Chapter 2

Getting Started

Even clueless lamers gotta eat...

In the last chapter, we discussed some of the different jobs available in the game development industry. We we will look at them again in the next chapter when we talk about putting a team together. In the meantime, let's assume, for this chapter, that you are a rank beginner, an absolute newbie, one of those scorned and much-flamed wanna-be's. Lets assume your prior accomplishments are none, your skills, such as they are, are untested, and nobody knows for sure whether you have a future or not. Let's assume, for the sake of this chapter, that nobody but you really believes you have a chance in the game development field, and even you are not too sure. In fact, let's consider today to be day one, and you are embarking on your new career by taking your first toddling baby-steps, still clinging to the sofa with one hand.

So, what do you do now?

There is really only one thing you can do. And deep down inside, I think you know it. There is only one way to really get off to a good start in game development. The thing you need to do, if you have not done so already, is write a game.

That's right. Put a game in your head, and from there put the game in your computer. Make it work. It doesn't have to be a great game. It doesn't even have to be a fun game. It can be tic-tac-toe or hangman. It can be ugly and hard to play. As long as it is a game, and as long as you wrote it.

In fact, as I will discuss in Chapter 5, I strongly suggest your first game is not a very hard game. You should not spend a lot of time on it and you should not plan on making a lot of money from it. Your first game should be a learning experience. It should be a lesson you start, and finish, and move on from. Try to do the best you can, but don't try to make Doom your first game.

So, what kind of game should you write? That's up to you, of course, but we can brainstorm together a bit. Let's take a look at some of the game genres, and see if any of them jump out and bite you.

Some Popular Types of Games

First Person
3D shooting Games
You know, like Doom or Quake. You're not ready for this yet.
Side Scrollers A genre that is close to my heart. These are games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Brothers. On the PC, these are games like Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit. These games are fun to play, but deceptively difficult to develop. These games require a huge investment in not only programming, but artwork and level design. This is not a good choice for a first game, but perhaps a second or third game. If you are interested in side-scroller games, you may want to check out my book Action Arcade Adventure Set.
Adventure Games These are games like Monkey Island and Myst, which tend to be graphics intensive, but often do not involve intensive animation. Unlike twitch games (games which rely upon hand-eye coordination), adventure games tend to involve thinking puzzles. Often they have complex story lines and lead the player through the solution to some kind of mystery. One of my favorite adventure games is I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream which features a storyline by well-known science fiction writer (and potty-mouthed crank) Harlan Ellison. Again, this type of game requires a huge investment in artwork.
Parlor Games This a catch-all category, including card games, board games, word games, and classic games like cribbage and Chinese checkers. For our purposes, I'm going to include gambling games in this category too, although most people give them a category by themselves.

Games in this category are usually a good pick for a first game. Be careful about trademarks, though. I wouldn't write Monopoly or Risk, unless you have a good lawyer.

Puzzle Games Another catch-all category. Jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles go here, along with token-shifting games like Cargo Bay or Rings of the Magi from MVP Software. Games such as Pipe Dream and Tetris may fit here, or in Arcade games. This is another excellent place to start.
Arcade games Games like Asteroids, Breakout, Centepede, overhead shooters, or any game relying heavily on hand-eye coordination. These games can be simple or difficult. If your taste moves in this direction, it is a good place to start, but I recommend choosing a simple concept for your first game.

Don't let the concept of intensive animation throw you. Even beginners can master animation techniques with a good graphics library like Fastgraph. A simple arcade game with fast animation will be easier and cheaper to produce than a graphics-intensive adventure game, for example.

Edutainment Games that teach you something, or try to teach something to children. These days, the emphasis is on the 'tainment. If you want to make sales, the game better be fun. A spelling test just isn't going to do it.

Choose Carefully

Give your first game some thought. Think about your options and weigh the costs and benefits. Remember, the goal is not to make your first game an award winner, or even a money maker. The goal is to prove to yourself and to the world that you can be a game developer. Once you have a complete game, finished and ready to show to the world, then you have a calling card. You have a way to get your foot in the door, so to speak. You can take your game to trade shows and introduce yourself to publishers. Depending on your goals, you can find a job or find funding for your next project. You can attract a higher level of team members to your team, or you can join another team. And don't forget, the code you use in your first game will be reuseable in your second game. So let me repeat, for emphasis, in case you missed it the first time:

Your first step in becoming a game developer is to write a game.

Are you prepared to work alone on your first game, or do you already have some buddies who want to work on it with you? If you are thinking of putting together a team, read on. Tips for teamwork can be found in chapter 3.

Getting started...

  C:\QUAKE> dir

  Volume in drive C is ID_SOFTWARE
  Volume Serial Number is 216F-560F
  Directory of C:\QUAKE

  .         <DIR>   05-24-93  10:52a
  ..        <DIR>   05-24-93  10:52a
  QUAKE    C    128 05-24-93  10:53a

     1 file(s)         128 bytes
               204,928,256 bytes free
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