As a kid, at around age thirteen or fourteen, it was some sort of rule at least in my school that teens would do some work experience and then be assessed and given "career advice." After having done a two-week stint filing paperwork in a benefits office, I already felt a little jaded about what my future could look like.
I met my "careers adviser" at school, and she asked me what sort of jobs I had in mind. In my teens, I ran an animation website and forum with tens of thousands of members, making Adobe Flash cartoons out of stick figures with some video game and anime inspiration on the side. I had actually programmed some incredibly crude games using Adobe Flash' Action Script, but becoming an actual game designer felt like some sort of impossible unobtainable fantasy. So impossible, in fact, that I thought my career suggestion to become a paleontologist seemed more plausible. My adviser said I should consider becoming a data entry clerk or office worker instead.
After twenty years of de-programming my brain from the UK school system, I've come to realize that I had been on the path towards game development as an animator and dabbler in Action Script. There was simply nobody to give me that extra push to give it a real try. Combined with the power of online courses and amazing and generous content creators on YouTube, a nice bloke from the Xbox dev community recently nudged me to actually give it a shot. And so far, I'm having a blast.
You might think that game development requires expensive degrees or mountains of complex programming. And sure, building a AAA game is obviously a truly Herculean task. However, learning to make simple games as a creative hobby has proven incredibly rewarding to me thus far. I wanted to share my experiences with those who, like me, might have found the very notion of even trying to be daunting.
Here's the path I'm on to become a game developer, and what I've learned so far, and how you can get started too. Who knows? Maybe we'll all publish games on Xbox Series X someday.
Unity Engine and Udemy
If you're into gaming and reading about the industry, you may have heard of the Unity Engine. Unity is a game dev tool that is free for hobbyists and smaller developers to use and has proven itself quite easy to pick up and learn. I chose Unity for its proficiency with cross-platform development. I admit I don't have a great amount of knowledge in this area, but deploying a simplistic game in WebGL or Win32 or UWP from Unity was incredibly easy to do without having to alter any code whatsoever. I figured if my ultimate goal is to one day have a small and simple game hit the Xbox Live Creators Program, then Unity might be a good place to start.
Developing games this way requires the Unity SDK and some tools from Microsoft, including Visual Studio, all of which are free for hobbyists. I don't suggest you download those straight away, though.
To get started, I picked up this incredibly affordable Unity and C# course on Udemy, which is an online learning platform. I actually purchased it years ago but never had the belief in myself to actually start it up. I figured I'd go back and give it another try and really force myself to stick with it. A couple of dozen hours later, and I'm really glad I did.
The course is led by Rick Davidson, who I quite honestly wish I had as a teacher in school. Throughout each lecture, they go over in detail how to structure a video game project in Unity, while also explaining the tools you will need and how to use them. The course is split up into several game projects across a few dozen hours and has additional courses you can pick up afterward to continue your learning.
Into the course
I have a few simple game ideas I want to make in the future. Although the Udemy course I've picked is a great starting point for learning how to structure a game project, some of the "bells and whistles" I want to work into my games are perhaps a bit too specific for a general overview course to cover. Thankfully, hundreds of programmers and artists from across the world have flooded YouTube with thousands upon thousands of tutorials for everything and anything Unity.
Want tentacles in your game? There's a video for that. Do you want to make meaty physics-based sprites? There's a tutorial for that too. There are tutorials for pixel art, lighting, particle effects, parallax background scrolling, scoring systems, hit points, RPG mechanics, and anything and everything you could possibly imagine. All right there, on YouTube, for free.
Some of my favourite channels so far include CouchFerretMakesGames, Blackthornprod, Tarodev, Brackeys, and Pureheart. A lot of these channels contain tutorials on classic shooter gameplay, which is where I want to put my focus when it comes to building my very first official game project. There are quite literally hundreds of other channels dedicated to Unity development, which can help supplement the broader course on Udemy. Using these videos I learned how to make time-expiring score multipliers, sound effect pitch shift arrays, and much more.
Give it a try
I'm by no means the smartest person alive and always found math incredibly hard at school, making some of the C# logic difficult to understand. However, after repeatedly trying over and over, it starts to become more familiar. Watching some of Microsoft's recent Game Stack Live showcase, I was shocked to realize that I understood some of the programming sessions, as a result of this C# course I'm on.
It may be months or years before I actually have something you could even vaguely designate as a game, but becoming the next Hideo Kojima or joining the ranks of best Xbox games is really not my goal right now. I love the idea of making a small and simple game that even a few people could potentially enjoy, while also getting a deeper insight into the complexities that making games actually represents. It's a lot of fun, and honestly, if I can do it, anyone can do it. Give it a try, you might surprise yourself. And if you do decide to do it, please show me your creations on Twitter!
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!