Creating a Video Game for Newbies


#1

So with all this talk recently of Media Molecule’s “Dreams,” and the democratization of game making as a creative enterprise, I find myself personally rather spoiled for choice and yet paralyzed with exactly what tools might fit best for what I want to make and why.

For backstory on me, and then I’ll open it up to more of a general question, I did Writing and New Media in college, where part of the course was exploring how to write in non-traditional (I.E novel, short story, etc) forms using things like, for example, Adobe Dreamweaver for HTML editing, or video editing, or combining audio visual aspects with standard writing in ways that often times I find come fascinating close to the more narrative “walking simulator” style of games, except with a bit more emphasis on the words and less on visual setting.

I really enjoyed working within that space, and made using Dreamweaver a blog style reinterpretation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It was a good time, and I’d love to do something along that line again except with more gaming oriented toolsets, but I just don’t know where to start or even if I have the right skillsets to make it even work.

So here is the pivot: If you are like me, and find yourself wanting to make a video game, but don’t really have much else beyond a dream and a smile in terms of where to even start, share your thoughts. What are your ideas for games, what toolsets would you love to know more about or are you like me and are so lost you don’t even really know what is out there at all? Where do you think you’d find the most challenge (for me it would be visual art, as I can’t draw or do 3d art to save my life) and the most success? And finally, for those coming in here with a bit of knowledge and experience to your name, what are some general good tips, or best tools to use starting out, or good things to really deep dive into, even if you’re doing small or personal projects?


#2

I feel like everyone should have the experience of hammering out something in RPGmaker. It’s simple enouh that you probably can actually make a thing just by feeling it out, assuming you have a cursory understanding of the… philosophies, I guess, of how games work under the hood. Stuff like the concept of triggers, the idea that an entity can be comprised of several visible and invisible objects, stuff like that. Once you’ve hammered out a very simple game of any kind, that sticks with you forever. Nothing can take it away from you. You can always go forward thinking, “I can manage just little bigger than that”.

As for getting that very basic philosphical understanding, the best advice I can give is a bit weird and tricky in practice.

Play Warioware D.I.Y.

That game is the best possible introduction to the basic IDEA of games systems. It’s tutorials are the perfect introduction to the craft in the same way that an advanced LEGO Technic model can give you a glimpse into the sorts of things you’ll see in big machines. Probably better than that even, because there’s a lot of easily transferable skills it teaches, like the use of invisible objects. Of course it’s an old DS game though, so not easily available as an option to everyone. I wish there was a modern example I could point to, but I haven’t seen any as good as D.I.Y.

If Dreams’ tutorials are up snuff though, man, that’s gonna be a wild one.


#3

I know it’s not the most ethical place to shop, but Amazon has WarioWare DIY for $8


#4

I have played around in RPGmaker before, but I suppose coming from a background more in creative writing, the systems for dialogue and writing in that game always kind of irked me. A lot of character limits and times where it just doesn’t allow for a lot of screen real estate to be taken up by words.

Perhaps that’s just my thing, but considering my limited visual arts expertise I want to do more interactive fiction than what RPGmaker allows.


#5

Unity is a great engine.
Ask me anything.


#6

I have a lot of experience with programming, albeit game programming less so. I’m a software engineer by day, and a hobbyist gamedev in my free time.

I’m tremendously interested in interactive storytelling, but I’m not a great writer and I’m not well versed on video game writing. Are there resources out there to help get my feet wet with this aspect of game development?


#7

Can you be a bit more specific about what you want to practice? Game writing doesn’t vary that much from everyday narrative work.


#8

This I can actually help on!

I would say, depending on exactly what type of game you are looking at creating that what you actually want to focus on are lessons related to screenwriting/theatre writing. Most modern games, due to being voice acted and having most of their scenary visually shown rather than written out, would have a much greater focus on place of character and of dialogue. In other words, knowing where a particular character should be looking/interacting in a particular moment, to elicit a particular response, and then properly wording said response.

