Way back in January I declared my intention to make my own video game. Being generally surrounded by game makers and having worked in games in some capacity since I arrived in Montreal close to nine years ago, I’ll admit to feeling a certain amount of insecurity for not having made a game myself yet. While this probably feels like an insanely ambitious project to take on all by myself, I’m fortunate to have been exposed to the tools and techniques needed to take on this sort of project.
That said, while I have a good concept and idea of the game I want to make, I’ve been having trouble forcing myself to sit down and actually work on it, so I’m hoping this game developer diary series will force me to be more productive and give you all some insight into what it takes to make your very own video game.
For the first episode I’m going to stick to the basics: coming up with a concept, choosing the right tools and planning the next steps.
The very first thing I had to do once I’d decided to make my own video game was to decide what kind of game I’d like to make. For those starting out, it’s probably a good idea to base this decision on what skills you already have, or what skills you want to learn. Being that I am a writer, have limited programming skills and can’t draw to save my life, an interactive fiction project seemed like a good place to start my game development adventure.
The next step was choosing my tools. Indie game makers these days are blessed with a huge array of free or super-affordable game making tools to choose from. From big engines like Unity and Unreal, to small code-less engines like Construct 2 and GameMaker: Studio, there’s an option out there for whatever you want to make, whether’s it’s 2D, 3D or something in-between. While I’ve attended workshops on Unity and Construct 2, for this particular project I wanted to keep things super simple and decided to make it in Twine.
Twine is a text-based game engine that allows you to link story segments together with hyperlinks. You don’t need to know how to code to use it, but a basis in HTML would certainly help, so no worries there. It also supports CSS style sheets if I want to dress things up a bit, which is the same language most blogs use to handle design. It’s also 100% free to use and there are a ton of free resources online to help me learn how to squeeze every last drop of functionality from it.
As for the structure of the game itself, I was very inspired by the Lifeline series of mobile games. The games themselves are interactive fiction, that because of they were designed for mobile always have very limited player choices, usually just two options for every choice the main character asks you for help with. There’s something about the simplicity of these choices that really appeals to me, keeping in mind that the more instances of these two choices there are, the more variations there could be in the story.
I’ll show you what I mean in Twine:
Isn’t that pretty? All those branching threads? Notice how I made some of the later choices loop back to existing choices? And that’s basically how Twine works. Write some text. Link it to another bit of text. Guess what? You just made a game!
So that’s what Twine looks like to work with. As for what the player will see, I’ll be able to pretty that up later with images and font styles once I’ve got the branching structure all worked out. But, basically it’ll just be text with links that will lead to next branch(es) of the story. Being that the tool I’ve chosen is fairly simple to work with, I’m not too worried about the actual “game making” part of making a game.
It’s the story that’s going to be the most work. But more about that next week in Episode 2.