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How To Start Making Games

Sometimes I get emails from people who want to make games but do not know where to start. I usually give an ad hoc response, but afterwards I find I left important things out, or no longer consider what I wrote good advice. This blog post is a more complete response to these emails.

If you’re just looking for some links to game creation tutorials, I’ve got some of those for you, but I hope there’s more I can tell you!

The Basics

I’ve read a lot of these types of posts myself over the years, and so I’ll start by restating bits from those that stuck with me. After that I’ll add some much needed counterpoint based on my own experience.

Start Right Now

Start making games right now, like right after you read this. Go! School, college and university are nice, but learning starts with you. Don’t wait for someone else to teach you things, nothing is stopping you from making something right this instant.

Start now especially if you’re still young and in school. You’ve got nothing but time on your hands!

Keep it Simple

Of course, you can’t just start making the next World of Warcraft of or something. Start small and keep it simple. An excellent choice would even be to start with something that’s not digital, like a card game. There’s loads you can learn from making something out of pen and paper.

But if you’re like me you’ll want to make software, right? Even so, start simple. Don’t focus on graphics, focus on making a little cube move when you press keys, that kind of thing. Then add a little bit to that, then add a little bit more, then move on to something else. Small steps!

Volo is the first real game I ever tried to make, and I had to learn the relevant skills along the way. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made a bunch of smaller games before tackling something so big. In fact, doing a couple of game jams and little prototypes while working on Volo has taught me many thing that I would never have learned just working on a single big project.

Learn how to Program

Opinions are divided on this, but my own stance is clear: While it’s possible to design computer games without knowing how to build them, it’s not very efficient.

You have to get a team to build your game for you (good luck with that), and then you have to wait for them to build it before you can see if your ideas even work! Far better to be able to develop your ideas yourself, even if only in prototype form. So yes, programming is essential; learn it and love it.

Don’t take that to mean programming is an annoying means to an end, though! Programming can be a very enjoyable and rewarding activity in its own right. Even though it’s probably not for everyone, I believe lots of people are scared of it unjustly. All it takes to get hooked is to write that first bit of working code that makes something move on the screen when you press a key, and that’s quite easy to do today.

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants (Here be Tutorials)

I’d recommend getting some experience with existing game development tools instead of starting a whole game engine from scratch. Making your own technology and tools has lots of benefits; you’re in complete control of everything. But you’re starting out, and making your first game is daunting enough without starting from scratch.

Use existing tools, make things with them, learn how they work, what you like about them, and what you don’t like about them. With the knowledge you gain from this you can always make something to suit your needs later on.

Below are some starting points for digital game creation using tools freely available today:

Tom Francis (who made Gunpoint) is doing a series of tutorial videos on learning to make games with Game Maker. Game Maker is used by a lot of indie developers these days. Ever heard of Vlambeer?

We use Unity to develop Volo Airsport, and you could use it too! It’s more complex than Game Maker because it is 3D, but there’s a lot of learning material available to help you take your first steps. See if you can follow their “Roll-a-Ball” tutorials, and take it from there.

Twine is a tool with which you can make text adventures that you can play in your browser. It’s dead-easy to get started with, so if telling interactive stories appeals to you, try it! Brooklyn Trash King is a neat example.

I worked with Processing for a while in college. It’s a toolkit designed to make digital audiovisual art with code, but you can make games with it too. The basics are quite simple, and you can learn a bunch from it. I wouldn’t recommend trying to make full games with it, but for learning it’s quite good.

It doesn’t matter which tool you start with. You will find that lots of skills you learn using one particular tool will be useful when you start using others.

How To Keep Yourself Going

Here’s some tips that don’t have anything to do with specific technology or skills, but rather on how to grow as a designer and developer.

Keep things simple. You’ll have to excuse me for sounding like a broken record, but I can’t remember the amount of times when I tried to make something too complex, leading to lots of unnecessary frustration.

Does my car really need to have James Bond gadgets and be family friendly? Should I really be making this into a massively multiplayer online game? Do I really need the latest real-time global illumination bajizmo?

The answer usually is: no, I can make it simpler without sacrificing anything with respect to the core concept.

Learn from lots of different sources. If one article/book on some topic doesn’t click with you, try another one. Then go back to the first thing you read and see if you get it then.

Learn to searchGoogle is your best friend. I have about 50 questions each day that it can help me with, questions that would have taken me ages to figure out all on my own. Even if you can’t find what you’re looking for and plan to ask someone for help, that person will appreciate it if you did everything in your power to try and find the answer yourself first. Don’t ask someone a question you could have literally put in the search bar.

Try different tools. The tools you use shape the way you think about design, problems, and the world in general; and using a new tool will help you understand things from different perspectives. As the age-old saying goes: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is nail.

Read lots of different things, do lots of different things. Not just about games. The universe is an interesting place, you never know where inspiration comes from!

