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How To Make Games11:59 PM -- Tue February 7, 2012

Uh oh, over 5 journal comments! Yes, it is a tower defense game (not reverse!). I love tower defense!

I got this email yesterday, and I thought I would answer it here, since it's kind of a FAQ of sorts, but a little more broad than that. The gist of it was "I want to be a game designer, so can you tell me how to do that, or talk about how you got where you are?"

The first issue is what it means to be a "game designer". That's a very specific job in the game industry, and you, yes you, aren't going to get to hold that job unless you work for yourself. There are actually a lot of different jobs that are called "game designer", but most of them are very menial and, while they're creative, you are creative over only some small part of the game, and it's not what people think of when they say "I'm designing a game". For example, you might be writing scripts that control how a switch opens a door. It's like programming, but simpler. Or you might be designing levels, similar to what you do in the Dr. Lunatic editor, except that the basic idea and layout of the level is dictated by a senior designer ("This is the snow level, where you snipe at guys and then have to stealth down to the castle and climb up the side of it").

What people really want to be is a senior designer (that is not necessarily the title at every company, but it gets the point across). That's a job that requires lots of experience and proven results to show you're capable of it. That's the job where you get to come up with the game and dictate how it all comes out while peons crank it out for you. ...Except it's not. There is still a whole layer above you that is really in charge. The company president and/or owner meet with marketing guys and decide what kind of game they want, and they turn to you to make their vague concept into a fleshed out design, which you then turn to programmers and artists to make into an actual game. Just another cog in the machine, albeit one with a lot of latitude, hopefully. The boss I worked under at a game company didn't exactly spare the freedom... he liked to be in charge, which meant dictating a lot of details, and I don't think that's rare. After all, he's the boss, it makes sense that he wants to be in charge!

So, what you really want (I'm projecting here, but I think it's statistically likely) is to be the company owner. And how do you get to be one of those? You either A> work for yourself, or B> be a famous pitcher with millions of dollars and pay for an army of employees out of your pocket (Ooh, I played the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning demo, and it was cool!). Since you probably are interested in this stuff because it's what you want to spend your time doing, you shouldn't go the baseball route, and you should work for yourself.

And that's the bottom line. If you want creative freedom, if you want to make the games that you have ideas for, there's only one realistic path: do it yourself. But the good news is that this path is easy! Anybody can do it, you just have to want to do it and put in the effort. The tools are all freely available, and you've got the spare time, so start making games! That's what I did, that's what every other indie you've ever heard of did, and that's what you should do. Just make games.

Now if you want to know how to just make games, that's a much longer discussion that I'm not qualified for. But I can recommend Flash Game Dojo as a way to get started in flash games, which is a nice quick-feedback way to go. You will definitely start out very confused, no matter what tools you start with, but you have to keep hacking at it, making stupid little tiny things, and gradually you'll pick up the good stuff. Back when I started this, it was at least 150,000 times harder than it is today. The tools you have today are unbelievably simplified and accessible, not to mention free and surrounded by a community of users who will help you. Do some googling, you'll be buried in more options to pursue than you have time in your life to try. Back in my day, we had to use paper books to learn things. You'll pick this up no problem if it's really so fascinating to you that you want to spend your spare time fiddling with it.
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