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March 17, 2010

Advice for budding game developers

Posted: 03:20 PM ET
Uncharted 2 wins 2009 Game of the Year
Uncharted 2 wins 2009 Game of the Year

So you want to design a video game?

One way to break into the field is to customize existing games like Sim City, where users can create your own clothes and change various gaming mechanics. 

That was the advice from Shanna Tellerman of WildPockets.com when I asked her about entry-point recommendations for someone who is interested in creating video games but lacks a computer-programming background. 

Tellerman participated in a South by Southwest Interactive panel designed to share unique approaches for game creation accessible to anyone. The panel was one of many gaming-related events at the festival, which ended Tuesday.

Between console games, online games and social-networking games such as FarmVille, there are more computer games and genres today than ever before.  But why would an ordinary person without a gaming or computer background want to design their own independent game? 

Michael Agustin from GameSalad.com says games are important for teaching and sharing meaning. "Creating games for parents allows them to take an active role in the context of the games their kids play, and to be more involved," he said.

Video games have also been used to raise awareness for social issues or to aid victims during natural disasters.  They are educational tools, but let's not forget that games are also meant to be fun.

Designing the next World of Warcraft or best-selling app for the iPhone might be a bit of a reach for most newbie game designers.  Game developer Adam Saltsman, or 'Atomic Adam' as he's known in the gaming world, tells beginners to become familiar with Gamemaker from YoYo Games. 

"It offers great resources with community support and is visually easy to get into," said Saltsman, who believes game creators shouldn't aim for mobile platforms in the beginning but instead focus on designing for the Web. 

Saltsman, whose Canabalt game was an Internet sensation last year, says Web-based game design is generally much easier to maneuver than mobile platforms because many mobile devices are not Flash enabled.  Eventually designers can move to mobile, he said.

Tellerman suggests that budding game programmers look for 24 hour 'game jams', weekend events where groups of designers collaborate on dynamic game-development projects.  "It's mostly simple games being built, but the process and experience is a great value," Tellerman said.

All of the South by Southwest Interactive panelists agreed that would-be game creators should spend a lot of time experimenting on their own time. After all, Tellerman said, some of the most successful independent game developers lacking formal computer-programming educations.

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Filed under: Gaming • SXSW • SXSWi • video games


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