An Introduction To Game Programming

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Becoming a Game Programmer

So you want to get into game programming but you aren’t sure how and you are afraid you might be overwhelmed by the process. Here are a few helpful tips about breaking into video game production.

First, Know the Basics

I was recently at a lecture by a Disney Imagineer that spent two hours discussing topics I learned in the first year of Computer Science classes at college.  His point was that if you understand the basics you will be able to break down the problem better than someone who knows obscure tricks. Your code will be better and easier to understand when you look back on it months down the road.

Second, Have a Plan

In the game industry we make game design documents, documents that describe as many aspects of the game as possible in writing. It is sort of like a script for a movie. When making your game design document it would be a good idea to pick the platform you want to build the game around. Questions to consider, are you skilled enough to build your own engine? Do you really need your own engine (meaning does it do something no other engine does)? Would an existing platform like Unity or UDK better suit your project and your skill level? You shouldn’t pick the platform you need based on what you think of it but what you can use from it. If I’m making a 2D side scroller I don’t need the power of Unreal Engine 3 behind it, I can use something like (shivers) Flash and develop it faster and easier. The purpose of this game design document is to keep you on track which leads me to my next point.

See It Through to the End

When you decide to start programming a game, however you may do it, on any platform, using any tool, you will learn things you didn’t know when you started. You will be tempted to start from the beginning thinking you will do it better than the first time now that you know more but you will still be learning and you may get stuck in a loop. Don’t do this. The best thing you can do for yourself is finish the game. Save ALL of the cool things you discovered during the process for your next game. Stick to your game design document and finish it. It will be rewarding and you will learn so much.

Nose to the Grindstone

Once you’ve started programming your game get ready for the grind, if you are working with friends, don’t work remotely if you don’t have too. Programming jams can be fun but more importantly they will help you overcome problems you encounter more quickly. Another thing to consider while doing the grind is physical fitness. I was speaking with Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari) recently and his number one recommendation was to not neglect your physical health, take occasional breaks and go on a walk or go to the gym to get your head out of the computer and let yourself think through the problems in a less stressful environment.

A Little Each Day

My last nugget of advice? Do something for your game, doesn’t have to be programming, and doesn’t have to be art, just something every day but one day a week.

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