Dialogue I personally always found to be my favorite form of writing, as it’s just forming a voice for a character based around that character building. However if you have trouble with it, the trick is you have to get into mind of that particular character and act upon it as if they were a real person. I always used to joke that the creative writing group I was in in college often times sounded like a therapy session, as you’d have a bunch of people lamenting about their characters and what “they’ve” done in their story. There are a number of ways to do it, but here is a quick exercise:

Take two of the characters you want to use in whatever form of creative writing you are going to be doing. Now, put them both into a kitchen, and have them make pancakes. It doesn’t matter if one of them is the Doom Marine, and the other is a demon from Hell, right now they are making pancakes. How would both of them respond to this? This includes body language, how well they’d work together, what they’d do to sabotage the other if they don’t work well together, and of course how they’d speak to one another. Would this be seen to them as a big joke? Would they be earnestly supportive of the endeavor? On and on. What this does is remove them from setting and thus twists the character in such a way that forces you to see them in a new light and in a new space, doing something that ostensibly just about everyone has done. It works surprisingly well!


#9

I get that, though personally the character limits are super my thing. Chopping down dialogue to fit in text boxes has helped a lot with my pacing.

Either way though, I think it’s important to not get too excited about making something from your dreams as soon as you pick something up. Until you start thinking about and creating your ideas within the framework of what’s possible, there’s not gonna be an engine that fits perfectly with what you want to do streight away. I reckon much more important advice is to just choose something and make the most basic-ass thing ever. And the reason I like RPGmaker for that option is that the most basic-ass thing you make is still gonna be a fully functional RPG. Compared to the most basic-ass thing you make in Unity, which will be something like a grey ball floating around collecting blue squares on a black background. Plus there’s a lot of room for creative stretching just with the dialogue in RPGmaker’s framework. In my own personal Most basic-Ass Thing I had a whole thing going with god-awful puns that was a lot of fun to write.

That first product is also a lot closer to what you’re aiming for in RPGmaker. You can make your Gray Ball game in unity and still feel lost at sea because “yo, that isn’t anywhere NEAR what I wanna be making”. But I can see where to go from my first RPGmaker game. I can see where I can stretch the tools, I can see where I want to make changes in my next thing.

All this isn’t a pitch for RPGmaker as the ultimate Games Narrative tool(To The Moon was pretty good tho), if you’re put off by the obvious limits of that style of RPG then you’re fair in looking elsewhere. But for peeps reading the thread that are just like “I wanna make a Videogame!” or maybe more specifically “I wanna put some good words in it somewhere!”, I 100% reccomend a blast on RPGmaker. I can’t overstate the value of rooting an engine in your head to the point where your ideas have tangibility. The point where a pitch naturally comes with a grasp on maybe how to do it. And RPGmaker will get you to that point faster than Unity I feel.


#10

Good starting engines/tools:

  • GameMaker: I’ll be honest I haven’t touched this since about 2010 but their toolset is easy to use and doesn’t require any programming knowledge

  • Winforms: Okay so this one is kind of not normal to suggest I suppose but Visual Studio (the IDE not Visual Studio Code) has a really easy to use drag and drop GUI building system that makes it easy to throw things together fast and without needing to know a lot about programming. It’s as simple as drag a button on to your workspace and then double click on it and having it then open up your main file with the function made for when someone clicks on the button and all you have to do is put in what happens when someone clicks the button.

  • Unreal Engine 4: It seems intimidating because it’s the one that has C++ attached to it and feels like every AAA dev that isn’t using in house is using but it has a very nice drag and drop blueprint system that is designed around you being able to make a game without ever touching C++. That said if you are interested in learning C++ this Udemy coures teaches not only C++ but UE4 and is by far the best online course I have taken and I got more out of that $10 course then I did in my intro CS courses.

  • Unity: Another great engine that isn’t hard to pick up and has a lot of tutorials out there but there are things about it and the way updates just break everything that make me incredibly frustrated to the point that I want to put my head through my desk. Not the engine for me but I can see why others really like it.

  • Garry’s Mod: Now this one I feel really weird about recommending and I understand the general consesus of the game and it’s userbase as being very immature children or people who act like them but hear me out.
    Garry’s Mod is secretly one of the best places to be making small multiplayer games. Reason being it’s incredibly easy to share content you make and get others to play it. The base game takes care of a lot of the harder parts of making a multiplayer game for you. There is a lot of really interesting gamemodes people have made that a lot of people don’t know exist. The learning curve is a bit steeper then say GameMaker but a lot of people post their stuff on GitHub and just ask for a mention if you use parts of their code. Also if you just wanted to make a single level experience you could do that as well and never touch any programming. Freshman/Sophomore year of college my friends I had a blast just making weird addons and gamemodes for our group. That said it uses a modified version of Lua which can be off putting and their forum culture tends to be really really bad. This person has a pretty good set of tutorial videos.

