How to make a video game (experience not required)

Build the characters and environments. It’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and start building that game of yours. Video games are built around a cast of characters and interactive environments, whether it’s the moveable Pong paddle, Mario, or the Master Chief. Each one is designed a specific way for a specific purpose, giving each of them an easily distinguishable look and feel that makes them all standout hallmarks of their respective games.

There are multiple ways to go about creating a memorable cast, but we recommend sketching out your concepts in rudimentary form before fleshing them out in a more comprehensive fashion.

Most of the software we detailed in the previous section use 2D graphics, and for beginners this is probably best as there is an abundance of both royalty-free assets to use, and a plethora of programs for creating your own. However, if you’re going down the 3D route, we’ve got you covered there as well.

GIMP is a free open-source alternative to Photoshop.

GIMP is a free open-source alternative to Photoshop.

It might seem obvious, but regardless of if you’re working in two dimensions or three, Adobe’s entire suite of editing programs — but specifically Photoshop — will be a major boon for your game. However, these programs can be quite expensive, so if you’re trying to spend as little money as possible, there is a free alternative in GIMP, which is free on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. With GIMP, you’ll be able to perform essentially all the same operations that you would with Photoshop — though you’ll need to learn the program’s idiosyncrasies. Whether you go with GIMP or Photoshop, a powerful image editing tool will let you create the art assets for you game, be that characters, backgrounds, menus, etc.

If you’re going the sprite-based look, but don’t want to use Photoshop or GIMP, there are several options for creating pixel art. GraphicsGale is a program that is used to create and animate 2D sprites. The program is relatively cheap (about $20), and has an easy to learn user interface. It will take time to master, but the advantage to using GraphicsGale for your sprite work is that the program is specifically tailored for that art style.

For those of you looking to make a game that uses 3D models, you’re in luck: the two most popular pieces of 3D modeling software, Maya and Blender, are available for free on Windows and Mac. These programs can be difficult to learn, but they are industry standard for game development (especially Maya), so learning how render 3D graphics will be a massive boon if you’re looking to get into game development professionally. Like the other more advanced, 3D model-based programs, these take some time to learn and master, but due to their wide-spread use and robust online communities, tutorials and guides are easy to find.

Maya 2015

Maya 2015

* Building the DT Express Quest characters and environment.  Again, I wanted to create a game loosely based on our DT 404 page. Thus I altered Digital Trends’ CTO Dan Gaul and CEO Ian Bell in Photoshop CS3, giving Dan wings and changing their feet positions to mimic movement, before adding them to GameMaker as PNG sprites. I ripped the grayish background directly from the 404 page and tiled it to appropriately encapsulate the size of the level. The spikes, coffee mugs, solid blocks and other objects were created the same way. I’m no artist, but 8-bit graphics aren’t the toughest things to work with. Below are what the character sprites looked like in Photoshop.

Dan and Ian

Next Page: Tinker and publish the game.

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