Get Into Games II

Last week I wrote about how to get started in the Phoenix video game scene. I mentioned the IGDA Phoenix and local higher-education schools like the University of Advancing Technology. Those are great opportunities to talk with video game makers, whether you join us for the UAT Game Studios Greenlight Celebration on December 11th, or the IGDA Phoenix meeting on December 16th, when my friend Marcus Brown from Big Bang Entertainment will be talking about making games with the Unreal Engine. But how do you get started making video games?

Like most things in life, it's about doing. Taking action. The best way to go about making a game is to, yep, make a game.

Today, you've got so many options out there to get started and none of them have to be too intimidating if you take it one step at a time. The major components of a video game are art, programming and design. Yes, this includes things like audio and narrative, etc. But video games, as a multidisciplinary media can be intimidating if you've never made one before. Here are a few ways to get started.

1. Modding

Modding a pre-existing game like Minecraft, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or Super Mario (a la Super Mario Maker) is a great way to test out game design ideas and get an understanding of how many of the pieces of video games work together to form a system.

I always encourage people who like to play games and want to make them, to first see if their favorite game supports user generated content and then build an experience within that framework. If your mod is good enough, you might consider selling it on platforms like Steam. Gary's Mod, DayZ, Defense of the Ancients and The Stanley Parable are examples of successful mods.

2. Educational Games

Video games have been entering the class room since the day's of Oregon Trail because they are great learning tools. In order to "win" a game you must first learn how it's played. Many education game makers have been taking this concept and creating experiences that offer the player more than just a simple win, but rather a win with a lesson. Why can't we then learn how to make games by playing games? Now we can!

Gamestar Mechanic, by Phoenix-based video game publisher, E-Line Media, is one such concept. As you play the game you learn about the basics of video game design and unlock mechanics and assets to create your game levels. Once you finish the game, is when the fun really starts and you can continue to create levels, share them with a massive community and get feedback, and play other people's games to get further inspiration. They were an early trend-setter and now we've got other awesome games like Code Combat that helps you to learn programming as you play the game, and Hack 'n' Slash, from Double Fine, that encourages the player to "hack the game world to achieve victory".

These games are great ways to get started making video games and have fun in the process.

3. Game Jams

If you're looking for something a little more advanced and feel like you're itching to work with a group of friends or strangers on a collaborative video game endeavor then you need to make time for a game jam. Similar to startup weekends, code days and band jams, and game jams bring people together for an amount of time (often 48 hours) to make games. A theme is usually involved to limit the scope and put all of the developers on a similar page.

Online game jams like Ludum Dare exists, but they can be intimidating for the uninitiated, where joining a group of people at a physical location can create a sense of community and build friendships. The beauty of working on a game in a short fixed timeframe is that it's more difficult for procrastination and scope to creep in. People working next to each other get the benefit of multiple brains and novices can learn from experts, while experts can experiment with innovative ideas.

I encourage anyone to participate in a game jam that is interested in understanding how a game is made. Even if you're you not an artist, programmer or designer, you can always find something to help you're team with, whether it's writing a story, making sound effects or just making sure you're team is well-feed and meeting their deadlines.

If you want to have a go as an artist, programmer or designer, there are a lot of great free tools out there like Blender, Unreal Engine, Unity 3D, etc. and you should give them a try before joining the jam. I've even had people work on Gamemaker tutorials during a game jam because it's a great way to work on a game with a group and problem solve.

Game CoLab will be hosting the next Phoenix Global Game Jam on January 29-31, 2016 at UAT and we encourage everyone interested to give it a try! We've got a few volunteers and sponsors, but we're always looking for more, so if you want to be involved in that way, please get in touch. Otherwise, simply sign up here to take part in the jam: http://globalgamejam.org/2016/jam-sites/phoenix-global-game-jam-2016

If you're interested in talking further about anything I've mentioned, or would like to meet local game developers to ask them how they got started, join us on December 18th from 6-8pm for another Game CoLab Happy Hour at Fate Brewery South in Scottsdale. For more info and to RSVP go here:

http://www.meetup.com/Game-CoLab/events/226916933/

And, if you have any experience with modding, the educational games I mentioned, or making games at a game jam, I'd love to hear from you.

Cheers! Ben


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