Do you get excited when you overhear someone discussing Minecraft on public transport? Does thinking about game-play mechanics or artificial intelligence get you excited?
Sometimes all you need is an idea. For Alexey Pajitnov, Tetris was it—an incredibly simple idea that became an instant classic. Shigeru Miyamoto started in industrial design, but fate drew him towards Nintendo where he created the best-selling Mario franchise. Before cult-hit Undertale, Toby Fox was composing music and dabbling in RPG Maker. The truth is, when it comes to game design, there’s no cut and dried path to realizing your dream. But there are a few things that will help you along the way.
1. Experiment with all game genres
It’s tempting, but don’t limit yourself to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Destiny 2. Breaking out of your comfort zone unveils the unique structural arrangement of components, dynamics and mechanics implemented by designers in different genres. Compare the minimalist platforming of Limbo to Cuphead’s frantic warfare. Analyze the role of environmental feedback in Dishonored 2 versus Thief: The Dark Project, or isolate how Life is Strange used choice-driven narrative to its advantage. Your ultimate goal is to unravel what makes players tick.
2. Stay on top of gaming industry trends
eSports and VR might be making today’s headlines, but cultivating a broad knowledge base of video game history is just as essential. In order to understand trends, you must first understand the evolution of a genre: how did the FPS change? Why is there a retro renaissance currently underway with hardware like the Super NES Classic? Nostalgia isn’t just a fondness for days gone by. It can also be a powerful predictor of sales.
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3. Develop skills unrelated to game design
This may sound counterintuitive, but video games draw on multiple disciplines, so having competency in another field can be extremely valuable. While gameplay might be the main course, art, music, and storytelling are indispensable components of the banquet. Games like Rise of the Tomb Raider are infused with history, whereas Firewatch demands a firm grasp on the realities of surviving in the wild.
4. Start making simple games
Bruce Lee famously said that “knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”. To get the ball rolling, you should experiment with various game-making tools like Unity, Twine, GameMaker or Adventure Game Studio. Get stuck into basic tutorials outlining game physics, lighting and rendering and animation. Memorize key game design terminology. Then it’s just a matter of practice, practice, practice.
5. Enroll in a game design course
For anyone who’s serious about making games, AIE offers a trio of diplomas including game art and animation and game programming. But you can test the waters with free online courses, too. California Institute of the Arts has just started its four week program on Coursera, while Scotland’s Abertray University is offering a two week primer on character design.
6. Be original
If there’s one piece of advice you should never forget, make it this: you must be able to do what others cannot. Individuality is key. Whenever you set out to design a game, ask yourself, what will make it memorable? What things will set apart your 2D platformer, MMO or survival horror from the competition? Undertale completely broke RPG conventions. Surgeon Simulator gleefully transformed players into sham doctors. In Five Night’s at Freddy’s, innocent, animatronic toys became malevolent, jump scare inducing monsters. The only limit is your imagination.