The game industry is still the newest publishing art form out there, and is constantly innovating and expanding, so it can be tricky to define what exactly a video game is, and what it means to be game developer. There are, however, certain fundamental characteristics that distinguish video games from other expressive media, like film or sculpture or slam poetry. Not every successful game has these characteristics, and you should see them as useful guidelines, rather than requirements.
Video games bring multiple factors together to create an experience. Whether that experience is a realistic flight simulation or tranquilly sitting at a table with a deck of cards, being game developer means considering the larger emotional and aesthetic experience of the player.
Interaction is how people experience video games. As a game developer, you will need to consider what choices players have in your game, and how those choices create a meaningful difference in the experience. Even games with a single story line presenting problems with only one solution have to consider how players will approach the challenges they see, and what happens if they choose an unexpected strategy.
The easiest way to allow players to experiment and have fun is to have a clear and simple rule set. Knowing the boundaries lets players to move creatively within them, and builds trust and confidence in the world of the game.
Rules are what distinguish a toy from a game. Toys are inherently fun, and can be played with in a virtually infinite number of ways. We often create our own goals and constraints in these situations, but in order to share that experience with others, we need a way to agree on where the limitations are so that we can play freely within them.
Not every game needs to have winners and losers, but helping players understand success and failure will help them have an experience where they are excited to keep trying and overcome challenges.
You do not need to master every skill involved in video game creation in order to be a game developer. Many people spend their whole careers specializing in one part of one of these areas, allowing them to do extraordinary and innovative work. However, the multifaceted nature of game development creates an opportunity to tackle new challenges for the sake of bringing your vision to life. There are artists who learn to program to showcase their art, and programmers dabbling in sound design for the first time to highlight their awesome game mechanics.
Being able to create visual art will help you in every stage of game development, from concept art that directs the entire look of your game, to 3D models and environments that create the experience, story, and tools used throughout the game, to beautifully framed and editing screenshots that promote the game once it is published.
Audio is vital not just for crafting the atmosphere of the game world and the emotions of the moment, but also for giving players information about what is happening. In 3D spaces it can help players understand where things are coming from and create satisfying feedback when completing a challenge or using a tool.
Not all games need written dialogue or introductions, but constructing a backstory to contextualize the current conflict will deepen a player’s connection with your game. Thinking about story lines can help you sequence the major action of your game or flesh out smaller decisions, like how that gun got there.
Design happens on every level, and is wrapped up in all the other game development skills. World design combines the artistic and narrative vision of the space that the game takes place in. User interface design gets essential written information to the player in a way that supports the game, rather than interrupting it. Gameplay design harnesses the ability to predict creative player behavior and sequence around it, creating fun mechanics and interesting challenges.
While programming is sometimes over-emphasized in game development, video games are run by machines, and programming is the way to communicate the logic of the game to the machines. Ultimately, this process involves using commands of action that the system already understands, and sequencing and calibrating them to create the experience we desire.
The best way to start is to build the kind of game you have always wanted to play. The secret to figuring out what that game would be is to replay the games you love, focusing on what works and why it is working. The final project for this section will be to play some new games and replay old ones, keeping an eye out for cool ideas and new gameplay that you would like to see.