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It is a common and widely cursed conundrum; an artist stares at their sheet of paper with a pencil or other creative implement frozen in hand, a writer is mocked by the ghosts of the words they have yet to pour forth in ink, the photographer watches their lenses gather dust as they are taunted by the unique and revelatory visions of the world only they foresee. All are paralyzed at the verge of a creative flow state, by not only the bewildering barrage of creative, ground-breaking possibilities competing for attention, but also a halting, perceptible, icy grip that suffocates any notion of mental motion, let alone self-actualized creation, until the motivation festers and decays, leaving the idea to fester in creative limbo. The artist, frustrated, gets up and leaves to pursue other pursuits, vowing with equal parts growing determination and fear of inaction to spill their mind into their work for all to see.
“Why the waffling and poorly veiled misappropriation of Poe’s Imp of the Perverse?” I hear from creative literary students and writers alike! The idea of being terrified by the ever-lengthening, ever-adjusted deadlines for a personal, often grandiose creative project is a thorny problem I have wrestled with much dither and delay. To announce a not-so-secret confession, I’ve always wanted to make video games, or make games as a hobby. However, I always seemed to get distracted, put it off, or procrastinate on the actual ‘making’ part of the creative process. It’s thus a delight to have overcome the problem, if somewhat partially, and to write about the experience for those similarly afflicted. If you want to start making simple games and learn the ropes, read on for some handy tips on 3-D modelling, coding, sound and where to find inspiration or support!
What finally kickstarted my efforts – and what I would recommend to anyone wanting to try making games – was diving into a game jam. A game jam is a time-restricted challenge, in which you’re tasked with making a video game, sometimes to a theme, within a limit of a few days, up to a week or more. It’s a great way to focus on getting general experience and practice with time management, prototyping and overall design or you can focus on one specific idea or skill you want to work on. If like me you often have a hundred tabs open in an effort to learn a hundred different things, a jam will help force you to focus on one or two things, which will help you develop far more in the long run! Online, you can find a massive collection of differently themed game jams on Itch.io (which also lets you host and play other developer’s games too, for inspiration!) which will let you flex your creative muscles while receiving some feedback from other developers. Just be sure to give the other developers feedback as well!
Once you’ve picked your jam, what do you do? If you’re completely new, and have no experience making graphics resources or sound, checking out resources from Open Game Art and Freesound can help you get started, as long as you’re careful to check any copyright licensing first! If you want to make your own graphics and sound from scratch, tool-wise, there are far too many to list (and if you specialise in sound or graphics, you’ll already know far more than this writer) but to save some time for beginners, I’ll outline a few to recommend if you have no experience whatsoever.
Very loosely speaking, for any small projects, you’ll need something to make sprite, vector, or 3D modelled assets, something to create or synthesise music and sound, and finally, a game engine to put everything together and save you the trouble of manually coding the ‘plumbing’ and more technical aspects of your game together. Unity 3D – a professional version is available if you register online at Github as a student – and Godot are good starts, and Gamemaker Studio 2 is also very good if you don’t mind paying a little to try out the licence. In terms of sound, Chiptone is a good retro-esque sound effect generator and for those with musical skills, LMMS is an open-source digital audio workstation that can get you started making music for your games as well. Tutorial-wise, there are a wealth of resources online for the aspiring creative or developer; Youtubers such as Shaun Spalding and Friendly Cosmonaut (Gamemaker Studio tutorials and design), Brackeys (Unity and C# programming), , Brandon James Greer (sprite art and spriting principles), Jonas Tyroller and Blipsounds (sound effects and sound design) all are just the tip of the iceberg! Game Developer Conference talks can also be really insightful for anyone looking to seriously step into the industry as well.
Lastly, the best advice would be to join a group! In the early stages of LUSU affiliation is the LU Game Dev society, a soon-to-be official society looking to form a community of students keen on game development which should be a great place to get stuck into the future with local game jams to help you learn the ropes! Beyond that, joining the discord groups of various game jams online can be a fantastic way of meeting and working with other developers too.
Doing creative work of any kind taxes both a mental and creative stamina that can be difficult to maintain even in times of relative stability; given the horrible year it has been – or years more generally, depending on your outlook – it has been tough to try and even collect some sort of mental cohesion to think about stretching the creative mind. However, it’s been a highly rewarding and validating experience and if anyone else is stuck in the position I was, I can only hope the mindless rambling of a beginner developer is insightful and helps you overcome your own creative rut.