How to Make a Game – Part 1
Written by Tim Donley
1. Passion Makes Perfect
After working in corporate America over 20 years, I’ve held nearly every position related to game development. I started at Interplay/Black Isle on games like Torment, Icewind Dale and the early Fallout series. I was at Sony Santa Monica while the first God of War was being made and worked on Neverwinter Nights 2. Most recently I worked on the Darksiders series at Vigil Games. However, not long ago I left the big leagues and started working on smaller games under my own flag… and I can’t believe I waited this long to do it! It’s the most awesome and fulfilling thing I have done in a very long time.
So what was the point in telling you all of that? Well, mostly to say I’ve had a fun time and met a lot of great people. The industry is full of them. People who are passionate and excited about games. Most of them will tell you they got into games because they played and loved them as a kid. That is exactly the right attitude.
Before you check out a website, follow a gaming advice subreddit or dream about applying to a company, you should have a few basic pieces of knowledge to help you get through the good and bad times ahead.
2. Labor of Love
This is so basic that you likely have heard it a thousand times and you better believe there is a reason for that. I don’t mean a casual interest. I mean love it! Your gaming career should wake you and keep you up past midnight in both the real and metaphorical sense. Don’t even bother doing it for money. There’s tons of money to be made but having a goal like that will weigh you down in the long run. Trust me on this. I have a Mark Twain quote on my wall that says
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
This is about as true as it gets. As a guy with years of experience, I can tell you… Twain was right! When you love what you’re doing and it shows, you tend to see doors open for you everywhere. Here’s why and how loving what you do can help you make your mark in the industry.
3. Getting Your Foot in the Door
When I was in the mainstream game industry, I looked at countless resumes and in many over-the-phone and face to face interviews, here’s what I looked for:
Attitude – Does this person have the right attitude to work here? The reason this is first and not a person’s skill set, is simple. I firmly believe you can teach someone, who has a good attitude, the needed skills. You cannot teach a very talented worker how to have a good attitude. This is probably the one thing companies can’t effectively change in a person. Most interviews are based around weeding out the “real you”. Maybe you know someone who felt they had all the needed skills, did the interview and felt they did a pretty good job answering questions but still didn’t get the job. That was attitude 99.9% of the time. Something probably rubbed the interviewers the wrong way or raised a red flag. They undoubtedly erred on the safe side and passed. That’s not your fault and it’s probably better they did pass since they realized this was not a win-win for both parties. That said, if you are enthused, show it. Play the company’s games, talk about your favorite levels, bosses or moments. This is where you can really shine. I know you might want to cool down fanboy-isms but you know what? I’d rather hire a loyal fanboy than someone “too cool for school”. Talent will only get you so far. You have to believe in the company you work for.
Skill Set- This is the obvious one and it’s also the one you can most easily hit if you just pay attention. Look at the job description. What do they want? Apply within reasonable boundaries of your own skills. Think about the company’s point of view and ask yourself a harsh question… would you hire yourself if you were looking to fill the position? If so, why? That should be part of your application pitch to a company you want to work for.
4. Blazing Your Own Trail
The above applies mostly to getting a job at a company, but let’s say you want to start a company. Simple advice- do it. When I was in college, my professor had a great bit on getting going with a big project. He wanted people to “just start working and making mistakes”. It’s brilliant advice and it works. You need to get going! So what do you do? Here’s a few things I did that might help you:
Find Other People Who Make Games You Like – Find others doing what you want to do. You can always fashion your efforts along their template and adjust as needed.
Set Reasonable Goals and Frequently Assess Them – What’s reasonable? Goals that stretch you beyond your current capabilities but don’t break your heart when you measure progress. Go ahead and say, “I want to be Miyamoto”, but start with, “I’m going to make a cool platformer first”. You will need to be able to view yourself objectively to see how you’re doing and how you’re goals are progressing.
Focus – Do what you must but you will have to learn to focus. Forget what anyone else says about how the magic is made. It’s all hard work and it takes you sitting down and just doing it. Go ahead and use whatever tricks, to do lists, timers, notebooks, etc… Whatever helps you. The simplest secret is to turn off everything distracting and just freaking work. That’s how the masters do it and when you’re in the “flow” you won’t notice any of it anyway.
Believe in Yourself Always – This is where you will wage your greatest battle while doing anything you love. It’s with a super powerful enemy called “you”. This foe knows all of your weaknesses and will constantly exploit them to get you back into bed, or playing another couple of rounds of League of Legends or Clash of Clans instead of working on your heart’s desire. Beware this enemy because they are smart and have been studying you since you were born. Remember, your actions are just that – actions. You can control them. You also control what you think, like it or not. Focus (there’s that word again) on the desired results and work. The inner doubts will fade as you progress.
All of this, though, starts with your attitude. Determination will see you through 99% of your goals, so remember…
LIVE YOUR DREAMS!
Tim is currently working on his game Boss 101 – you can check it out here: www.donleytimefoundation.com