Kongregate Developers Blog

7 Things You Should Be Aware of Before You Make Your First Game

This week's guest post is from plarium.com, the home of top online MMO games.

Making a game is challenging, but thanks to modern technology and software development, anyone with the passion and dedication to learning the trade can make something playable and (more importantly) enjoyable.

However, it takes a long time, and a lot of experience before the average person can start creating something people will want to invest a fair amount of money and time in.

We all dream of creating the next Elder Scrolls epic or Far Cry adventure, but the truth is you need to start small.

This means curbing your enthusiasm appropriately and focusing on a project which you know you can handle to the best of your ability.

Your first game will have a lot of bugs; it might not even be very playable. But none of that matters -- at least for now -- you just need to see that you can actually manage to complete a full game.

So whether it is a small team of individuals working from a small office or even just one very enthusiastic person, there are set steps which you need to tick off as you develop your first game.

These are 7 things you should do when you first begin.

1. Create a Prototype

You don’t start your game-making career by developing a full game. You start with a prototype.

A prototype is essentially a small version of what your completed game will be like. This is a perfect way to assess your game’s mechanics, environments, and overall gameplay.

Just look at the first video game ever invented -- Tennis for Two. It was essentially nothing more than a proof of concept, with little-to-no graphics and rudimentary gameplay. However, it was enough to inspire generations to come.

We're not saying your prototype must be groundbreaking (though, that would be nice); it just needs to compose your vision in the simplest way possible.

Naturally, you do not have to make the best quality and performance with a prototype; just find and fix as many issues as you can. It’s also an excellent opportunity to show people what your game is going to be like, and implementing any criticism or suggestions they may have.

Once you get your prototype successfully running without a hitch, then you can start developing your assets and code towards a finished product.

2. Form a Rational Scope

Overambitious developers will often attempt things which are just beyond their budget, team abilities, or technological limits.

Many game developers, even experienced ones, fall victim to what is known as "feature creep" -- a fancy name for all combined issues relating to scope.

Beginners will often overestimate their skills and get a little bit too ambitious. That is not exactly a fault -- highly developed imagination and goals are what make great games after all. You just need to ensure that you have the practical ability to make your dreams work.

Either way, it is essential that you "scope down" your proposed goals and ambitions into something far more manageable. In time, you will approach your original ideas again, with more skill, income, and team size.

3. Condense Your Vision

Rather than making your first game one filled with many mechanics, try and make it with just a few, or even only one.

Your game can be as simple as something similar to a Flash game, involving making a helicopter fly through hoops without touching the top or bottom of the stage.

Just getting a single mechanic down, which works perfectly and is entertaining, is a great achievement for your first try. Greatness will come; for now, you need to work on getting the basics down.

Remember that anything you do is not only progress with regards to your skill and experience; you have also made an asset which can be reused in a future project. For this reason, it is vital that you treat everything which you create with respect and dedication.

4. Find Your Perfect Tools

Once the initial stages of scope adjustment have been completed, the next step is to find a tool for you to bring your ideas to life with. There are tons of tools available for developers, some free, some expensive.

In any case, you can always expect to see new additions every month to the tool stocks, each varying in simplicity. Basically, choosing a tool heavily depends on how much knowledge and experience you have, along with your programming skills.

For those who have no computer science or programming experience, here is a list of some of the most helpful tools which are designed to guide and train a complete newbie:

These programmes vary in price, but all of them are a great place to start. As you create and sharpen your skills, you’ll find new tools to experiment with and master.

At some point, you’ll reach a point where you’re more comfortable with code writing and asset creation, and that’s when you can move on to more complex game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine.

5. Collect Your Audio and Visual Experience

Now that you have the skeleton of your game built, it is time to move onto fleshing it out with graphics and sound.

You may suddenly find yourself hitting a brick wall, wondering just where you are going to obtain all the visuals and audio assets you need (assuming you’re not going to create them all by yourself).

Do not worry; websites such as OpenGameArt and Freesound can provide everything from artistic assets to open-source music outfits.

Remember -- whenever you happen to be using an asset or sound which was created by someone else, make sure that it is listed under Creative Commons.

Creative Commons is an American non-profit organization which is highly dedicated to increasing a collection of creative works. These works are available for all to make the most out of, in a wide range of projects.

Also, make sure that you credit whoever the original creator happens to be.

6. What About the Story?

Since you are focusing on something simple for your initial project, story, characters, and dialogue might not be featured too strongly. Save your more developed plots for when you have the skills needed to properly bring them to life.

That is not to say that you cannot come up with a simple story or background to your game, even if it is attached to basic mechanics. Just remember that you need to always back up plot elements with practical content, which could require more work than it's worth at this stage.

Keep your story on the backburner for now; a time will come when you are able to create the world, races, and heroes you envision. First, you need to concentrate on making a game from start to finish.

7. Test, Fail and Test Again

Failure is not something you should be afraid of. It’s something you should embrace.

Try your best to get as many people as you can to pick up your game for testing during development. Having a variety of suggestions and opinions is a perfect way for you to clearly see what works in your game, and what does not.

You can ask trustworthy and capable friends to give your new game a spin. Make sure that the person whom you are sharing your game with is not too close to you, and might tell white lies or what you want to hear just to avoid hurting your feelings.

You need people who will provide objective (as well as subjective) judgments regarding the actual nuts and bolts of your first title.

Try and include both experienced gamers and casual ones -- each group can provide radically different points of view.

How a person first approaches your game is something you need to carefully observe. The actions which they will instinctively perform won’t be included in their final feedback, and that information is invaluable. It's the best way to spot troublesome game segments that might be too difficult, unclear or even boring.

The sooner you receive that precious feedback, the faster you can make the necessary changes and fixes. In other words -- the earlier you fail, the earlier your game will get better.

Your First Game Is Finally Done

Congratulations! You are now indeed a game developer.
It’s now time to take everything you’ve learned, everything you’ve accomplished -- and move on to your next project.

Remember that even if your second game is bigger and better than your first -- you should always follow the guidelines outlined here.

Just make sure to enjoy yourself and feel proud of yours and your team’s achievements. Any game’s completion, no matter how big or how small, is a marvelous achievement.