Keep making things. Regular practice is how you learn best! Work on something every day, it doesn’t matter how much or how little you get done. Even just five minutes of tinkering with something helps you memorize important things, and keeps the problems you’re working on active in your sub-conscience. This is another reason making simple things is a good idea: you don’t get stuck, and you can keep a good pace.

Have a notebook with you, and make a habit of making notes. Thought of something funny? Write it down. Half-baked idea for a game? Write it down. Can’t quite remember that tune you liked as a child? Write down how that makes you feel. This process helps lock things in your memory, and you never know when odd little thoughts can turn out to be useful later.

I use Evernote as a kind of digital notebook. Right now it lets me search through about 3 years of personal notes on everything and the kitchen sink; it’s an external part of my brain now.

Take breaks. If you’re absolutely stumped on something, do something else for a while. Go for a walk, draw something, make some coffee, talk to a friend, whatever. You’ll often find that when you come back later the solution isn’t far away.

Talk to yourself. Doing this out loud is the best, but if you find yourself in a situation where this isn’t an option try logging your train of thoughts in a text editor. Talking to yourself helps you make your thoughts concrete in a way that just thinking them does not, and verbalizing your thoughts can help you find problems with your thinking that would otherwise go unnoticed. Stuck on a problem? Write it down in detail, chances are you’ll find you missed a step. Bonus: put all this in your notebook too, it might be useful later.

Sure, some people might think you’re a bit nuts, but nuts is good. Speaking of which…

Be an Idiot

Idiots stumble upon the most amazing things out of sheer luck; things that sane people (the real idiots, really) would never ever find! A normal, sane person would never dream of building and aircraft, or donning a wingsuit and diving off cliffs.

When you’ve made something that people find unique, it means you’ve made something those people would not have thought of, or would never have considered feasible. This means you have to think different thoughts and understand the world in a different way than most people. It means you have to be mad as a hatter.

You see now that it is in your best interest to be the biggest, maddest idiot you can possibly be, as long as you’re smart about it.

Idiots also have a habit of hurting themselves. This is unfortunate, but true idiots know that this is only part of the process.

Invention is banging your head against the wall until you have a light bulb.

Ignore My Advice

Don’t take anyone’s word for anything, including mine! All advice is wrong, but some is useful.

I’m just some guy making some particular game, with some particular technology. I enjoy, and have enjoyed a whole bunch of privileges that gave me the opportunity to learn how to make games, privileges that you might not have. Be it age, location, race, education, parents, finance; your situation might be very different from mine, and some or all of my advice may very well not be useful to you.

I don’t know what the best way to start developing games is; in fact, I am sure there is no single best way to start with anything. About the closest thing to a universal truth I think there is, is that you need to try things, try more things, and then try yet more things.

It is interesting to note that I didn’t take most of my own advice. I stubbornly slaved away on a single project that was clearly too much for me to take on. It looks like I lucked out and came up with something good, but in hindsight I think I could have saved myself a lot of headache and (minor) depression if I did things differently.

On the other hand, perhaps Volo Airsport is what it is precisely because I tried to make something stupidly ambitious and just kept throwing myself at the problem.

The End

And that’s all I have for you right now! I hope some it it was of interest to you. If you have questions or want to discuss this article, don’t hesitate to leave a note on the forums or send me an email.

Beta Feature: Course Editor

(As part of our development process we release test versions of the game. These are bleeding-edge builds that we can update and distribute much faster. You can opt in to these versions to see what we’re working on, help us find bugs, and give us feedback on design choices before big official releases. Interested? Check the manual for details.)

Today we’re pushing the first beta feature to the test branch: The Course Editor.

Course Editor Beta UI

This first version of the course editor does exactly what it says on the tin: It lets you design and share time trial courses. You can load it up at any time during play, create as many courses as you like, and share them with your friends.

Frank has been working on this baby for a while now. It’s rough around the edges (like the rest of the game, really), but at this point we’re really curious what you think of it.

If you’d try it out, check out the detailed post in the Beta Forum Section. And while you’re there, be sure to give us some feedback on it!

Volo Airsport v3.2 Released

Download Volo Airsport v3.2

As usual, download the update through your personal Humble Store library page (after logging in), or by following the original download link you received when you purchased the game. Don’t have your key anymore? Use the Humble Key Resender.

What’s New

(I’d have a featurette video ready to show you what’s new, but Humble surprised me and pushed the update a mere hour after I sent it to them. Err, expect the video later this week!)

What do you do when you love a game very much? You put a ring on it. Or you know, several!


Time Trial courses are now dotted throughout the landscape. Some are easily found, others take a bit of work to find and actually start. Fly through a starting ring and the full course will reveal itself. Finish the course successfully and you’ll see your completion time.

