Video game design for n00bs 101: Class is in session

By: Ashley Rivas

“Play video games,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. They were absolutely right.

“Make video games,” I said. “It’ll be fun,” I said. I have no idea if I was right or not. That’s what I plan on finding out.

The Plan

I started my video game design course at Full Sail University about 5 months ago (with only 25 more to go). It was a dramatic career shift, and it’s one that I’ve been ridiculously excited about while simultaneously experiencing crippling fear. The overall program is pretty fast-paced, but we haven’t gotten into the real meat and potatoes of creating a game yet. Still, I got a notion in my head to create a game of my own in tandem, and the process has been…eye opening, to say the least.

This series will cover the ups and the downs, the process as I take it, and the wonderful lessons I learn. We’ll have so many beautiful moments of success, where fat cheeked cherubs play harps and unicorns lay crowns of roses on my majestic forehead. And we’ll have equal measures of despair, true and dark, where my soul falls into the abyss and the only remedy is slamming that same majestic forehead onto my desk repeatedly until we make the pain go away.

Fun? Definitely, if you’re a fan of equal measures of torture and delight. So, to start, let’s catch up on what I’ve done so far. Spoiler: definitely not much.

The Journey Begins

Like I said, I haven’t gotten to the “this is how you make video games 101” course in my program yet. Kind of weird that something like that doesn’t exist at all, huh? For some reason, I thought that something like that would happen in this program, because making video games is surely a case of 4 simple steps that always end in profit. Sweet, stupid me started to panic when I saw that Game Design 1 (part of 5 classes I’ll take throughout the next 25 months) wasn’t going to happen until February, well over 8 months into the program.

Solutions to this problem? Freak out. And start frantically googling “how to make a video game” online. Gamasutra gave me a pretty solid starting point, as did the game design series from Extra Credits. I had my idea, which I’m rather excited about: a cat-based RPG. Tiny kittens mew and hiss alongside animal companions and foes, and the tropes of being a cat loving internet dweller get capitalized on in full. The game will be story driven, without excessively crazy mechanics, and with art made up by myself and my best friend, a fellow artist. It all seemed pretty basic at the time. But how could cats in armor ever really be basic?

Basic cat sketch
Looks pretty basic to me.

I followed the Gamasutra directions and whipped up an initial design document to detail my plan to the potential team I wanted to get involved. It was bland, informative, and had a few pictures. I sent out an initial feeler to the people I wanted on my team, and got a lukewarm response overall. A couple people, key players that I really wanted involved, were on board. The rest were moderate.

Chubbster Cat Sketch 2
Moderate, unlike the amount of fat on this chubbster.

The design doc followed, and I got minimal feedback. This was discouraging, obviously. I wanted to know how the team (no longer potential, since everyone had told me they were ready to help) felt about it. I started to draft a schedule, and realized promptly that this would be challenging without knowing how much help I had. Another feeler was sent out, and only one real response came back. Cue desperation and despondency.

To counter this, I resolved myself to working on the brunt of the game myself, and told myself that the reward would be in the final product. But in reality, my mind was collapsing. I was not ready to do this all myself. I did what I always do during a crisis, and I bought a book. By a stroke of fate (and availability at the Barnes and Noble I was nearby), I picked up Level Up by Scott Rogers and flipped to a random page. I immediately read the following.

LOL. Reality check.

This put my husband, reading over my shoulder, in tears of laughter. I froze, read the page a few more times, then paid for the book. This was something I clearly needed to know, and holy crap, is there a lot more that I need to know.

What’s Next?

I’m not moving into aggressive scheduling until later this week, since the holiday is happening and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I won’t get much of a response from the team during Thanksgiving. After that, the schedule gets made, and we start by roughing up a script and some character designs. And after that, I don’t know yet. Probably the art, according to my schedule, which will take up the brunt of the time. And my sanity.

But we’re finally starting to get somewhere, at least with chubbster cat designs.

Hopes and dreams are still very high right now. The tiny group I do have working with me is fantastic, so the support system is there and strong. To wrap these articles up, I’m going to include some of the Beautiful Dreams and Mega Failures that I’m estimating in the future. Boy, it’ll be fun to look at this in the future and go, “thank goodness I had enough alcohol to get me through this process.”

Beautiful Dreams:

  • I have a great team, even if they’re small.
  • I’m getting better at art, so Photoshop should be easier to handle when we start.
  • This Level Up book is awesome, and it’s been helpful reading. Also, it has pictures.

Mega Failures:

  • There’s a lot of work to do. Preparing to be overwhelmed.
  • The sheer amount of assets to create is intimidating.
  • A lack of multiple party feedback could slow down the revision process.

This is quite an undertaking, even if it’s a really fun one. I’ve already gotten sticks thrown into the wheels a handful of times, and we haven’t gotten completely underway yet. One might say that the forecast is cloudy, but I say nay. The forecast is a hurricane, but there are spots of sparkly sunlight at the end of the tunnel. And who knows? We may even have fun. But I have alcohol, should that not happen.

About The Author

I'm a big ol' nerd, and I want to effuse that nerdiness for the rest of my life. I spend as much time as I can drawing and playing video games, and I've taken that to the career level now since I'm back in school to be a game designer. I'm the mom to three puppies and a fat kitty, and the wife to a fellow nerd.

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