Robert Tamayo


Why Some People Never Make Video Games

In yesterday's post, I talked about how I got into making video games. Getting into video games was mostly a culmination of various other skills that I had acquired over the years. I play video games, and yes, I'm a gamer. But most people I know who want to make video games never make anything; they only perpetually want to make games. Here are a few reasons why I think that happens to people, and some tips for bypassing each one.

They Believe Being a Gamer is Enough

I think many people who want to make games are gamers themselves. They grew up playing video games, and video games are one of their main hobbies. They honestly believe that their love of video  games is what will make them a good game developer.

But merely playing games has little to do with actually making video games.

People who actually make games need more experience than just playing games. Modern games are made by composers, programmers, game designers, voice actors, directors, artists, graphic designers, writers, sound engineers, and more. Look at the end credits to any modern AAA game -- most are longer than movies.

I think having a genuine love for video games can drive someone to push through the difficulty of making one, but there are far more people with a genuine love of video games that are not in game development than are. I believe that many people who set out to make video games because they love games are quickly deterred from making their first game altogether once they realize how difficult it really is; it's much easier to pick up a controller and enjoy a game.

Here's a tip for overcoming this: if you don't have all of the skills necessary to build games on your own, focus on the skills you do have. Find another person who has the skills you don't, and team up with them. Also, don't be afraid to acquire the missing skill; you don't have to be amazing at it to use it effectively, and you will probably be surprised at how much you really enjoy the new skill.

They Can't Draw

Creating the game art is by far the most time-consuming part of making video games. When I was creating Bad Blaster, I spent most of my development time figuring out how to draw fewer things. Whenever I created a new enemy, I had to draw every frame of their movement. The art in that game is very basic. I'm not saying in any way that it is amazing. What I'm saying is that, despite all my years drawing comic books, it was still incredibly difficult for me to draw decent art for my game.

I'm saying "They Can't Draw" is a reason why people don't make games for a complex reason. Video games are visual games, hence "video." A new game developer might start making a game from scratch, or they might start making a game using a game engine like Unity. The coding aspect of games requires nothing but your mind to create. You can code anything to happen on screen. You can easily code a scenario where if a fireball falls from the sky and your character kicks it before it lands, it splits into a dozen little fireballs that fly everywhere. But you can't easily draw that scenario.

I believe people who lack basic drawing skills get discouraged from making games once they realize how little they can accomplish on their own in terms of game art and animations. Without the beautiful terrains, fluid animations, and detailed textures the would-be game developer has gotten accustomed to, he might get discouraged from completing his first game.

Tip: To mitigate this, realize that there are stores for major game engines where you can buy basic assets, even full character models, backgrounds, terrains, and animations. I've seen a guy build an RPG clone in a week that actually looked really great and had some decent functionality. I think he even got the assets for free. But if you go that route, your game would look like dozens of other games. But if you don't go that route, you may never have a game at all.

They Don't Know What Game They're Making

By far the biggest reason people don't end up making their first game is because they don't know what game they actually want to make.

They have "an idea", but not a concrete vision. They might say they want to build a game like Fortnite, but they couldn't tell you what the "like" part means. They might say they want to make a 2D platformer, but they don't actually have a full vision of  what they want to make.

Here was my vision for my first game:

  • 2D Platformer
  • For Android
  • Cartoonish art
  • Character with a helmet and an arm cannon
  • Platforming mixed with shooting
  • 3 worlds with 3 different environments per world
  • Different weapons that drop from enemies, some good, some not good
  • Primarily influenced by Super Ghouls and Ghosts
  • Electronic music
  • Set in a sci fi environment

This clear vision narrowed down the game I wanted to make to something very definable. It kept me focused on making the game I wanted to make. Narrowing down my options made me more effective in executing the development phase.

I've released 4 games so far. But I've started a few other games that I never finished. The games I never finished always had one major thing in common: I didn't have a clear vision. They were just ideas. Penguin game, ghost game, etc. When I didn't have a complete vision, I never got past a few days or weeks of development.

Here's a tip for defining the game you're making: don't start with something completely original. It's easier to emulate existing genres and games. Focus on a particular platform, aesthetic, and genre.

They Don't Stick to Their Principles

I encourage anyone who wants to make a game to do so. The most important advice I can offer to a would-be game developer is to keep your first game simple, well-defined, and true to your principles

I didn't make a "mobile game" first; I made a 41-level 2D platformer. 2D platformers are simple, well-defined, and true to my principles as a gamer. It would have been simpler and more well-defined had I set out to make a mobile Jumper clone. But it would not have been true to my principles.

I'm a gamer, and if you want to make games, chances are you're a gamer, too. Stick to your principles and make a game you would enjoy playing had someone else made it. You're more likely to stick through to the end if you're making something you believe in.

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