We’ve designed courses for beginners, experienced pilots, and straight up masochists. There’s something for everyone. (Although, Terminal Ferocity is really just for me. Really, don’t even try, I warned you!)

These courses are the first type of event that you’ll be able to design yourself soon. Making these courses is a bunch of fun, and sharing them with friends to see who’s The Ultimate Wing King (yes, that’s what it’s called, honest) is even more so.

Other than that, we now have motion blur, the option to add spin to your exits by holding pitch or roll as you press respawn, and a whole bunch of fixes and improvements.

Oh, and we also built in handy update notifications that pop up as soon as a new version of the game is available for download. This means you won’t have to keep refreshing the main website every day to stay up-to-date. 🙂

For a full list of changes, see the Volo Airsport Change List.

Enjoy, and discuss v3.2 on the Forums!

v3.1 Release & Greenlight News

Volo Airsport has been Greenlighted

First of all, great news! Volo Airsport has been Greenlit and will launch on Steam soon! If you voted for us during the campaign, thank you very much!

All existing customers will get Steam keys when the game goes live in the Steam store, and we’ll let you know when that happens.

v3.1 Is Now Available

This version is mostly there to patch some important bugs found in the original release, but we’ve also added a small number of features. Front flips! Back flips! Basejump exit points!

Download this release through your personal Humble Store library page

Full change list here, and I talk about it all in-depth in the above video.

v3 Launch Status Update

Hey everyone, Martijn here with a quick update on Volo Airsport’s launch progress.

Launch Update

I underestimated the impact of our time zone difference with the folks from Humble, and thus it’s taking longer to set up our sales widget. I’m sorry about this, especially as I’ve been telling you all we’d go live on Wednesday. Lesson learned.

That said, my guess is we’ll be up and running soon after San Francisco wakes up today! I know I’ve been saying it a lot, but: just a little bit longer. 🙂

Greenlight Progress

We’ve launched a Steam Greenlight campaign, which means we’re trying to get Volo Airsport on Steam, and we need your help to do that. If you’d like to see this happen, go the Greenlight page and vote!

It’s fantastic to see how far along we are after a single day! At the time of writing we have over 1100 yes votes, and are 20% of the way to the top 100.

The game isn’t available to play yet, the new website isn’t online yet, and no press coverage has appeared yet. A lot of votes are from people encountering the game for the first time, browsing Steam itself. It’s great to know we’re making a good first impression.

Thank you all so much!

To All Who Donated

Here’s How You’ll Get v3

First of all, thank you so much for buying Volo Airsport and supporting its development. You rock!

We are getting ready to launch Volo Airsport V3, and as promised you will get access to it! We’ve sent emails out to all the Paypal addresses we have on record to confirm.

The game will be distributed via the Humble Store from now on. We will send you a key later this week, but before we can do that we need to make sure your contact information is up-to-date.

If you received our email, and you’re fine with your Humble key being sent to it, you’re all set. If you’d prefer a different email address, send us an email with your preferences. If you didn’t receive our email, first check your spam box. If you definitely didn’t get the email, let us know and we’ll sort it out.

Volo V3 will launch later this week. See you then!

Top Down

The Flare Path on Volo Airsport

I had a chat with Tim Stone of Rock Paper Shotgun this week, which ended up in a lovely article about Volo Airsport and Becoming‘s wingsuit game. We talked about the next things on the todo list, the overal direction for the game, and some key inspirations.

It’s been a good reminder to blog more. Thanks, Tim!

Here’s some bits that didn’t make the final cut, but which might still be interesting:

RPS: Did you have any flight sim design experience before embarking on Volo?

Me: I did not have any flight sim design or game development experience to start with. Going with Volo as my first project was ill-advised in hindsight, and seeing it through is still a fool’s errand in a lot of ways. I’m happy to do it, though! I yearn for this particular flavour of game, and few others seem interested in making it.

RPS: What, specifically, inspired the project?

Me: Wingsuit basejumping exploded in popularity around 2010, mainly because cheap head-mounted cameras resulted in lots point-of-view Youtube footage. I stumbled upon videos from Phoenix Fly around then, and I remember stammering, agasp and aloud: “Y- you can do that with just your body and some fabric?” The sport looked at once elegant and clumsy, equal parts thrilling and serene. I was surprised no one was building a game around it.

That sparked memories left by Pilot Wings 64 and SSX Snowboarding, among other games. Easily disregarded as ‘arcade’ games, I tend to view these games as impressionistic, opinionated simulations. I am fascinated by complex systems, but I don’t want Volo Airsport to become a dry simulation experience. Seeing how these games carefully choose, accentuate and exaggerate what they simulate is useful. I’d also be disappointed if I couldn’t work some Shadow of the Colossus and Dark Souls influences in there! (I’ve not noticed this before, but all those games are Japanese. That probably says something.)