So, you want to make video-games?
Game development as a career path, or even a hobby, can be fun and extremely lucrative, but the costs of a professional college education are often expensive. Fortunately, sampling various aspects of game design in an affordable manner is becoming increasingly possible as new technologies emerge.
Here are five of the most engaging ways to try your hand at game development before making a serious commitment.
1. Level Design: Super Mario Maker
For those with an interest in becoming a level designer, Super Mario Maker is your ideal stomping ground.
The level design tools here are plentiful and easy to learn. Players can award “stars” to your level creations if they present a fun and challenging environment. This type of feedback system gives you an opportunity to see what design principles work best.
For example, if your level is too difficult and players are always dying, they may give up and quit. A better approach might be to force the player to repeat the challenge until they succeed, rather than simply killing them off.
The lesson you learn as a level designer is that fairness increases player engagement and helps them stick around longer.
2. World Building: Minecraft and Terraria
While level design is about creating fun gameplay, world building is about designing something beautiful and immersive. From a game designer’s perspective, this means developing skills such as 3D modeling and animation.
Minecraft’s creative mode allows you to make structures, villages, bridges, and just about anything you desire in a 3D space. Terraria does something similar, but for 2D. The ease of use and fun of designing in this manner makes this an appealing option.
Pretend you want to build a house—with Minecraft or Terraria—you can quickly build one and learn to improve its design by modifying elements such as its framing, windows, textures and roofing patterns. You can develop your architectural knowledge here and apply it to game development.
3. 3D Coding Fundamentals: Overwatch Workshop
Overwatch is Blizzard Entertainment’s competitive multiplayer first-person shooter. Overwatch Workshop is a supplement to the game, which gives players the power to completely modify the game’s rules. In other words, players have access to an in-game scripting system.
For aspiring developers, this is a great way to test the waters of coding and see immediate results. You don’t actually type code in the workshop, but you choose code snippets from dropdown lists to alter the surroundings, character look, weaponry, and audio, which simplifies a strenuous design process.
So far, people have used the class to create alternate game modes, such as Super Smash Brothers and Uno (yes, the card game). It’s a unique way to gain some coding knowledge and see how it plays out in a 3D multiplayer environment.
4. Game Design: RPG Maker
If your game design dreams are to create the next epic RPG adventure, then RPG Maker’s engine has all the tools you need.
The simplified scripting system allows you to insert blocks of code with the click of a button, which eliminates syntax errors and gives you a wide range of customizations for your game. The built-in world editor lets you easily create maps with basic drawing elements, and the database for modifying in-game values, such as characters and items, grants maximum creativity without any confusion.
While RPG Maker games are publishable, the program is limiting if you want to make anything beyond the scope of a single-player RPG adventure.
5. Take a Course on Udemy
If you want to get right into the heart of game design with minimal monetary investment, look to Udemy for some useful pointers.
The courses here, offered by industry professionals, teach you how to use game design programs like Unity, Unreal, Blender and more. Both Unity and Unreal are professional game development engines used by indie and high-end studios alike. Either one will allow you to make games in any genre. Blender is completely free, professional, open-source, 3D modeling software.
With course prices maxing out at $200, you can learn to become a game developer without breaking your wallet.
Your Next Steps
Taking some time to sample any of these options is an engaging and fun way to enhance your skills as a game developer before diving into a single focus too quickly.
These are low-barrier, low-cost methods of learning for a reason—pick one or two and become the best at what you like! Remember, professional game design encompasses many other aspects, like sound engineering, story-writing and voice acting, so do your best to lock down a few key principals and then move on to the next phase.