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How to build a video game in 5 steps

1. Develop an interesting game concept

The first step is to come up with an interesting and unique concept or idea for your game. You must also decide what style of game you wish to create (e.g. racing game, shooter, RPG, etc.). You may also have some ideas about the storyline, special features, and the look or art style. All of these ideas should be recorded in one place – your game design document.

game design basics
While working on Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas at Ubisoft, Game Designer and CG Spectrum Mentor Troy Dunniway collaborated with military advisers, studied special forces tactics, weapons, military uniform designs, special forces dialog, and hand signals to add more realism to the game.

2. Create a Game Design Document (GDD)

A Game Design Document is a living document that contains all of the most important aspects of your game. If you’re planning on building your game with friends or colleagues, the GDD helps everyone understand and get on board with the greater vision of your project. It’s also used to help pitch and finance your game (investors want to see a solid plan before investing).

Your Game Design Document should include:

  • The idea or concept
  • Genre
  • Story and characters
  • Core game mechanics 
  • Gameplay
  • Level and world design
  • Art and/or sketches
  • Monetization strategy

A GDD helps keep you organized, can identify potential risks, and lets you see ahead of time who you may need to hire/outsource to in order to bring your project to life. Your game idea may seem fairly straightforward, but once you lay it out in a GDD, you might soon realize just how big and resource-heavy your project is.

In CG Spectrum’s game design courses, students learn practical hands-on skills, including how to write a game design document (like Ubisoft or EA would use), and develop a pitch deck so they know how to market their product effectively.

3. Learn some basic game design principles

Having a solid understanding of basic game design principles and the game design process will help you build a video game that is fun and engaging. As you put together your GDD, here are three main principles to keep in mind when designing your game:

  • Stick to one core game mechanic

To design a good game, try to focus on only one core game mechanic. A core game mechanic is an action the player will repeatedly do throughout the game.  

Two examples of games and the core gameplay mechanic used are Pacman where players must eat all the dots to defeat the enemy; and Clash of Clans, where players are required to loot other clans to expand their empire.

A dull game mechanic will quickly lose your player’s interest. Study your favorite video games and see if you can spot the core game mechanics used.

  • Make your game easy to understand

If you want your game to reach a wider audience, make sure it is easy to understand. Don’t assume your player has the same level of experience you do. Keep the rules simple and introduce them one at a time to help your players understand and learn them quickly. Make it easy enough for your players to learn new skills and techniques so they can successfully overcome the challenges you set for them.

On the CG Spectrum Podcast: Borderlands art style pioneer & ex-World Building Director for Gearbox Studios, Carl Shedd shares tips on starting your own AAA video game studio.

Top Game Designer and creator of CG Spectrum’s game design courses, Troy Dunniway says: “If you throw too much at someone at once they’re not going to remember what to do. You can only remember a few things at a time. So we do what’s called ‘chunking’. Typically our memory remembers things better in smaller chunks… like how phones are segmented into three or four chunks of three to five numbers instead of just one long number. If we try to teach a player to run, jump, shoot, duck, learn a new story and recite the national anthem all at the same time, we overwhelm them. It’s a lot to process!”

Read more advice from Troy in his article Decision-making in game design: 9 critical factors to consider.

  • Introduce prizes at regular intervals

Offer prizes to help motivate your players. Humans love appreciation and adding exclusive rewards throughout your levels can help motivate them to get to continue to the next level. 

Professional Game Designer and CG Spectrum mentor Heath Smith says:

“As a game designer you’re not just designing for yourself, you’re designing for an audience. You have to get into the head of the player, understand what motivates them, what makes them tick, and design the game for them.”  

You can make an amazing game, but you can’t make a success. Your players make the success.” According to these words of wisdom from Irme Jele, no matter how unbelievable or how awesome your game is the only way your game will be a success is through how the gamers feel about the game.

individual approach to every project

Every project is unique. Some projects are relatively straightforward and predictable. Others are highly complex and risky. Each requires a different approach when it comes to how the project should be managed. Applying the same amount of project management rigor to every project is wasteful. Despite this, many organizations and project managers apply project management dogma without deviation instead of tailoring their efforts appropriately. Cobb (2011) argues that one of the risks in managing a project is if the project manager is knowledgeable in one particular project management methodology, it is difficult to step back and consider an entirely different approach. Project managers often attempt to force a project to fit a given methodology because that is what they are most familiar with. Project managers need to expand their thinking to embrace different forms of project management. The project manager along with the project management team should tailor the project management approach to fit the business environment, the risks, and the complexity of the project.

Forcing all projects into the same detailed framework regardless of actual need is a common problem in choosing a specific project management methodology. From a traditional project management perspective, there can be a tendency toward excessive planning, which can drive a project into the ground. At the other end of the spectrum are those who feel that any form of project management is a waste of time and can stifle a project before it begins. Somewhere between over-relying on project management and rejecting all project management is the correct approach for managing a specific project.

Project managers along with their project teams must identify among the numerous project management processes and practices those that are most appropriate for each project. Each project management process should be carefully considered to determine if it is applicable to the project. Today, a project’s approach should be developed to reflect the uncertainty that many projects face. Developing a project’s approach recognizes that all projects are not the same—requirements will likely change, schedules are compressed and often come with imposed deadlines, budgets are limited, and stakeholders will have varying degrees of involvement.

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