Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Get into Game Design

Due to the wake of madness trailing behind E3, this week we’re taking a brief pause from meeting developers. I’m flipping it over to you, dear reader. You are the developer of the future. This week I read independent game developer Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, a call to arms for would-be developers the world over. Anthropy’s mission statement goes thus: the world of game design needs more diversity, and she wants to show you how easy it is to get started. And I am here to urge you to get started today.
assembly language 188x300 Sunday Sidebar: Get into Game Design
Assembly is brutal.
There are a multitude of tools out there for budding designers that are free (or low-cost) and easy to use. In her book, Anthropy highlights a few personal favorites, while also comparing them to the overly-complex programming tools that were used to code the earliest games, such as those that were compiled in Assembly language (pictured right).
The book struck a nerve with me, as I have often considered game design as something other - not for the likes of lowly norms such as I. The idea that anyone could sit down for a few hours and find themselves with a functional design was never one that I had given much time to entertain. And so it begins. I have spent the week looking at a couple of different avenues for game design, and I see this as a great opportunity to see if I can’t share the inspiration with a few of you out there.
Really, the first step is to accept that you’re not going to make the next Gears of War. The second step is to understand that that’s perfectly okay. In fact it is preferable, if we follow Anthropy’s attitude that the world needs less games about shooting people, and more games about everything else in human experience. Once you accept that the first game you ever make is – shock horror – likely to be rudimentary, you’re on the road to creativity.
So, what next? Now you’re going to sit down and think about what you want to make your game about. For my first ever design project, I made a quick text-adventure world set in upstate New York. For my second project, I set the protagonist against an abandoned deep-sea vessel, waking to a dead body in front of them. Sure, they are barely functional, but they are entirely mine. The greatest satisfaction of this process is carving a piece of your own creation. The skills and expertise are welcome by-products that will accompany you with time.
If you have a free afternoon, it is time to roll up your jeans and dip your feet into the world of digital game creation. If I can do it, so can you. Here are a few different development engines that will have you creating in no time at all:
Inform – Inform is where I started. With it you will create the text adventures you always dreamed of. It uses a natural programming language. This means that if you write ‘The walrus is here. It is a thing.’, then guess what will exist in your text world? That’s right, a walrus. The ‘coding’, if you can even call it that, is so straightforward that you can build a world in an afternoon or less. And better still, it’s completely free. PS You’re welcome to copy my walrus code. Consider it a freebie.
Game Maker – Game Maker seems to be Anthropy’s favorite. While it’s less functional on Mac than on PC, you can get started in both pretty quickly. Game Maker is more focused on helping you create functional 2D worlds. This is where you’ll make your Mario clone. It’s also possible to develop for iOS, too, though this comes with a price-tag attached.
Ren’Py – This is where I am going to be experimenting next. Ren’Py facilitates the creation of ‘Visual Novels’. If you’re familiar with Digital: A Love Story, or its sequel, Analogue: A Hate Story, both of these were created using Ren’Py. If you happen to love dating sims, this is where I would suggest that you get started. Ren’Py has a massive following among developers of dating sims. I was curious about more subversive uses for it, and had a diverting experience with the horror novel Painted Walls, created using this very tool.
There is a world of resources out there, waiting to be exploited. I have thrown down my gauntlet. Now show me something excellent in the weeks to come.

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