A Bunch of Juicy Secrets

Last couple of months I’ve been working on 80’s retro games that are played on a laser.  Its the kind of laser you can burn a hole through your wall, and it draws by moving mirrors very quickly.  So, it’s more about optimization, how to make a game in as few laser moves as possible, and not letting the laser stay too long in one spot.  I do one a week, and in a way, it’s like a “Part 2” of the 30 games in 30 days I did last year.  (Which ended up being 20 games in 20 days.)

So that’s what I’ve been doing.  But  about every day, I see a post asking How Can I Make Games?  Very brave to post that.  And usually, developers don’t answer the question, but instead tell them all the reasons why it won’t work.  To be able to answer a question directly is an art form that takes many years I think.

But people every day are asking how to make games.  A couple years ago, people would contact me about GrindCraft and after chatting back and forth awhile, they would say they wanted to make games.  This happened a lot.   It seems that in the future, everyone is going to be a developer in some way, working on software, configuring it, modding it, writing it.  And it seems one of the ways people are going to learn how to do that is by making games.

A lot of the stuff designed for Grindcraftia is geared toward configuring and modding … but I didn’t want to talk about Grindcraftia (yet).  Today I want to share people’s questions and my answers.  It seemed to help them (or at least get a “like”) and maybe it will help someone here.

“How do you learn to make games?”  When I was learning, I got some games’ source code and started changing stuff to see what it would do.

“I thought I wanted to make games, but I gave up, and now I just want to do Let’s Plays.”  It’s good to find your passion. (Not everyone who loves games loves making them.) I’ve heard that consistency is the key [to making a good youtube channel]. Maybe google it and there might be some “how to’s”.

“Here are the 16 reasons people give up.” I’ve done all those. If giving up is a real possibility, in my experience, the pursuit is an ambition, not a passion.

“How do you come up with game ideas?”  First thing I do when thinking up a game is sit my kids down and pitch them the idea. They always have some critical points.

“I put a lot of work into my designs, and they always get rejected. [by management or owners]”  Always put a moustache on it. Then they say “Looks great, but get rid of the moustache.” Then, you’re done.

“If it’s a bad project, but I need the money, should I take it?”  I used to say my opinion and then do what they want. But as the projects rolled on, my track record of predicting disaster got more accurate, and I also developed a taste of what it is like to be on a great project that succeeds. So these days, if the project is being designed to fail, I’ll state my case and softly move on. If the owners respond with something like “we didn’t think of that, let’s continue talking” then I’ll continue with them because they have an attitude of working through problems, and they respect a warning when they recognize it. (And vise-versa, when an owner has a solution I hadn’t thought of, it’s a sign of a great project.) But if they ignore the advice, then they are usually running on ambition and not passion, and definitely not into strategy.  Its going to be a super stressful project of me always warning them and them always ignoring (even sometimes proactively belittling, oof!) the warning. I wish I could say I have so many projects that I can afford to be picky like that. But that’s not the case. Its firstly a matter of avoiding stress, which makes my family a lot happier, and secondly the joy of pursing good projects.

“How can I become a good game designer?”  Develop the ability to react like a player. Frequently during design meetings, you’ll hear feature requests that start off “As a player, I want to be able to do xyz.” A lot of times during meetings, its too many cooks, which goes hand-in-hand with “don’t give the players what they want, but give them what they didn’t know they wanted.” That’s an art form that incorporates not only all the technical and artistic skills, but the ability to see things from the perspective of the player. Sometimes designing a game can be a matter of constantly taking out what doesn’t work. Game Design is frequently thought of as being a creative endeavor. But that can be so subjective that it ends up being a creative dictatorship. I find that having a strong creative vision and letting good people do their work makes for successful projects. The vision needs to be thoroughly vetted and thought out, a process which is best done by yourself or with one or two people you trust. Write down the vision. It should be easy to understand, and it might be summarized (like, “It’s a Mario-style platformer, only you control all the enemies.) A strong vision will answer questions that have not been thought of yet. A strong vision will also help protect against ego battles. The important things will be answered by the vision. The less important things can be interpreted by artists [and programmers] who are good at their jobs. The more your team gets to know you, the more they will understand how you think and what your vision is. So, you might start now. Maybe the people you are going to school with will be working with you some time in the future. … On a more technical note, master the “game” part of “video game”. Learn and understand game mechanics, and how they affect players. Why do people get excited or frustrated? Isn’t it just a game? Why do they invest so much of their identity into games? … Study and make board games, if only on a piece of paper with some dice. This will slow things down and help you to identify key game mechanics. Do a lot of those. If you have people who will play them, then do a weekly board game. … Study the history of video games since the 70’s and find the patterns from game to game throughout the decades. Where did Pac-Man come from? Why was it popular? What happened to gamers when Doom and Myst came out in the same year? Each game in history is linked to the games that came before it. Understanding how all that happened will help you develop the ability to see trends coming. … Good luck.

Finally, here is a super fun character from our up-coming mall crawler: