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(for non-professionals)

Version 1.0
4:02 PM 7/11/03


1. Introduction

Hi, game-developer! This is Blue Lemma. If you're reading this, I'll assume you're interested in making computer games. I'm going to share some advice that has worked for me in my experience, and I hope it works for you, too! I've been programming for nine years, been a part of both failed and completed projects, and I have been able to see some of the things that separate the two. While my focus will be on visual novel and date-sim games, a lot of this can be applied to other types as well.
(If none of this works for you, you can expect a full refund in the amount of US$0.00. Please include $5.99 for shipping and handling. :-P)


2. The Tips (or "My Rules for Game-Making")

Let's start with the most important rule for amateur game-making:


#1 Rule: Don't bite off more than you can chew!

This is VERY important, and it applies especially to your first game! Remember, making games (of at least mediocre quality) isn't incredibly easy - that's why people can get paid for it! At the very least, you'll need art, a story, and a programmer (or a ready-made game creation program.) Making and finding these things takes time and energy.
Not to scare you off or anything. Lots of people do have the time and energy... just to varying degrees. Try assessing how much time you will realistically devote to the project and what your skills are, and then plan the project's size accordingly. Don't worry if your planned game only takes 5 or 10 minutes to beat. If that's what you think you can make realistically, that's what you should be going for. You will get better with practice.

One of the biggest and most common mistakes I see people/groups make is to dream up a HUGE game for their first project. You know, tons of characters, multiple endings, dozens of special scenes - the whole works. What happens? Usually, they do fine for a while...before fizzling out. And I've seen LOTS of projects fizzle out. People tend to lose interest in the project, or partway through they realize, "Damn, this is bigger/harder than I thought!" Whichever the reason, it is obviously bad for your project. Not just that, but if a project fails, it can lower the game-making confidence and desire for everyone involved. Having spent time and energy on a failed project is depressing and draining. This leads into rule #2:

#2 Rule: Make sure your first project gets completed!

This follows from rule #1. If you don't bite off more project than you can chew, then you will have a great chance of completing it. On the other hand, if you try for too big a project, you're practically destined for failure and disappointment. Which experience do you want from your first project? I'd like the first one, thank you very much! Completed projects, no matter how small, are great confidence builders. You learn more about what your abilities are and exactly what it takes to make a game. Failed projects can also teach you things, but the knowledge comes at the price of time, energy, and confidence... not just self-confidence, but the confidence the people you worked with have in you.
Don't worry if you've had failed projects in the past, though! Although you might feel dejected, there's no reason why your next project can't be that golden completed first! Take your knowledge from your mistakes along with rule #1 and give it your all! Once again, don't worry about how good or how long the game is. You need to see that you CAN complete one! Save the getting better for later.

#3 Rule: Decide where your game ends.

I've been in contact with an aspiring game-maker overseas who is coordinating a massive date-sim project over the Internet. I want to pull my hair out sometimes when I talk to him because he flagrantly violates rules 1, 2, and 3. The reason I mention him here is that over time, the size of the game that he's trying to make seems to keep growing and growing. It's like the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. That's why he's been working on it for about a year or two and STILL doesn't even have a demo. There's lots of story, character design, and apparently some music and an engine, but the thing it's missing is an ending! He doesn't even know what the ending should be, and until he does, he'll be one frustrated marshmallow man.
Trying to make a game without knowing how and where to end it is like running a marathon without knowing where the finish line is. You'll run somewhere, but it will probably either be in circles or it will be to the point of exhaustion and giving up.
I suggest making deciding your ending one of the first things you do. It gives you a goal and clarifies where you want to end up.

#4 Rule: You must be enthusiastic about and dedicated to your game!

While this is rarely a problem in the beginning, it can become one over time. Since you're an amateur, you're not getting a paycheck for your game. This means you need something else to motivate you to keep working, even when things get difficult and frustrating. In the beginning, this thing is often enthusiasm for your game: the vision of sharing your fun imaginary world with others. You think, "Yeah! This game would be so COOL!" However, your initial enthusiasm will fade. Maybe a little or maybe a lot, but I can almost guarantee that after a few weeks of drawing little pixel people or typing up game code, the game will not seem quite as COOL. When you feel yourself starting to lose interest, try to remember your original thoughts and why your game is going to be fun. Remember that little spark of originality and innovation that made you want to create the game in the first place. Hopefully you will recover some of that enthusiasm, and it will give you strength to make that next bitmap or that next C++ function.
To go along with the enthusiasm, you will need the dedication to continue: the desire to see your game through to the end, even when it becomes difficult or even unpleasant. While enthusiasm will be the main thing that carries you along in the beginning, it's the dedication that takes you to the finish line. It separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the l33t game-makers from the ordinary wanna-bes (pardon my l33tsp34k...been hanging around Megatokyo too much. ^_^) How much do you want to make your game? Can you feel it in your stomach? If you answered "kinda" and "yes, but I just ate five burritos", you might as well not even start. But if you feel a burning desire to make your game, and you're a person who can stick with things, then you've got a good shot! ;-)

#5 Rule: Don't get others involved until you've made decent progress.

Something I see a lot of people do is go to Internet forums and post something like, "I'm going to try making a date sim, and I need helpers! It's going to be really cool, so I need artists and coders and writers - anyone interested?"
I'd like to get this off my chest right now:

UNLESS YOU'VE ALREADY COMPLETED GAMES IN THE PAST, CUT THIS OUT!!!! HOW MANY TIMES WILL WE NEED TO SEE MESSAGES LIKE THIS, FOLLOWED BY DEAD PROJECTS?!!!

*huff* *puff*
Okay, rant over. :) But it's the truth! As that happens more and more, people become tired of seeing those posts, and worse, they become unwilling to join good projects when they surface. So how do you gain the trust of the Internet board community while simultaneously avoiding the problem above? How do you get people to take you seriously if you need help? It's simple: Show them what you can do!
If you've never finished a game project before, work on the game first by using test graphics, a simple part of your story, and a simple engine so you have a little demo. Give people a link to your demo and they will see that you've put your time into the game before asking for their time. It tells them that you haven't just made a post on a whim - you're serious about this! Another advantage of making a demo is that it gives you time for some of the initial enthusiasm to fade away (see rule #4.) If you're still dedicated to working on the game, you can get your helpers and be that much more ahead. However, if you're getting bored with the game and realize you don't want to follow through with it, you've saved your would-be helpers a bunch of time and disappointment. You've also preserved your record of not having dragged people into failed projects, which is important if you need help in the future.
If you HAVE finished a game project before, include a link to your game(s) in your help request post :)


3. Conclusion

So there you have it. If you follow these five rules, you should be on your way to game-making success! Do you have any more advice or anecdotes I should add? Please send them to me at bluelemma@lemmasoft.net. I will give you credit if I include your suggestion. Please send me comments about this document, as well. Thank you for reading this, and I wish you good luck! :)


Questions? Comments? Non-spammy e-mail? Send it to Blue Lemma!
bluelemma@lemmasoft.net

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