  • Source: As someone who has been modding/mapping for Source for 6+ years please do not consider this engine unless you are making maps for an existing game like CSGO or if you are working with Garry’s Mod. Making a mod in 2018 is a nightmare for new comers and it isn’t worth it when you could be using something like UE4 or Unity. If you really want that Source look be like Blendo Games and go grab a version of the id Tech engine.

  • Custom: Unless you have a good reason for reinventing the wheel you should avoid doing this.

General Tips:

  • Learn how to ask good questions!!!

    Seriously I can't stress how important this is, nothing makes me not want to help someone more then when I have to drag the real question out of them or figure out what it is they have already tried. Also it makes people feel a lot more willing to help you if you can show that you are actually putting in effort and not just looking for someone to do it for them.
  • Don’t feel like you have to use high end pricey software, if you find yourself feeling like you need a piece of software open up Google and type “open source alternative to softwarename”

  • Programming is logic based puzzle solving using a language. That is why I feel anyone can do it if they set aside the time.

  • Write out some kind of design document before you start. It can just be several sheets of paper where you jotted down some ideas but have something so you have an understanding of what finish should look like.

  • Finish what you start, it’s the hardest part but you have to hold yourself to it or else you will find yourself making excuses for why you should drop the project and start a new one.

  • With that said keep your first games simple.

  • Add features over time not all at once.

  • Compile and test often.

  • Software is a tool so treat it like one and not a religion or political party that you feel behooved to defend, stay loyal to, or attack.


#11

@Galactor I’m having a hard time picturing what your game would look like. Are you going for something more like a visual novel? A twine game with pictures? Or something like Gone Home?


#12

What would be an example of videogame writing that would be close to the type of thing you would like to be able to accomplish?


#13

If you’re IF/narrative-focused, a few mentions:

  • Ren’py is great if your game is VN-ish. The out-of-the-box setup is for straightforward VNs, but you can extend it pretty easily in the 2D space (commercial examples include point-and-clicks, dating sims, stat-raising sims like Long Live The Queen, games with CCG elements or general 2D RPGs (a lot of Winter Wolves games), etc. The engine is probably more recognizable these days after Butterfly Soup and DDLC got mainstream coverage. It is, however, strictly 2D and best for VNs with other gameplay elements as opposed to the focus being the other way around.

  • Twine and Choicescript are both good fits if you’re thinking 98% text.

  • I’ve never tried to MAKE anything in traditional parser-style engine (Inform, TADS, etc.), but they exist, if you’re interested.

  • ink is middleware – unlike everything else I’ve mentioned, it’s not designed as an end-to-end product but meant slot into another engine (like Unity). There is, however, a javascript implementation that you can use to export games for web-based play (see example: https://www.inklestudios.com/misc/The_Intercept_Inky/ – eh, this is a bad implementation but best one I can find on short notice), which is pretty simple to prototype for. The basic use-case is for choice-based narrative, but it’s quite flexible if you’re fluent in Unity (some games that use it: 80 Days, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, Bury Me, My Love, Heaven’s Vault, etc. The Banner Saga also used an older version of inkle’s language.).


#14

Emily Short’s blog is probably a good jumping off point – she does a little bit of everything, including general posts about narrative design, reviews of commercial books about narrative/writing in games, reviews of narrative-focused games, and links to other resources, etc.


#15

Thanks everyone who replied! Twine probably is my best starting out point for what I want to do honestly, I was just curious if anyone else had any thoughts on the matter or anyone else had any questions that needed answered, but I think this covers just about everything.


#16

Great thread :slight_smile: I’ve got an interest in eventually trying to create virtual worlds, so environment/prop design are my interests at present. A few months ago between jobs I picked up UE4, and the educational versions of Maya LT & Substance and started teaching myself how to model in 3D. Youtube is an incredible resource for this. Biggest gripe is the lack of consistency in navigating 3D space across all these apps. None of them have the same pan/zoom/rotate bindings which is hell when you’re trying to learn.

I chose UE4 as I’m more comfortable with visual things rather than code syntax, so I figured I might be able to get some of the way with Blueprints without needing to learn to code traditionally.