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Philippe Vaillancourt

Learning One Year of Game Development and Design Self-education

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tldr: This is a community project to help aspiring solo game developers and designers, through small assignment projects, gain the knowledge and skills required to make a video game. If you are interested in contributing to the discussion, head to https://github.com/Neoflash1979/learn-gamedev/issues.

The problem with tutorials

With the number of great courses, tutorials and other learning resources found online, more and more people teach themselves programming. Many will do so with the intent of making video games. But there is much more to designing and making video games than mere programming.

Animation, anthropology, architecture, brainstorming, business, cinematography, communication, creative writing, economics, engineering, games, history, management, mathematics, music, psychology, public speaking, sound design, technical writing, visual arts AND programming; knowledge and skills in these areas can be invaluable to a game designer/developer. Thankfully, there is an abundance of resources available online that can help one acquire knowledge and skills in each of these areas individually. But for the aspiring solo dev, it’s not just a matter of acquiring knowledge in these areas, it’s also important to understand how to use all of that together, for the express purpose of making a video game.

There is a plethora of tutorials available online that will guide you from A to Z on how to make such or such a game. In the process you will acquire a certain amount of technical knowledge, and that’s great. But you won’t really learn about the process of designing and developing a video game. The same can be said about the numerous lists that tells you the type of games you should be making, and in what order, in order to learn gaming making; first you make a Breakout clone, then you make a Tetris clone, then you make a Mario clone, then you make Wolfenstein 3D clone, etc. Again, this kind of advice will help you progress in certain technical skills, but you won’t have learned all that much about the process of designing and developing a video game.

Making a video game is about making decisions. When you follow tutorials, or clone an existing game, the decisions are largely already made for you. To really learn to design and develop video games, you have to build them, from scratch, on your own (or with a friend or two). All aspiring game dev/designer realizes this at some point and so sets out to build their first game. Their REAL first game. One where THEY have to decide, design and build EVERYTHING. And that’s where everything goes to sh*t.

Making video games is hard

You see, making a video game is hard. I mean, REALLY making a game, from scratch. It is a daunting task and it can be overwhelming. So naturally, you turn to Google, and you learn expressions like “scope”, “minimum viable product”, “rapid prototyping”, “find the fun” and “start small”. All those two minutes videos and articles are very enlightening but in the end, it’s still very hard to understand how to keep a small scope when you have never REALLY made a game and you are invariably imbued with grand game-making aspirations. How small is small? What aspects of game making should I focus on? How many hours should I invest in making that first game? Those are just a few of the questions that an aspiring game dev/designer might have.

Despite all the great resources out there for learning all the bits and pieces involved in designing and making a game, there is a complete void in terms of helping aspiring dev learning to put it all together in a progressive, manageable, way. What we, aspiring self-taught devs, are missing is a guide. Something that will guide us, progressively, on our game making path. Something that will help us focus on the right things, at the right time, while we progress on our learning journey – “yeah, maybe you should leave researching the use of Octrees in collision avoidance AI for later and first focus on figuring out how to make that white ball go from point A to point B, Phil”.

What we really need are assignments, with deadlines and requirements. Oddly enough, if your Google “game making assignments” you will find a few examples of exactly what we need, but only for board games, or children Phys Ed games. Here is an example: http://www.cobblearning.net/kentblog/files/2015/11/Project-27w5me1.pdf

This is exactly what we need. Exercises that help us focus our creativity and give us a set of guidelines, requirements and constraints. Allowing us to make MOST or at least MANY of the creative and technical decisions that go into making a game, while at the same time ensuring that we keep the scope small and that we focus on a few new concepts/skills. Every assignment would, gradually, expose the learner to new and more advanced concepts/skills, expanding the scope a little, culminating in a final, 2 to 6-month-long assignment where the learner is really making a game he can be proud of and call his own. Alas, this resource does not exist. At least I have found it. So, let’s do something about it.

I propose that we create an open-source project on Github and create a “Game development and design self-education” curriculum. Basically, a list of game making assignments that would guide an aspiring game dev through the process of learning the required skills, methods and processes required to put a game together. The onus would be on the aspiring game dev to find the resources needed to learn the creative and technical skills required to meet each assignment’s requirements. If you are interested in contributing to the discussion, head to https://github.com/Neoflash1979/learn-gamedev/issues.

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