Have you ever finished a video game and thought you could design something even better? Thanks to the availability of graphics software and game development kits, designing and building a video game is something that’s no longer restricted to big studios with multi-million dollar budgets.
From two-dimensional platform games reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog to three-dimensional shooters and roleplaying games, it’s now very possible to make your own video game using the right combination of coding and design knowledge.
In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of game design, from creating art assets and 3D models for your game to designing levels in an engine. For a more detailed guide to game design, enroll in Learning Game Design course and discover the secrets of how classic, unforgettable video games are made.
The foundation of a great video game
Every game starts as an idea. From simple games like Flappy Bird to complex and incredibly detailed games like System Shock, a game needs to be explained in the form of a concept before design and development work can begin.
Think of a concept as a screenplay for a game – it sets the tone, explains how the game works, and gives players an understanding of what to expect when they’re ready to play. Concepts are usually one or two pages long and fairly simple.
Preparing a game concept is the first step in creating a video game. A concept is important because game design is almost always a collaborative process, and an easy to understand description of your games makes teamwork possible.
The importance of a game proposal
Making a video game takes time, effort and money. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead of time and set out personnel, software, and budgetary requirements in a game proposal.
Think of your game proposal like a business proposal – you’re listing the amount of time you’ll need to create your game, the people you’ll need on your team, and how much money you think the game will cost to develop.
Even if you’re producing a game by yourself, preparing a proposal is still one of the most important parts of your project. A proposal sets out your game’s development needs and gives you a timeline for its completion, adding structure to your project.
Game proposals are typically 10-25 pages long (although highly detailed games can require 100+ page proposals) and cover the following topics:
- The game’s concept
- Gameplay and features
- Engine requirements
- Art and music style
- Plot and setting
- Development schedule
- Approximate budget
Do you need help writing a detailed and actionable game proposal? Learn the secret to preparing game design documents that result in smooth development, and a great end product that’s true to your vision in our Game Design Documents course.
The building blocks of a video game
There are three essential ingredients for any video game: art assets such as three-dimensional models or graphical sprites, an engine to render the art assets, and a creative vision that brings the art and game engine together.
Before you can start building levels and characters for your game, you need to make the art assets that will be used in the game engine. For 3D games, this means making models and textures that create the world, characters and objects within your game.
2D games are slightly more simple to create. Since all in-game objects are graphical sprites, designing game art is as simple as creating character images and textures to ‘skin’ your in-game world.
Learn how to create detailed and stylish sprites and textures for your 2D game with our course, Draw All Your Own Game Art with Adobe Flash. Aimed at PC and mobile game developers, this course teaches you how to draw great characters and objects for your next 2D video game.
Creating models and textures for 3D games is a much more involved and challenging process. Applications like 3ds MAX and Mudbox have steep learning curves for new users but can be used to create immensely detailed and realistic character models.
Learn the basics of creating high quality character art for your 3D game in our 3ds Max and Mudbox Character Modeling course. From the proportions of the human form to creating mesh designs, this in-depth course covers the art of 3D modeling.
Finally, the models used in 3D games need to be animated in order to function in a game’s engine. Learn how to create key frame animations that make your models move just like real humans in our Introduction to Animation Using Maya course.
Choosing a the right video game engine
Once you’ve created the art assets that your game will be using, you need an engine to piece them together and render them. Game engines offer a wide variety of vital functions, from rendering models and textures to managing your game’s physics.
While big development studios create their engines from scratch, indie game design studios tend to reduce the amount of time required to create their games by using a third party engine such as Unity 3D, Unreal Engine and Valve’s Source engine.
All three of these 3D engines are incredible powerful and easy to customize. There’s nothing wrong with using a premade engine to create your game; some of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, from Deus Ex (Unreal Engine) to Dear Esther (Source) were built using third-party game engines.
Of these three engines, the one most popular with independent game developers is the Unity 3D engine. Unity 3D includes a variety of tools for creating levels, scripts and other in-game elements. It also has an asset store containing textures, graphics effects and 3D models to speed up the process of making your own video game.
Learn more about Unity3D at the game engine’s official website and enroll in our Introduction to Game Design with Unity3D course to learn the basics of creating a video game using the Unity software development kit.
Need more power? The Unity 3D engine is more than enough for most independent games, but it’s nothing compared to Unreal Engine 4. Created by Epic Games, Unreal Engine powers games like the Mass Effect trilogy and the Gears of War series.
Despite being incredibly powerful, Unreal Engine is refreshing easily to use, even as a novice to game design. Unreal Engine 4, which replaced the Unreal 3 Development Kit earlier this year, includes a variety of user-friendly game development tools.
Do you want to build your own game using Unreal Engine? Learn how to build your own 3D levels and modular assets for the Unreal Engine in our course, Building 3D Worlds with the Modular Workflow for Games.
Understanding level design and scripting
There’s more to a successful game than just art assets and an engine. Games need rules to be interesting to play, and the rules for video games are created using the scripting languages included in many game engines.
Have you ever entered cheat codes into a game engine’s console? The console of a game engine is like the command line of an operating system: it’s where you input commands, generally in the form of a script, for the game to follow.
Scripts can be used to define the rules of the game (for example, that the player is a certain height and weight or runs at a certain speed) or control in-game events like boss fights, battles and objectives.
Each of the game engines listed in this guide uses a different scripting language. The Unreal Engine, for example, uses UnrealScript. Learn more about creating scripts for your game using the Unreal Development Kit in our blog post on UDK tutorials.
Publishing and distributing your video game
Hundreds of video games are released every year, but only the best games make it to retail stores like GameStop or Wal-Mart. As an independent game designer, the best way to publish and distribute your game is by using a digital platform.
Steam, a game distribution developed by Valve – the company behind games such as Half-Life and Team Fortress – allows independent developers to market their games using its Steam platform and the Steam Greenlight program.
In exchange for 30 percent of gross revenue, Valve’s Steam platform lets you reach tens of millions of gamers to market your latest release. The huge community and ease of use makes Steam one of the most popular game distribution platforms.
If you’re developing a mobile game, you’ll need to distribute it using the App Store or Google Play. Learn how to market your mobile game on the App Store with our course, Growth Hack the App Store: App Marketing for Beginners.
Learn more about making your own video game
Whether you’re developing a fun mobile game or the next Call of Duty, making your own video game can be an incredibly rewarding experience. In addition to the joy of seeing other people enjoying your game, a successful game can result in millions of dollars of earnings through App Store downloads, advertising and sales revenue.
Learn more about how to start a career in game design, whether you want to make your own video game or join a development studio, with our blog post on how to become a game designer.