Tips for Beginners

So you’ve got a cool idea for a game, but don’t know where to start. Good news! There are a ton of resources for learning game making, and plenty of assets to use as well. I’m going to be breaking down these resources by rough skill level in different areas and trying answer some basic questions/issues I see a lot.

If you’ve never made a game before even getting the ball rolling can be a bit overwhelming. A critical part of not getting frustrated and burning out is simple, but disappointing to follow: DO NOT start with a game you want to be good. Your first game will not be good, and it will take longer than you think to get things working even a little bit. After all, no one runs a good marathon without practice, it’s the same with making a game. Starting with small practice games that will probably never see the light of day lets you be better, and more importantly faster, when you’re working on a bigger project.

Another good thing to keep in mind is that you’re going to spend a much longer time making a game than you are playing it. If you do not enjoy the process of making games, then making a game, even one you really want to be made, is going to suck. This is another reason to start with some small practice games, because if you don’t like making small games, making large games isn’t going to be better.

“What should I make the game in?”

This mostly depends on what kind of game you want to make, but here are a couple options:

Unity
Basic version is free. Can be used for 2D and 3D games, but much more geared towards 3D. Has a big advantage over a lot of engines in that it’s very widely used, so there are a lot more community resources.

Godot
Free to use, open source. Does 2D and 3D, but is better at 2D. You can use several languages to program in it (including visual scripting). Not great for larger games.

Gamemaker
Free if you only want to upload games to GXC, but that only applies to gamemaker2. Version 1.4 can be used for free, but is no longer supported. Can do 3D, but not really built for it.

Ren’Py
Free. For visual novels only. Can be used for basic visual novels without much coding knowledge, but you’ll need to learn a bit of python for anything more complex.

RPGmaker
Free trial, but you’ll have to buy it if you end up wanting to use it. For 2D rpgs, good community support, and a lot of built in assets. Easy to make a super generic game, but just as much work is needed as other engines for anything unique.

“How do I practice making games?”

Make tiny games that are barely even games at all. Make a box that jumps on a single platform. Make a text adventure with one choice in it. Make an rpg with one room and one fight. Set aside these games as purely for practice, because the more you learn, the more things you’ll have to go back and fix. Having small practice games that are just to help you learn means that if you figure out a better way to do something, or realize a major flaw in your system, just throwing the whole game away and starting over isn’t an issue because there was only minimal time spent making it.

“What if I can’t write/draw/make music?”

You’ll be a little hard pressed to find a super wide selection of stock fetish assets, but for everything else (environments, UI, terrain) there are a ton of assets to use. ALWAYS check the license on any assets you use, some of them are pretty restrictive. A couple good places to look are:

Kenney Game Assets
A pretty good mix of everything, even a few sound packs, most of which is free.

OpenGameArt
A forum of user submitted assets. A bit cluttered and quality varies, but there certainly is variety.

Unity Asset Store
A lot of high quality stuff, obviously for use in unity. A lot of pricey stuff though. There are a decent amount of free assets though. Does require a unity account.

DaFont
Fonts are important! Just don’t go too wild with them, and definitely check the license on these.

Writing is a bit more difficult to slot in generically, so assets are rare to come by. Good news though! Depending on what kind of game you’re making, extensive art/writing/music may be entirely optional. Text adventures don’t need much beyond UI, and you can get by on one or two sentences (a la Super Mario Bros) and make a perfectly good game if that’s not your focus.

“What if I don’t know how to program?”

Unless you’re making a tabletop game, at least a little bit of programming knowledge is going to be required. It differs by engine to what degree, some engines even have purely visual programming languages (think drag and drop instead of typing everything out). Luckily there are a ton of tutorials out there! All the engines I listed above, and most of the ones I didn’t, have forums that you can look for solutions to common problems in.

“What if I don’t want to learn how to program?”

There’s always tabletop games! Making a supplement for an existing system can be pretty fun, and making one from scratch, while harder, is definitely doable. If your heart is set on a video game though, looking around for someone that can program but needs help with art/sound/writing can be a good option if you still want to work on a game without doing the “game” aspect.

"I'm more of an ideas guy."

Unfortunately, the amount of time and effort it takes to come up with an idea is pretty little. It’s going to be hard to find anyone that can make a game but will work on something you want to play instead of something they want to play.

