Developing your very first game is incredibly exciting! There are so many opportunities and possibilities to explore. You might already have an idea about what you want to make. Perhaps even a title and a logo! However, don’t underestimate the journey that you are about to embark on. Building your first game should be a fun experience and there definitely will be challenges ahead, no matter if this is your first or third game. Here are 25 tips to help you developing your first game and finishing it.
The first set of tips have to do with the design of your game. This is an incredibly important step and should be done with care. Everything that you are about to do rests on this.
1. Keep it Simple
One of the most important tips for developing your first game is to keep it simple. It is better (and more fun) to focus on something smaller at first. Over time you will find that any new addition to the design will have an exponential increase in development time. By starting with a small scope, you are much more likely to finish the game.
2. Ignore Originality
If game development is something that you want to pursue, then a lack of ideas should not stop you from developing your first game. It is perfectly fine to base your first game on an already existing idea. What matters is that you put in the work and that you work on a game that you would like to play yourself.
3. Apply Focus
Focus on what you want to learn. If your goal is to build a game with fun mechanics we urge you not to start by building an engine. There are many tools out there that will help you start building a game in no-time. Building a game is also a great way to discover weaknesses in your skillset that you can improve upon later.
4. Think about Flow
Think about how the player will flow through your game from the moment they start the game till the moment they close it. What menu’s will the player encounter if any? What states does the game have and what are the transitions in between? It is important to begin development with a concrete idea of the flow because it’s hard to implement it afterwards. Having flow as an afterthought often causes bugs to appear and it will degrade the quality of your codebase.
Now that we have a more concrete design in mind, we can start planning out the work that we will be doing. It is completely up to you on how deep you want to go with this. However, there are at least some things that we recommend doing as a bare minimum.
5. Set a Goal
In order to start with a planning you need to figure out what you want to do while developing your first game. Do you want to release and sell it? Or perhaps just share it with your friends and family? Perhaps you can even set yourself a deadline to improve productivity.
6. Set Priorities
Similar to setting a goal, you will need to set priorities. Break down what elements in your game have priority over other elements. Figure out what is important to build first and what are elements can be seen as enhancements.
7. Try planning
Try deconstructing your design into small tasks and estimate how long it will take you to get them done. Initially, you will get it wrong but over time you will slowly figure out how long tasks could eventually take. An interesting thing to point out is that games are usually hard to plan out in advance. This is because the experience they offer is rather subjective and there is no definitive guide on how to build a fun game. Even large commercial games have problems with their planning and their scope. Need proof? You only need to keep an eye on the news.
8. Set a Budget
Another important factor to consider is if you actually have a budget or not. Not all tools used in game development are free of charge. Often there are licensing costs involved that have to be paid annually. Next to actual development costs, such as the engine you’re using, there are also store front costs. For example, the Google Playstore requires a one-time expense to become an eligible Google Developer while being an Apple Developer will have you paying an annual sum.
9. Future Extensions
Maybe there are elements in the design that can be used for future extensions. It is extremely common for games to publish DLC content after the initial launch. It might be beneficial to scale down your initial development efforts without compromising on the original design. However, please be aware that the base game you are going to be delivering should not feel as if it lacks anything.
When working on a game, it is always important to remember who you are developing it for. This will affect many of the choices that you will make in your design and it will impact the way the development progresses.
10. Determine your Audience
Whether you are making an original game or are basing it on already existing idea, it remains important to figure out who the audience is. Also consider what devices they are using and where they get their games. Failing to identify your audience before starting development is a major risk.
11. Get Opinions
As your game is progressing, try getting some opinions on it. These could be from friends, fellow developers from a community group and preferably players of similar games. Ask them constructive feedback that will actually help you. Try to have them give you feedback of both elements that they enjoyed and disliked.
Since we now have an idea of the audience and tasks that need to be done, we can actually start doing some development work. Hopefully, you will see that the effort that was put into the design and planning phases will pay off here.
12. Take small Steps
Remember, there is no real rush to finish your first game. Take your time and take small steps to make the most of the time you spend on it. If you did break your game down into smaller tasks using a planning, you will find that it’s easier to define these smaller steps. Next to that, completing small steps helps keeping you motivated while working on a large, continuous project.
13. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
An important thing to note is that many problems in game development have already been ‘solved’. Over the past few decades, many solutions have been brought forth to address common problems that were faced by many developers. The chances are that your game can actually benefit from any of these solutions. There are standardized solutions in the game development world for path finding, AI, interface design and so on…
14. Functionality First
Initially, it is incredibly tempting to start work on something fun. Yet, there is always more serious work to be done in game development. So, Instead of creating a footstep particle effect it might be wiser to build the movement system first. Again, set priorities and make sure the game is functional first.
15. Test Regularly
Games are complex, real-time software solutions that seemingly always find a way to break. It is vital that you test your game after completing another task. Every new feature will introduce new dependencies and unexpected behavior at an exponential rate. Be sure to properly test each feature in isolation as well in combination with others.
It is highly recommended that you track your bugs (in a bug tracker) and create a set of standardized test (unit tests) that can be performed manually or automatically. Such a unit test could describe the upgrading of a unit or the clicking of a particular button. Again, these are features that need to work before further testing can be done.
16. Use Version Control Software
To tackle the complexity of game development (or software projects in general) it is advised to use a form of version control. Using such a piece of software allows you to easily integrate new features or build them in isolation from the actual project.
Mastering version control software such as Git can take time but can be a true lifesaver. Such software allows you to instantly see what changes have been made between tasks and offers you more insight when fixing bugs. Next to that, it offers you to tag a certain stage of the project as a particular version, making it easy to roll back to that version if needed.
17. Regular Builds
Create regular builds, not just for your testers but also for yourself. There are times when your build could suddenly break. By building regularly it becomes much easier to figure out what recent change broke the build. This is especially useful when developing for a mobile platform where there are compatibility issues across different devices.
18. Implement a Versioning Scheme
Next to creating regular builds, it is incredibly beneficial to implement some kind of a versioning scheme. By doing this, it becomes much easier to track down bugs and gather feedback, especially when combined with version control software. Through a versioning scheme, it becomes easier to compare the state of the project throughout it’s lifecycle. If a bug is introduced in v0.9 than it becomes obvious to also check for it in v1.0.
19. Polishing is Key
Making sure every element in your game is functional is one thing, but making sure that it feels right is a completely different matter all together. If you want you want players to fall in love with your game you will need to add some layers of polishing. Usually, this requires effort from every discipline, ranging from sound to graphics and tech. Preferably, you want to have several stages of polish, followed by a period of bug fixing and so on..
When starting development it might be wise to start working on prototypes initially. These allow you to test mechanics before going into full scale production. Another advantage of this is that problems in the design can be found at a much earlier stage in the development pipeline. It would be a shame realizing an fun mechanic isn’t actually all that much fun after a few weeks of work.
An important skill for any game developer is to learn how to build something that is reusable. This could be a component or an object that can easily be re-used in the current or a future project. Learning the skill of reusability will also improve the overal quality of the project as everything will be more modular.
Since you will be working on this project for a (potential) long time, it is advised to start documenting your project as you go along. This does not mean that you have to document every change that you make, but rather keep a log of decisions that were made and draw out designs for systems.
23. Do Research
In this information era, the chances are that somebody has the answer to a problem that you are currently facing (That’s why you are here, right?). Whether you are having problems with your code, an art asset or are just generally interested in a best practice, chances are that somebody has already solved them for you. Doing research allows you to save time in the long run.
While working on your game, you will not only be faced with technical or creative challenges. There are several personal challenges that will need to be overcome as well. Some of these personal challenges can actually have a bigger impact on your game than the technical or creative challenges combined.
24. You will eventually fail, temporarily
Every project has its challenges and you will eventually run into a wall. What you will do when this happens will ultimately decide the fate of your project. However, don’t be discouraged by challenges as they are also opportunities to learn something new. Please, don’t give up.
25. Be open to criticism
After working on project for a long time, it becomes difficult to accept that there could be something wrong with it that you are not ware of. That’s why it is incredibly important to have the right people give feedback to you. Don’t consider feedback as something hostile, but rather try to see it as an enhancement to an already fun game that makes it even better.
There you have it, a set of 25 tips that will hopefully help you along with developing and finishing your first game. Of course, it is possible that you feel overwhelmed by the amount of items that you need to start considering at this point. However, that’s completely fine and normal. Again, game development is a journey and not an instant process. You should rejoice making mistakes as they present opportunities to learn from. So go forth and fail!