a game, never finish one, or eventually make something that’s kind of crap.  You have to have a genuine—and I hate to use this word, but it’s appropriate—passion, to make a game from start to finish.  It’s the only thing that will get you through the process when things look bleak or get too difficult.

Beyond that, if you’re looking at this as a career, then start with a computer science degree.  It will give you a solid, academic foundation to build on.  Then go to vocational school, or college that has a games program, and learn the basics.  Experience what it’s like to build something from start to finish in a team.  Make friends and network.  Get involved with the local game dev community.  This all ties back into my first point about living and breathing game dev.  It really is a lifestyle.

Finally, be good at something. The games industry is a meritocracy.  You have to be good to succeed (unless you’re a manager  I kid, I kid), and if you’re not good, it will be apparent very quickly.  Specialization adds value.  As a coder, if you’re a 3D guru, a math whiz, an AI savant, or a physics genius, you’ll always be in demand.  Don’t get me wrong, good, solid gameplay programmers are equally important, but there’s more competition for those roles.  As an artist, you better be good.  No other discipline wears it’s skill on its arm than art.  If you can’t draw or code, most likely you want to be a designer. You better be a damn good designer if you want to succeed, because it’s highly competitive, and the game dev schools spit out hundreds of designers each year. If you want an edge as a designer, understand the other disciplines, and learn how to talk to programmers and artists.  Learn to code or script.  Be good at communicating your ideas verbally, and through drawings. Good, technical designers are worth their weight in gold.  If you can’t do anything, but you’re good at communication, organization and making other people do you bidding, become a producer or manager.  Do a business management course and learn about project structure.

Born Again Indie

August 14, 2014 | By | Add a Comment

For a good year and a half now, I’ve wandered around, trying to figure out what it is I want to do and what I would like to accomplish with my Indie dreams.  First a little back story.

I left a high paid, high stress job as a director of technology at a large media company in April 2013.  The change was forced on me after my eyesight began to deteriorate rapidly, and I could no longer execute my role effectively.  I was at the top of my game, and I was kicking butt, and then it was all over within a short two week span of days.  I sat at home and thought, OK that was interesting.  Now what?

I decided to do what I do best. The one thing I truly enjoy. The one thing I’d NOT done the past 5 years. I decided to dust off the old programming skills and make some games again.  I did a quick port of an old Mahjong game I made for PC a few years back, to iOS, as a warm up.

My foray into mobile / iOS development was pretty typical.  Basically a waste of time and energy (although, as a generally positive person, I did learn a lot and I did make some pretty cool code).  To date, I’ve made around $500 from the Mahjong game. I put this failure down to a couple of things.  First and foremost, it’s just too damn difficult to get a game noticed on the app store, unless you have some serious marketing dollars, or get lucky.  I don’t think it was a quality issue.  The game was polished and played well.  And looking at what does do well on the app store, quality doesn’t seem to be a factor, always.  No, the key is exposure, plain and simple.  Getting your game ranted at by PewDePie, or one of the other sweary, game celebs on Youtube seems to be where it’s at.

Additionally, making stuff that people actually like is also pretty key.  Now that sounds a bit obvious, but if you’re wanting to tap the mass market, then you have to make mass market stuff.  Mahjong isn’t mass market, and it doesn’t have Kim Kardashian in it.  Like any sort of media, you can be an artist or a boy band, and you can make niche stuff, or crap for mass consumption.  Now, having said all that, there are always exceptions and a seemingly, unfathomable random element to all this. Sometimes a game comes along that’s so good that it just captures the imagination and actually attains a small level of success, or not.

After my experience with Mahjong, I tried a number of other tactics. I got distracted making some web sites, which was somewhat interesting, and then I decided to sell out and try to make small, playable, highly commercial, mass market games .. like a million other devs.  I spent about 2 months making a couple of cute, fun little games with kittens and hampsters, and by the end of it, I was so down about my day-to-day existence, that I couldn’t even bring myself to upload them to Apple for approval.  I still haven’t, months later.

I realized I was completely disillusioned with mobile and specifically iOS.  It’s a mugs game.  It’s heartbreaking to make something you’re invested in and see it immediately buried, or worse, sell your soul and make crap shovelware, hoping to hit the lottery.  I completely stopped developing for 2 months, and moped around doing contract work.  The break did me good, as did the money.

And then, one day, I woke up and knew what I wanted to do.  If I was going to put ANY time or ANY money into a new project, it was going to be a project that I wanted to do.  Commercial or not, it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that I am entertained, and that I am making something that I want to make.  Now that view of things sounds a little self centered, and it is, and it’s OK.  It has come down to a simple fact.  I really, REALLY enjoy programming games, and the twisty, ill-conceived adventure I’ve spent the last year on, has sucked all that love and enjoyment out of it.  I have lost the thread, big time, and it has basically ruined the process of making games for me.

So I sat down and gave some serious thought to what I’d like to do.  Do I just throw in the towel and concentrate on contract work, or go find another full time job?  Do I take up gardening? Do I become a Naturopathic Doctor (don’t ask)? Or do I quit whinging and make something for myself?  I decided to make something for myself.

I have a list of genres and games I’d like to make.  I’ve had the list for a long time.  Over the years I’ve made a lot of commercial games, professionally, and some of them hold very fond memories, and some genres are very dear to me.  I posed myself a question.  If I could make ANYTHING, what would I make?  A platformer? A text adventure game?  A classic scrolling shoot em up?  An RPG?  Why yes! All of those, of course!  This was a revelation to me.  The notion that I could basically sit down and create anything I fancied was like someone pulling back a blindfold.  I started to get excited about programming again, and so I picked one and began.

So, here I am, four weeks into my first game as a born again indie.  I am writing the game for desktop computers only (although my code is basically cross platform, and could work on anything later on, with a bit of platform specific work), and I am excited to get to work in the mornings.  I feel like I am free of the shackles I imposed on myself the past year and a half.  I have no agenda other than to make something I like, and have fun doing it.  I’m doing some of the best coding of my long career, and every day is a blizzard of problems to solve, good and bad.  For better or worse, every day is a challenge in the best possible way.