- What are your strengths & weaknesses?
Chances are you’re either a programmer or you’re an artist of some type. Odds are you dabble in both but consider one to be your primary discipline. For your very first game, leverage those skills as much as you can. If you’re a programmer then write great game code but condense your art down to the most simplified version you can. If that means colored dots or squares, then do that. If you’re an artist, then make the game look fantastic but don’t try and write the code for an MMO, use a simple concept and make it look gorgeous. All kinds of games can be successful these days, so don’t be afraid to let your skills dictate your first creation.
- Do you want to release your game? If so, where?
It’s your first game so maybe you’re shy about showing it to anyone. That’s fine. I’ve made a few games now and I’m still really shy about showing anyone what I’ve made. Don’t feel bad if you’d rather not release your first game. Remember, this is a learning exercise first and foremost. If you do decide to release the game publicly though you have some pretty big decisions to make. Something as simple as “is this a mobile game?” is a huge design decision. Phones don’t have a right click function, controller buttons, or other more in depth forms of input so if you’re going to make a game and you plan to release it for a smart device, then know in advance that your interaction has to be somewhat streamlined. There are lots of questions like this too. Will the game support a game pad? Will it be released on consoles, or Steam? The answers to these questions can help inform your decision on what engine to use, etc…
- 2d or 3d?
Another big factor in how you make your game is whether or not you want to utilize 3d graphics or not. A quick recommendation; unless your specific field of expertise is 3d modeling, stay away from 3d for your first few projects. 2d is simply much easier to learn basic design concepts in than 3d. Whether or not you’re going to use 3d will have some impact on what type of engine you decide to use though. If you want to go the 3d route, then something like Unity or the Unreal engine is probably a good choice. If you’re going 2d then Construct or Game Maker might suit you better. Keep in mind, I’m certainly not suggesting that you stay away from 3D graphics forever, just until you have your sea legs under you.
- How much time do you have?
I only recently started developing games on a “professional” level (I put professional in quotes because I’m not exactly raking in the dough yet). Before life put me in a position to make games professionally I had a typical 9-5 day job. I also had a girlfriend who became a fiancé who became a wife, a house, a family, pets, etc… Even if you’re a junior in high-school and you don’t have any of those responsibilities, your life is still probably pretty busy, right? Whether it’s work or homework, we all have lives. So when thinking about your new game, consider how much time you’re willing to put into it’s development. It’s easy, when the game is just an idea in your head, to tell yourself that you’ll devote every waking moment to its development. You won’t. New games are constantly coming out that you want to play, your family will need you, and there are chores to be done. It can’t all be ignored all the time. Do not underestimate the destructive power of random life interruptions. If you want to be successful, you have to create a project that fits properly into the lifestyle that you currently live. If that means developing your game for two hours a week, then so be it.
- How in-depth is your game?
As a new game developer it’s really hard not to get caught up in all of the cool games that you see triple-a studios making these days. Let’s address a harsh reality though; you’re not going to make Assassin’s Creed on your first go-round. You’re probably not even going to make Tetris. This is your first game, so keep it simple. Think of one (and only one) game mechanic that you like. Use that one single mechanic to make a game. Will it be boring? Maybe. But you can always make a sequel later, or add features once it’s done. Game devs constantly have to fight back feature creep though, so be wary of that. Don’t add mechanic #2 until mechanic #1 works properly.
This little nugget is ranked number one for a reason. I simply cannot stress enough how important it is to not get ahead of yourself in the early stages of your game dev career. If you’re like me and you love games, then naturally you want to make games that you think are really cool. Those games probably don’t include Pong and Space Invaders anymore. But here’s the thing; you need to walk before you can run. It’s true that you probably won’t make Assassin’s Creed on your first go round, but your chances of eventually making something like Assassin’s Creed go up dramatically with each game you create and complete. So even if you don’t want to, make a Pong clone. Finish it. Feel the euphoria of envisioning a project and seeing it through to completion. It’s a far bigger step in the right direction to finish a tiny game then to never finish a huge project.