"How do I get people interested in helping with my project?" The best pitch you can have is something to show, i.e. making a game with stock/placeholder assets. It not only shows that you can follow through on your concept, but that you're willing to put in the work. Money is also a great motivator.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I admittedly only have personal experience with a few of these engines, so you guys let me know if there’s anything I missed, or if there are any other questions/issues that should be answered here.

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This is good advice! Actually it’s good advice for learning any skill. Plan on making things that no-one will see or use to get a feel for the process and learn what works and what doesn’t. I’d go as far as saying don’t post these early efforts on these forums either. Our community is pretty supportive, but if the project is a throw-away for you, you’ll still get people wanting updates, and that might lock you into a path you don’t want to follow.

This is also a good time to try several engines that might suit your project. Find out what works for you, and your game. For example, I’ve built the same short throw-away text adventure/CYOA demo in Inform, TADs, Quest, Twine, and RenPy, so I know which ones suit me, and which ones don’t (for me it’s those last two).

If you find yourself fighting the engine, then it’s probably the wrong choice. Specifically, within these forums, one of the things that is usually required is some way to show or describe the changes of the PC and/or NPCs. Not all engines make this easy.

I’d go as far as saying if you don’t enjoy “problem solving” getting the bugs out of your game is going to suck. Even if you’ve opted for an engine that allows you to create something without seeing a line of code, it will still require you to think logically about what you are doing and how those pieces interact with each other. No matter how far abstracted you are from the 1’s and 0’s, a computer is still only going to do what you’ve told it to do.

Tackle Risk First

When you’re ready to build something for real, tackle the riskiest parts of your project first. This is the one key takeaway from any kind of iterative development methodology, and very much applies to the solo developer. The idea here is to quickly find out if something is even possible before burning much time on the development, and changing approach before you’ve committed too much time to it.

What is “risky” depends on your skills:

If you are a competent writer and world builder, then it’s likely the code and any art. So don’t write the whole script until you’ve tried putting some into code. Working with code and having player agency is going to change the way you think about the evolving story.

If you’re a great artist or can design sprite sheets in your sleep, then those aren’t risks to you. Sure, you could fire up the game engine and spend weeks making a beautiful/stlyish/horrific world. But unless you can write dialogue or build quests/combat that works you’ve just made a nice piece of art (and you knew you could do that).

If you’re a competent programmer then maybe it’s the other things that elude you. Maybe writing, maybe art, maybe even making a game that’s fun to play.

If you are an avid TTRPG player, then you’ve probably got a lot of stuff under your belt (world building, engaging characters, how to balance game play), but what you won’t have is a General Aritifical Intelligence to be your DM/GM. Be prepared to predict and code every outcome and whittle down a lot! There’s a reason even triple-A rpg games don’t even come close to a table-top experience! Also, not every outcome needs to be based on a die-roll/rng - the players of a game don’t have access to a “player’s handbook”, so can’t often tell the difference between not-possible and I-was-unlucky - unless you spell it out to them.

Some things are always going to be riskier than others:

Weight gain: Obviously any kind of WG mechanic is likely why you’re on these forums, and needs to be thought out from the start. Descriptions and art assets are obvious ones. Some players really like to see numbers and making realistic ones is one challenge. Be aware of mechanics that can get out-of-hand: a classic is the combination of eating-increases-weight and stuffing-increases-capacity: together those lead to an out-of-control situation where the weight will increase exponentially.

Save versioning: if you are planning to release updates to your game (and it’s not trivially short) then from the outset you need to think about how a save from the previous version can be brought into the new version.

Be prepared to re-work stuff (Refactor)

Sure, you’ve spend hours/days on something, but it isn’t working, doesn’t make sense, or it’s ugly. It happens, especially as you are learning. Don’t fall for the sunk-cost fallicy and push on with it. Make a backup, scrap the offending stuff, and re-work it. Be prepared to do this several times. This goes hand in hand with doing risky stuff first.

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Not much of a contribution, but in regards to RPGMaker, it’d be wise to avoid the older versions of the program. Specifically: 95, 2000, and 2003. While still shockingly versatile in their own right, they suffer from extensive limitations (256 color limitation for assets, mp3 support not added until 2003, etc) that, even if they are kept in mind, can be a pain to work around. While my experience with newer revisions is minimal, they seem far more accessible to the user. I would stick to said newer revisions.