“I wish I’d developed that!”
If you’ve ever played one of today’s blockbuster games, whether Candy Crush, Minecraft or Halo, this thought may have crossed your mind. Game development isn’t actually that hard, if you take the time to learn it step by (achievable) step.
Every blockbuster game uses the same basic skills. The ones listed below are great ways to make regular progress in developing games. Moving through them, you should have a good ratio of success to failure, gaining confidence along the way.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions for five classic games you can build on a game engine (from easiest to most complex). The skills you’ll master are crucial to the process of learning how to develop games.
1. Skill: Creating a Basic Game Loop
A game loop will process user input (e.g., mouse clicks) but not block the action waiting for that input, allowing the game to progress, updating and rendering the game, while controlling the rate of play. It’s the backbone of every game, and mastering it is the first step to developing anything.
This is a classic arcade game from the 1980's that is relatively easy to prototype with a game engine that has a built-in physics library. You use basic object collision and player actor movement and will need to create a basic game loop that will keep spawning bombs while the player has lives remaining.
2. Skill: Basic Animation and Presentation
Chances are, you eventually want to develop something more visually stunning than sticks and balls. First, you need to understand the basics of animation, and how to present objects on a screen.
Game: 3-Reel Slots
This is one of the oldest electronic games of all time. Don't get carried away with the visuals. Just implement a basic, three-reel slot machine with random results and payouts. You'll have to create a game state attribute to shift between player input and results of the random number generator. This is also a good project to work on basic animation and presentation skills, because the game logic is otherwise relatively simple.
3. Skill: Rudimentary AI
Many games, such as first-person shooter- and war strategy games, use artificial intelligence to add complexity and challenge. Starting with one of the world’s simplest games will help give you the understanding you need to start building more complex worlds.
Possibly the oldest multiplayer game on record, this one is seemingly simple enough to create. After all, there are just nine possible moves. How hard can it be? This is a great game to learn how to build a rudimentary AI, as well as to learn to optimize your logic. This is also a great time to learn how to use tables.
4. Skill: Transitions
Every game consists of multiple screens, player states and levels. Transitioning smoothly between them is a key ability for any game designer. You can learn using another arcade classic.
Game: Donkey Kong
It’s on! This game needs little introduction. Use a game-development software that features a physics engine makes platform games easier to develop. That way, you can focus on level design once you've designed the basic logic of your actors. This is a good game to work on the concept of transitioning between multiple scenes (main menu, different game levels, game over screen, etc) as well as animation states (running, jumping, rolling barrels).
5. Skill: Using Data Structures
Structuring your data into a table or other format helps you efficiently deal with large amounts of data—and create a more sophisticated game as a result.
You may have drawn this game in pencil and paper as a child, but you have to make it smart enough to run itself on the computer. Doing so is a multi-step process that involves picking words and phrases from a dictionary, establishing letter frequency, creating space holders for letters, establishing the order of the stick figure being hung, picking letters for the player to choose, having your game vet those letters against the letters in the dictionary, and correlating them to the progress in the word being typed.
Having fun developing these basics will help you progress to creating increasingly complex games as your skills increase. Someone’s going to build the next Portal. Why not you? Have fun. (The cake is a lie.)
Stephen is a veteran game developer, manager, and entrepreneur with more than 20 years of professional experience. He currently serves as the CEO of GameSalad, a leading provider of game development tools used by over 900,000 hobbyists, students, and professionals. You can find him on Twitter: @gamesalad.
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