How To Make A Video Game – Part 1

Unity Logo

I was first introduced to the wonderful world of video games somewhere around 1984/5. Seeing the gaudy colours bursting from the screen as my brothers played the ZX Spectrum port of Centipede amazed and enthralled me, as did the box art of the time. I’ve been a fan of the medium from that moment on. However I’ve never really been the most creative nor mathematically gifted (although on a good day I can count to 10) so never seriously considered a career as a game maker despite how much the idea appealed to me. I also suspect that making games isn’t actually as fun as playing them. A fact confirmed to me as, like many gamers of the time I spent a rainy afternoon copying BASIC code from a magazine to produce a terrible facsimile of a platform game which crashed two minutes in due to either a misprint or my inability to type.

This was enough to cement my belief that coding was never going to be for me. 29 years or so of playing games later and I’m still yet to make a game or have even a basic understanding of how to code. Two really bad Little Big Planet levels don’t count. I’ve had the odd idea for games but on reflection they were all really bad or had already been done before. Until a few weeks ago when, sitting on the bus travelling to work I had what I believed to be a great idea for a concept for a new game. I have no idea what caused this sudden burst of creativity but throughout the day I polished and added to my original idea and even came up with a second game. I left the ideas for a week before coming back to them and reaching the conclusion they were in fact reasonable, practical and could actually possibly make an actual game one day.

Screenshot 2014-02-13 23.37.33

Those of you who listen to the Monkeytail podcast will know I had a secret New Year’s resolution. As I play a lot of games I found it difficult to come up with a resolution involving playing games. So instead my resolution was in fact to attempt to make a video game myself. My original plan was to keep this secret until I had a workable game to show but I’ve decided to it would be more interesting to share my experience of this possibly ill-fated, ill-advised endeavour. Hence the words you’re reading now.

So how do you go about making a game when you don’t have the first clue how to code or design? Well you start the same way you solve all other problems, by a spot of Googling. However it’s nowhere near as scary as Googling that weird rash you’ve got (it’s cleared up now by the way). There is a lot of information and ideas to be found and plenty of free options in terms of software to use. Twine seems to be the easiest to use but can only be used for text based games which doesn’t fit with my idea so I won’t be using that for this project. I won’t bore you with the details of all my searching but I finally settled on Unity as my engine of choice. It seems pretty versatile and has been the birthplace of plenty of good games as well as some more questionable ones but what the hell, the decision has been made.

So the first step has been taken, now to learn how to use it. On booting Unity for the first time the fear begins. I’m greeted with multiple windows, some words, some numbers, lots of options and a completely blank area where I presume my game is going to appear eventually. This could take a while. There is a very detailed instruction manual for Unity so much reading begins. Unfortunately for someone with no knowledge of these sorts of software packages it was all still a bit bewildering for me. A couple of the tutorial videos made things a little clearer and then I found a walkthrough to making a simple game using a sphere to roll around the play area and collect tokens. As always the best way to learn is by doing and with a little (read a lot!) of guidance from the video I have a play surface & a ball sat on it, doing absolutely nothing. Still, although not exactly The Last of Us I feel like I’ve achieved something.

Screenshot 2014-02-13 23.35.38

A few minutes later and things have taken a step backwards. The tutorial tells me how to add some shadows. I follow the instructions to the letter but shadows fail to appear despite the presence of two light sources. Numerous attempts, reloads and some creative swearing later and I’ve got better at navigating the engine but still no shadows. I head to the forums and I’m hit by my own stupidity. As I currently don’t have any plans to charge for anything I create, I am using the free version of Unity. Real time shadows are not available in the free version of Unity. I suspect this to be the first of many stupid mistakes I will be making for your amusement. So that’s the end of my first foray in to the world of making video games, including some success and some failure. It’s going to be slow going as it’s already taken a while to get this far and I will be developing around work, training for my black belt, getting married, playing games and all the other stuff life requires me to deal with. I have left positive and ready to go back for some more and will be updating you as I go, just don’t expect me to have a finished game up and ready any time soon.

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