Do you enjoy playing computer games, inventing new strategies to defeat opponents and inventing entire universes from the depths of your mind? There are many tools that you can use to make your own computer game, requiring only the above skills, although some programming knowledge will give you more options to work with. Grab your mouse and keyboard and get started.
Part 1 of 2: Finding the right tools
Step 1. A mostly text based game
This is technically probably the easiest game to make, but not everyone is interested in a game without graphics. Most text-based games focus on a story, a puzzle or an adventure, combining story, discovery and puzzles. Below are a few free options:
- Twine is fast and easy to use with your browser.
- StoryNexus and Visionaire have more gameplay options and graphics.
- Inform7 is a more powerful tool with a large community of enthusiasts.
Step 2. Create a 2D game
GameMaker and Stencyl are good options that you can use for any genre, and you have the option to use programming without it being required. Scratch! is another tool you can use for browser games.
Step 3. Check out whether 3D games are for you
A 3D game is much more challenging than a 2D game, so keep in mind that this is going to be a long project and a lot of hard work. Spark and Game Guru can save you some of the work because you can build a world with it without using a line of code. If you already have programming experience or want to learn how to do it, try the very popular game engine Unity.
If you want to get started making 3D models yourself instead of using existing material, you need 3D software like 3DS Max, Blender (free), or Maya
Step 4. An approach that involves a lot of programming
Even if you have a background as a programmer, you may still want to use one of the above engines for your first game. Don't try something just because it's harder. But some people like being in complete control, programming a game from scratch. Then program the game in an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) like Eclipse instead of with a text editor, so that you can conveniently organize everything you need in one project.
While it is possible to write a game in almost any programming language, learning C++ will give you the right tools. Online there are all kinds of tutorials and loads of resources for game development
Part 2 of 2: Making the game
Step 1. Choose a draft
For your first project, making a small sample in the genre you're thinking of is a great starting point. This can be a platform game or a role-playing game. Before you begin, write down any ideas you have about the game and your answers to the following questions:
- What is the most important part of the gameplay (theme)? This can be overcoming opponents, solving puzzles, or talking to other characters.
- What should the gameplay look like? For example, fighting opponents can be done by pressing buttons in real-time, or through turn-based tactical decisions. Games with a lot of dialogue can allow the player to shape the plot depending on certain decisions, or by learning as much as possible about the characters and the game world.
- What is the atmosphere of the game? Is it creepy, happy, mysterious or exciting?
Step 2. Create a simple level
If you are using a game engine or game tool for the first time, now is the time to play around with the tool. Learn how to place backgrounds, objects and characters. Optionally create objects that the player can do something with, or look at the ready-made objects that come with the software or that are interactive.
- If you're not sure how to do something, ask on the tool's website or search online for more information.
- Don't worry about lighting and other graphic effects right now.
Step 3. Design the core gameplay, if necessary
This may mean making minor changes to the game software, or building more complex systems from scratch. Here are a few examples:
- If you're making a platformer, do you want the character to be able to jump twice as high or do other "special" moves? Play around with the height a character can jump or what happens when you click once, hold the key, or choose from different jump styles.
- If you are making an action roleplaying game or a horror game, what weapons does the player start with? Choose 2 or 3 weapons that the player can upgrade to and test them out. Try to make the choice between the different weapons interesting. For example, one weapon can deal more damage, take out multiple enemies, or make enemies weaker. None of the weapons should carry all capabilities, except weapons that will cost a lot (a spell that requires a lot of soul power, or a weapon that disintegrates after one use)
- In a dialogue-based game, you can have the player choose the dialogues from a list of options, or simply listen, then take an action, and then the dialogue continues. Do you want the game to follow a set path, or are there multiple paths and ways to exit the game?
Step 4. Make a few levels
Three to five short levels is a good starting target for the first game, but you can always expand this. Make sure that each level is slightly different, while not losing sight of the design of the "core gameplay". You can make these levels one after the other or combine them later, whichever is easier for you.
- A platform game will usually use moving platforms or faster enemies.
- An action game can introduce swarms of new enemies, a tough opponent, and enemies that are very difficult to defeat without special weapon or tactics.
- A puzzle is usually about one type of puzzle and either offers more difficult versions for each new level, or introduces new tools and obstacles that will make the player think more about the solution.
Step 5. Create short-term and long-term goals
These are commonly referred to as "secondary mechanics" or "secondary gameplay loops." By using the basic parts of the game like jumping, the player will also progress on another game level like defeating enemies or collecting treasures. This can eventually lead to achieving other goals, such as finishing the level, saving money for upgrades, and of course finishing the game.
As you will see from the example, you have already included this in the development without realizing it. In any case, make sure that the player quickly understands the purpose of the game. If after 10 minutes the player can only conclude that the game has no more depth than shooting enemies over and over again, then boredom is lurking. If the player gets some coins after killing the first enemy, then the player knows that there is a goal (saving coins for a reward) and that the game leads to it
Step 6. Test the game
Test each level several times and ask others to help you. Try to approach the game in different ways, including things you never intended, such as ignoring quests and walking straight to the final boss, or trying to finish the game with "worthless" weapons or upgrades. This is a lengthy process that can be very frustrating, but fixing bugs and making sure the game is fun for all players is well worth it.
- Give game testers just enough information they need to get started. Make sure they know that the game is still under development and which keys to use. They don't need to know anything else.
- Provide game testers with feedback forms for all the information they collect, which makes it easy to compare or reference this data. It also allows you to ask specific questions about parts of the game that you are unsure about.
- Testers that help you most are people you don't know, and don't feel obligated to be positive about your game.
Step 7. Polish the graphics and sound
While it's possible to find tons of game assets online, it's also important to take the time to check if something isn't right or fit, and otherwise look for a replacement. Learn to use an image editing program to adjust simple graphics in your 2D game, or use software like OpenGL if you're trying to get an ambitious 3D project off the ground. Add lighting effects that make the player walk along the main path through the room, and particle effects to enhance cool attacks and create motion in the background. Add sound effects like walking, attacking, jumping and everywhere else needed. Of course there is always a reason to change or improve something, but the game is ready once the visuals and audio meet your requirements. Congratulations!