This post should probably be called ‘How NOT to Make Your First Game’, because I’m going to approach the topic more like a post mortem than an actual ‘How To’ guide, but read it anyway and I’m sure you’ll find some helpful tips for when you make your first game.
My first commercial game was called Trials of Werlin. My inspiration for this game came from seeing the successes of Steve Pavlina with his game called Dweep. If any of you have read Steve’s articles or his book, you know how reading a few of his game’s success stories could be so motivational. Although Steve has a new career as a motivational speaker, this specific inspiration came a bit before that.
I was a college student, I was all psyched up by Steve’s story, and I was living at home without a job… the perfect storm for a budding game developer! Through Steve’s forums (which later became the Indie Gamer Forums), I learned about a book called Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus by Andre LaMothe. I have to say, without this book I probably would have never gotten started in game development. Game programming was something I tinkered with in high school, but couldn’t even figure out the basics and had since given up on it. Thanks Andre! Ok, on to the post mortem.
- I learned so much about game development because the TotWGPG book was a great mix of concept and examples. It was also very low level so I learned alot of the hard nuts-and-bolts type stuff (like how to manually alpha blend individual pixels… ouch). I even had a kick-ass college teacher that let me read the book and develop a game prototype for college credit!
- It gave me hands-on experience in taking a fairly large project from design to completion and even in marketing a finished product.
- It was FUN! Not just the game, but seeing your vision come to life and tweaking it here and there until you are so completely proud of it.
- I was so caught up in the implementation of the game that I didn’t bother to realize that the market for brain-teaser puzzle games had almost dried up.
- The graphics were good, but not great. I’m not an artist, but I did take art classes all through childhood and even a year of commercial art in college… even still, the game could have benefited from a makeover. The fact that the game was 640×480 and didn’t have any anti-aliasing didn’t help either
- Marketing… like I said, the game was doomed from the get-go because I chose an already saturated niche. Hey, this was my first game; what in the world did I know about marketing games? I didn’t do a press release. I signed a deal with one publisher that fell through (Scholastic, you sons-a-bitches). I really didn’t do much in the way of marketing at all and this should be a take away for any would be game developers out there. Spend as much effort marketing your game as you put into making it!!!
- The number one reason (IMHO) that ToW was unsuccessful was the difficulty curve. The game started out simple (if you read the popup tips), but before the player even finished the demo levels, the puzzles started getting insanely hard, plus, one mistake and you had to do the whole level over again. Hey! I came from the Nintendo days with games like Contra, where you had 3 lives to beat millions of baddies and bosses. I didn’t realize that there was a new breed of gamer out there that liked to be coddled and pampered until they ‘won’ the game. I even re-released the game to be easier (slightly), but just couldn’t bring myself to ‘dumb it down’ too much. “If this game is too hard for you, then don’t buy it!”, I thought… and that’s exactly what happened.
How to Make Your First Game (Summary):
- Make sure there’s a market for your game. A sustainable niche is the best market for an indie (from what I’ve read), but at least make sure there is a demand for the game you want to make.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Unless you are hell bent on learning how to blend individual pixels or coding your game so that it works with every different type of graphics card or monitor, use a third party engine or better yet some kind of game builder. I coded ToW with C++ and DirectX 6, but these days I’ve moved on to using Torque Game Builder. Remember that one kid in your math class secretly solving quadratics with his graphing calculator (yeah, the one with the big grin on his face). THIS ISN’T MATH CLASS! The teacher isn’t looking over your shoulder! Bottom line, use the best tools you have available to you.
- Make sure it looks nice. The days of shareware games being able to make money on game play alone are over. If you can’t create your own really nice artwork, find someone who can. It can be a friend or you can hire someone if you have the dough. There are alot of really talented artists on the forums mentioned above that can help.
- Make sure the game play is balanced. Unless your audience is a bunch of hard-core gamers, don’t make the game too hard and even still, make the difficulty curve very gradual.
- Market your game like there’s no tomorrow. Most indies estimate that you should be spending about 50% of your game development cycle doing marketing. Its tough and I’ve never spent nearly that much, but then again I’m not successful either.