Let's get you started in game development

When people ask what is the best way to get into game development, my answer is always the same ...

... make games! 

It sounds obvious, but there is nothing quite like diving in and actually making something.

It's never been easier to become a game developer. Seriously, the sheer amount of tools, resources, tutorials, and communities out there make taking the plunge easier than it has ever been. In fact it might be more than a little overwhelming to decide where to start.

The problem many find is that they end up having ambitious plans and grand ideas. The best approach is often to start small and learn as you go. Game development involves a lot of different skills, and like any other skill the only thing that improves them is practice! 

On the plus side you have lots of options now.

With that in mind, I figured that since I'm always advocating that people should just dive in, I should really point people in the direction of some of those resources. 

This isn't intended to be a comprehensive list of all game dev tools ever, more a simple list of starting points that can get you started!

There are two main places that people can start. You can either look at game mods, or start from scratch, so let's start with ... 

Mods & Modding

You can dive into mod projects, using a tool-set often released with a game that allows users to modify the original game. This is often a great entry level way to see if you really have some game design chops, and the patience for the work. I started out this way making mods for the old Mechcommander and Neverwinter Nights games. You can start out with something as simple as making a short fetch or kill quest in an RPG and going from there. 

So what are some good games to dive into?

  • Skyrim - The Bethesda Elder Scrolls series has a history of strong mod options and Skyrim is no different. It has an expansive and fairly fully featured set of mod tools that come bundled with the game. It also has a fairly vibrant community. You can check out places like Nexus Mods, the Skyrim modders reddit, or any number of great You Tube tutorials.
  • Starcraft 2 - The editor that can be accessed for Starcraft 2 is pretty much the same one that the developers in-house use to make the game itself. It is an incredibly powerful tool that allows users to make all kinds of different game experiences. The Starcraft Arcade has an active development community that is full of support and advice. A good place to start is the mod tutorial forum or any one of the You Tube tutorials that exist, or a site like SC2mapster
  • Divinity Original Sin - This throwback RPG is another robust editor that can add new content to the game with relative ease once you get your head around the interface. The developers have some videos online that show a lot of the functionality, and there is an active community on the developers forums.
  • Shadowrun Returns - Another old school RPG that has a bundled toolset that allows you to get to grips with creating content relatively quickly. There is a developer wiki, and you can find some You Tube tutorials 
  • Civilization V - If strategy is more your thing there are some tools available for modding Civilization V that you can quickly sink your teeth into! A good place to start is the fanatics forum for modding
  • Counter Strike: GO - A place many fledgling level designers have started out. The community is still going strong and has a near insatiable appetite for new maps. You can start with the developers wiki or hit up You Tube for some tutorials. 

Starting from scratch

Starting from scratch can obviously be a little more intimidating, but there are also some great resources out there that can help you get started for yourself! First let's look at some of the tool-sets that exist out there. 

  • Game Maker - A great, flexible, starter tool. As with any toolset it can be overwhelming to start with a blank page, but thankfully there are some great tutorials out there. We will get to that in a bit!
  • RPG Maker - Makes a very specific type of game, but it does that pretty well! If you aspire to creating something JRPG inspired than this is a good option.
  • Unity - The go to creation platform for indie developers. Has a higher learning curve, but also a much higher ceiling. You can ultimately make professional offerings with Unity, and it has an extremely active development community.
  • Unreal 4 - The professional development suite has recently started offering free access to it's power. Possibly not the place to start at the very beginning, but it is a window into professional development tools.

The tools though are just half the issue, knowing how to use them if you zero experience can represent a tough learning curve. Thankfully the internet is on hand to provide some helpful tutorials and assistance!

  • Make a game with no experience - This is an awesome tutorial series from indie developer Tom Francis (who made the rather brilliant Gunpoint). This guy started from scratch himself, and shares his process and how you can do the same. I can't stress enough how great this series is. Uses Game Maker as the platform.
  • Extra Credits on Game Design - this web series is more on the theory of design rather than technical skills, but it's a worthwhile watch. It will start to ask if you have the right mind to consider the various elements of game design.
  • Unity tutorials - The official site has a list of example games and tutorials that will see you quickly getting your hands dirty with the tool.
  • UCLA Game lab - have a great starter tutorial for making your first game in game maker
  • Ko-op mode - have a starter tutorial to getting something up and running in Unity.
  • Udemy - This is one of the paid online course sites. Now a word of warning here, their courses aren't free, but they do often go on sale that significantly lowers the cost. You will often be able to pick up entire courses for $10-$30, and some of the more popular ones are well made and informative. There is a lot to filter through, but sticking to some of the high usage courses can dig out some useful courses. As always with paid online learning options, be sure that you want to commit to it, as it does require your attention, but hey, you want to make this happen right?

There really has never been a better time to take your first steps in game design. Nothing beats getting stuck in and making something for yourself. 

You can make games. It just takes a little practice!