Your exclusive game development guide
Turning a game idea into reality is an exciting and challenging process. This guide is a great way to get started on learning the art of game development, and will get you familiar with game development terms, game engines, the three Cs of game development and prototyping. Then, you’ll learn how to make your idea come to life.
Game development for beginners: terms to know
There are a lot of terms you learn if you want to build games. Make sure you know what the following important terms mean and get comfortable using them—so you can be a part of and contribute to conversations about game development.
• Additive animations: Animations that are added on top of other animations to perform two or more actions at once
• Alpha map: Also known as transparency maps, they are used to make areas of a model more transparent
• Assets: Models, textures, sound effects, animations and anything else that must be created in external software
• Decals: Textures with transparent properties applied to surfaces for breaking up bare and uninteresting areas of the game
• Displacement map: This adds high resolution detail to a model by pushing or displacing the vertices of a model
• Diffuse map: The flat color of a game object that is applied without any special effects
• Emissive map: A map that provides a glow effect
• Game loop: Whether there’s input from a player or not, game loop allows a game to run smoothly
• Light map: Used to reduce the high memory usage that comes with adding lights through “Light Baking”, which bakes the static lights into the textures of the level
• LOD models (Level of Detail): Different versions of the game resolution model that vary in polygon count and are used based on the model’s distance from the camera
• Looping animations: Animations that can be looped multiple times without the player noticing
• One-off animations: These represent a specific action or movement of an object or character
• Player input: How the player’s controls (controller, mouse, keyboard, touch screen) interact with the game
• Polygon count (or polycount): The total number of triangular polygons it takes to render your model in 3D
• Rigging: Creating the controls, bones, etc. that allow an asset to be animated
• Skinning: The process of connecting or associating the individual bones to the corresponding skin sections
• Specular map: Used to add “shininess” to an object
Here’s a more complete glossary of terms for beginner game developers worth checking out.
What you need to know about game engines
Game engines are the systems used for creating and developing games. Most use a software framework that does the following:
Bring in assets
Publish games for play
What to look for in a game engine
With both popular and proprietary game engines out there, how do you know what to look for in one before you begin? Here are five questions to ask that will guide you to a game engine that’s perfect for your needs:
1. What types of games do I want to develop?
Do you want to create a 2D platformer? A 4D action adventure game? A hybrid version? It’s valuable to get clear on exactly what type of games you want to build to narrow down what you’re looking for in a game engine. You should also figure out where you want to launch the game. (Console? Web browser? Mobile platform?)
2. How much am I willing to pay?
If you’re just in the tinkering-around phase of game development, you probably want to look for a free game engine version that’s ready to download. Keep in mind that a free version may not come with a profiler for optimizing performance, but you can always upgrade later. If you’re serious about developing and launching a fully-fledged game and are ready to invest now and pay royalties later, you may need to pay up to a couple thousand dollars to begin—then a couple thousand more for each platform you plan to use.
3. Which programming language do I prefer?
4. Do I want Blueprint visual scripting?
Blueprint is great for quickly prototyping levels and even creating entire games. There are limitations to what it can do, but it can be a great way for a novice to learn the ropes.
5. How important is a large asset store?
Downloading different characters, props, sound effects and other assets is possible in most any game engine, but the breadth of selection will vary.
Two of the most popular game engines are Unreal Engine 4 and Unity. Depending on what you want to do, one of the two may be a better option for you. Learn which game engine is best for you.
The 3Cs: Character, controls and camera
The first things players judge a game on when they begin to play are referred to as the 3Cs:
Many in the game development industry use the 3Cs to describe (1) the complex, interdependent relationship between the player’s inputs and their on-screen character’s reactions and (2) how the character is captured in the frame of the camera, which governs how the player interacts with menus and feedback. These are responsible for a player’s initial experience.
How do players feel when in control of the game? How do they interact with the core mechanics of the game? Are they having fun within the first few minutes of play? The 3Cs set the tone of the game and allow a player to go beyond gameplay mechanics to actually think about the game itself.
The best practices of the 3Cs
There are a few things to remember and implement when putting the 3Cs to work. They are:
• Feedback, meaning the visual and auditory reaction of the game to the player’s input
• Responsiveness of the feedback
• Button mapping by testing theories
• Correct decisions for the type of game you want
• Intangible qualities that make the game feel great
Learn more about these 3Cs best practices so you can have a solid foundation for achieving a state of “flow” and adding richness to your game.
The importance of prototyping
A common mistake in game development for beginners is focusing on the graphics too early in the development process. Instead, focus should be placed on creating prototypes that prove which features are going to be possible and fun.
When creating prototypes, stay flexible. Don’t get too wrapped up in future possibilities. Prototyping is all about testing your ideas and potential solutions to current problems. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
• Quality takes effort.
• Stick to what works.
• Don’t put off testing audio until the end.
• Put a limit on prototyping and then get down to business.
Follow along with our example of prototyping to deliver a great gaming product.
Taking your game idea to reality
With all the logistics of knowing how to develop a game out of the way, your idea is where all the fun starts. As a game designer, it’s your job to create a game people want to play. If you’re feeling inspired and in love with your concept, now is a great time to turn your game idea into gaming reality.
There are a lot of things to think about at the beginning stages of game design. What’s the basic interactive design and planned interface? What’s the synopsis and full story? Can you describe what each player would experience in a typical playing session? Can you explain the sound design? Who is the target audience and what are their expectations? What does this game offer that the competition doesn’t and vice versa?
By hashing out the actual details and rules of gameplay, controlling the progression of each character and player, and performing test runs by prototyping, you’ll begin your journey into successful game development.
Taking advantage of teamwork when developing games
Sometimes, game developers can feel like they’re stuck. Problems arise, and then more problems arise before even a small project gets completed. The entire process from idea to publication can feel frustrating and unending. During these times, it can really help to turn to others on your team. Team members may be other developers, the art team or investors. Also think of the platform and the target audience as being honorary teammates who want to help you succeed.
Talking through issues, getting a fresh perspective, and allowing others to contribute will likely give the entire project a boost. Solutions can be found, and the game will be much better in the end—which are just some of the advantages of working as a team.
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