How to make a video game (experience not required)

Creating a video game is a daunting task.

Big name developers like Bungie, Ubisoft, and Treyarch have budgets reaching into the millions, as well as a staff of designers and programmers working around the clock to bring the next blockbuster to your doorstep. It’s an incredibly bustling market, one that frequently brings in more revenue than movies, and propels video games into the mainstream consciousness without ever batting an eye. Of course, that’s just one face of the video game industry.

We’ve seen a virtual barrage of indie games for consoles and mobile platforms in recent years, as small studios — sometimes with just one or two people — create inventive, emotional projects that push the boundaries of what a “game” can be. Journey, the stunning adventure game for the PlayStation 3 from developer thatgamecompany, took home six out of 10 awards at the 2013 Game Developers Choice Awards in San Francisco. Other hit titles, like Bastion and Minecraft, continue to showcase just how powerful indie gaming has become in recent years.

However, this is article isn’t here to tout the success of others; it’s here to help you create a success of your own to tout. Making an innovative and groundbreaking game is just as difficult as creating a hit song, if not more. It requires a combination of hard work and innovation, a perhaps a dash of genius to boot. We are in no way suggesting that just anyone can sit down and make a game like Super Meat Boy or Limbo off the bat. However, making a playable game is not as insane as you might think; it just takes a little bit of time and patience. Here’s our quick guide on how to make a (very simple) video game. No experience necessary.

Note: I designed a little 8-bit game of my own, titled “The DT Express Quest,” on behalf of Digital Trends to go along with the article. I had no previous experience crafting video games, nor did I invest any money into making the project, but it’s a working video game I can write home about after a mere 10 hours of trial-and-error tinkering. Windows users can give it a whirl and help boost my self-esteem. There may be other ports down the line.

Give it try by clicking the download link below:

DT Express Quest

Conceptualize the video game

First things first, think about what you’re doing before you plow full-steam ahead with your game. It may not be a necessary step if you are just tinkering, but it’s one we highly recommend if you want your game to contain at least an ounce or so of substance. It’s easy to fall prey to the curse of second guessing your ideas and wanting to go back and continually replace what you’ve done. You can easily get stuck in this pattern forever. Visualize the kind of game you want to make, but make sure it is within your limitations as an amateur game designer. Making a completely immersive 3D world on par with the likes of Skyrim and Bioshock is out of the question, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to flesh out your game’s beginnings. Below are a few suggestions of things to think about from the get-go. Remember you can always expand later and change things later, but having the basics locked down will help.

  • Know the type of game you want to make (i.e. a platformer, shooter, RPG).
  • Know the budget. There are both free and premium options ripe for the taking.
  • Know the length. Keep it short or attempt something on the sprawling side?
  • Know the basic plot. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just have a general idea of the game’s goal.
  • Know your skill level. Start with something simple and build from there.

404* The DT Express Quest Conceptualized: I knew I wanted to create an 8-bit, side-scrolling game incorporating our 404 page. And since we’ve recently become completely obsessed with coffee here at DT (seriously, our new coffee machine is so sophisticated it may become sentient and try to take over the world), I thought it fitting to throw that in the mix as well. I chose to keep the game short for the sake of the article, offering only one level and few obstacles as part of my video game endeavor – but I also knew that I wanted to expand it down the line. The plot fluctuated from time to time, but it always revolved around our CEO Ian Bell reclaiming the captured espresso machine at the end of the level and garnering points through coffee mugs. The cliche spikes and flame-throwing baddies were a must, as was that over-the-top 8-bit rendition of the Requiem for Dream theme (credit of Joel Pöllänen).

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