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How To Make A Game

Posted by Tom on 29th February, 2012

The other week, I was having coffee with my cousin and aunt. We were talking about life and future plans and all the other things that come up in family conversations, and my cousin asked, idly, “How do you become a food critic?” Me and my aunt, almost in unison, said “Start writing about food.” It’s the advice that anybody who does anything creative will tell people that want to get into their industry. Just. Start. Doing it. Write, draw, compose, whatever. Just go. You’ll probably be bad at first, but who cares. If you don’t do it you’ll never get good, so go do it.

I am pretty okay at drawing. I do doodles in class that sometimes will get compliments from people I don’t know that well. I’m not about to start up an exhibit or show it to some art critic, but I can draw things that I like the look of. You know why that is? Because I drew all the time as a kid. I have dozens of sketchbooks filled with awful pictures of zoo animals and pokemon and Calvin and Hobbes and cute bass players from magazines and all sorts. You know what’s stopping you from doing that right now? Nothing. Anybody can draw. Just pick up a piece of paper and a pen and get to drawing. It’s easy.

You might argue that developing a video game isn’t like that. That developing a video game is complicated. That you’d have to learn complicated code, or do a bunch of maths. None of that is true. It’s really fucking easy to make a game. My coding experience before this weekend was 3 awful games I when I was about 14. Last weekend I made 4 entirely different games for Pirate Kart V that are all perfectly functional.

Before somebody tells you that games made without whatever insane tools they like aren’t worth a damn: Spelunky might be the best freeware indie game that exists, and it was made in the same program I used to make Assage. These tools are powerful and simple. Those things are not mutually exclusive. Look at the Pirate Kart V page and you will see a list of tools for making games. Some of these tools let you make a platform game by designing a level and deciding what’s a player and what’s a block. Making a game is really really easy.

I’ll talk you through my entire process for a couple of my Pirate Kart games so you can see how little work it was. Literally from start to finish, these are all the steps I took to make the games from conception to submission.

Time Demon vs. Indie Coffee

I’d been reading a lot of Game Toilet (which is amazing, incidentally) so I was basically buzzing with ridiculous game ideas at all times. I found myself walking behind some Slow Walkers that were driving me absolutely insane, so I started having revenge fantasies. Originally I planned on making a game with a Minotaur China Shop-esque mechanic so you’d have to attempt to avoid bumping slow walkers for as long as possible but once you passed a certain threshold you would go CRAZY and MURDER the HECK out of them. I decided that I didn’t really like that idea, simply because animating a bunch of people getting murdered didn’t appeal to me very much. Instead I decided you should be in a rush to get to a date, and a Time Demon would represent you being late for the date. I was thinking entirely of the Wario Ware Inc. Penguin Shuffle game, in terms of mechanics. I had my concept down.

I animated the Time Demon, which was probably the most fun part. The Time Demon is really silly. Then I did the rest of the animations and the backgrounds. Inside baseball: I was originally going to have a sex shop but I didn’t want to draw a sex doll, so Buckets ‘N’ Kittens was born.

With all the art done I went into Game Maker. I programmed the weird particles to come out of the demon but it looked goofy so I changed it so that the particles came out of his x coordinate at random y coordinates. That was actually awesome, because it made it more clear where exactly you would lose. I made the main guy run much faster than the others, and the demon slightly faster than the slow walkers. I adjusted it until the demon definitely didn’t overtake the slow walkers before you got to Indie Coffee. It felt a little bit flat so I did some extensive Twitter research to work out how I could make them change speed in a sine wave. I programmed it so you could bump into the slow walkers, but I realised there was no feedback for how many times you hit them, so I did the speech bubbles with the exclamation marks. I made some sound effects in bfxr, I drew an introduction, game over and win screen and programmed them in. I sent it to my sister to do a quick test, I submitted it.

Maybe I should have programmed in a “Distance to Indie Coffee” thing because some people didn’t know you could finish it, but that might have made it less tense. All in all I think it was pretty good.

Neuroses

A while ago I passed an abandoned mattress and wanted to jump up and down on it. Suddenly I thought “Oh FUCK! What if THOUSANDS OF SPIDERS come out of that mattress?!” and didn’t jump up and down on the mattress. On my way back from uni on Monday, I passed that mattress again. Neuroses basically popped into my head as a fully formed game. You would have everyday choices that were exciting in everyday ways. If you said yes you would be horribly killed, if you said no you would be kinda bummed out.

When I got home I spent a few minutes researching actual Interactive Fiction engines before I decided to stick with Game Maker for convenience’s sake. (If I make an actual IF game at some point, I’ll use Inform 7. It comes highly recommended and looks really easy.) I downloaded Anna Anthropy’s Star Perv, but an all caps font wouldn’t work because I wanted KEY WORDS spelled out in CAPITAL LETTERS to be a RECURRING THEME, so I downloaded Magic Forest instead.

I looked up a way to make text wrap without doing it manually, which was a script that I streamlined a little bit because it was a more flexible than I needed it to be. After that it was just a case of writing it and programming the events to happen in order.

One variable, “mode”, controls everything that happens in the game. Every event has a mode number assigned to it, and pressing Y or N or Any Key changes the current mode to the appropriate mode. That’s it. That and the text wrap script is all the programming that there is. There was a brief panic when pressing N would take you straight through to the end of the game immediately, but that was just a forgotten “else”. I put it in the drop box for Mat to proof read, then I submitted it!

I think Neuroses is easily the strongest of the games I made, simply because it’s coherent and it has an actual message. I could probably have written something better for the PSYCHOPATHIC SUPERMARKET CUSTOMER, but other than that I really like it.

 

I’m not saying these games are anything especially fancy or even clever, but I am saying that they are games. Nobody has to go out and make a game, that’s a ridiculous thing to ask. All I’m saying is that if you want to make a game you should make a game. Don’t pretend like it’d be too hard and don’t pretend like you’re not smart enough to learn. If you want to make a game, you can make a game. If the Pirate Kart teaches you one thing, let it be that.

6 Responses to “How To Make A Game”

  1. This right here. This is what I needed. Great post, really hit the nail on the head. I definitely am one of those “oh it’s too hard to make this game… maybe I’ll just go do something else…” kinda people. But you’ve inspired me. Tomorrow I’m going to finally sit down and make this game thats been stuck in my imagination for far too long.
    Thank you!

  2. Richard says:

    Great article Tom, I’ve been umm-ing and ah-ing over whether or not to try making a game for a while now. Whilst I don’t believe it’ll be quite as simple as you make out, you’ve certainly pushed me to get going on it all.

    I’d be very interested in any follow up articles to this. Perhaps an hour by hour type thing of your next game?

    • Tom says:

      I have a couple longer-form games in my head that I want to develop, and if I start going into those properly I plan on being as open as possible about my process and stuff. I really think there’s a lot to be gained by open, honest development diaries that show the process in accessible ways, since most people assume it’s all arcane and scary.

  3. Matt says:

    This was an awesome read! My question is how do you go about animating and creating the different elements in your games? That’s the main thing that i have yet to figure out and it’s killing me.

    • Tom says:

      If you just want a tool to animate with, try GIMP. It’s free and has most of the functionality of Photoshop, which I use (but is SUPER expensive)

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