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Zainab Al-Ansari

A budding game dev :D

How To Learn Game Development Effectively in 8 Simple Steps

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog

Want to learn to make your own games but confused where to start?

Watching tutorial after tutorial without anything to show for it?

Find yourself in an endless cycle of learning and re-learning, without ever achieving the skill level you want?

 

Then, I wrote this for you.

What this article is about

This won’t be your typical “Pick Engine X” or “Learn to Make Games by Making Your Own Flappy Bird” kind of article.

While those have their value, often times the problem beginners often miss is something a lot more fundamental than what engine to use or how to make a small game.

It’s the HOW, the WHAT, and the WHY you learn.

i.e, your LEARNING skill.

And that skill, in relation to game dev, is what this article is about.

If you actively developed your learning skills in the past and have your own way of learning already, then following my way will do you more harm than good so please don’t apply what’s written here.

About Learning

When it comes to acquiring knowledge, practical or otherwise, there are specific ways and methods that are particularly useful for a certain type of knowledge.

Game dev falls under what I like to call the Maker category.

The Maker category as you can tell from the name, pertains to skills that result in “produce”, as opposed to, say, using the English language and its rules to communicate.

I won’t touch on other types, but the steps written here will be effective on other “Maker” skills like cooking or drawing. Simply change the subject in step 1 and you’ll be good to go.

These steps are like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning, they won’t cover everything you need but applying them will still cause drastic changes to your pace and quality of work.

So, let’s get started.

Step #1: Start With the Game.

What’s the game you wish to make?

What got you interested in learning game dev in the first place?

Is there a game that make you go “I wish I could make that!”?

Often times people get interested in making games because of something they played or an idea they had.

If you don’t have a particular game that you want to make, or you have too many, then it’s time to choose.

This game will be your end Goal.

And it better be something that gets your blood boiled, or you might end up quitting half way.

Now, write it down and hang it somewhere you will see it everyday.

Step #2: Dissect it.

List down ALL the skills needed to make your game.

Research as necessary.

Be specific.

“Making game music” isn’t specific, “Making instrumental music using an electric violin for Adventure story-based games” is.

It’s at this step where you will choose the game engine, in case of video games, that’s most appropriate for your game, as well as other tools.

Never again google something as generic as “What’s the best game engine?” or “Is Unity or Unreal better?”.

Game engines, and any other software or hardware you will be using, are tools and whether they are the “best” depends on what you will be making with them.

You wouldn’t say a shovel is better than a spoon now would you? If you’re digging dirt then the shovel is better even though you could still take forever and dig using a spoon.

Step #3: Choose the One.

Out of all the skills you’ve listed in the above list, pick one and learn that, and only that.

I emphasize the only because the fewer and more focused things you learn at once, the faster you will learn overall.

Choose the skill that make up your biggest pain, or what you consider as the most important skill that you have yet to learn for the sake of making your ultimate game.

Step #4: Choose Your Teacher Wisely.

Those random YouTube tutorials you’ve been following are harming you and your game more than you can understand at your current skill level.

While those teaching online (or offline for that matter) usually mean well, if they themselves are just starting to learn or have low to mid skill levels then whether you know it or not they’re teaching you bad habits.

Those bad habits are costing you time now, and might cost you your entire game later.

When choosing an online course, a book or any other learning resource, the first thing you should look at is the author.

Not the cover, not the promises of what you will be learning, not the hours or even the cost.

The author.

That author should be making the sort of things that you want them to teach you to make, at a level that they are considered to be experts in their given industry.

They don’t need to be famous, but they do need to be professionals who know what they’re talking about, and are someone studios/other companies would hire to work for them at senior or executive levels.

For example, let’s say you wish to learn to animate characters. Which would be the better teacher: A professional animator who has been working for Disney for the past 20 years or someone who is a really good teacher and has been teaching animation for several years but without ever having their work in a professional project?.

Of course it’s going to be the Disney animator!.

Even if the animator is a bad teacher, simply watching him/her work for an hour will teach you more than any non-professional could in weeks.

The absolute best choice would be someone who is both a good teacher and a professional.

Pick only one.

Once you chose your teacher/learning resource, make that your only source for learning this particular skill.

Don’t fall into the trap of endlessly switching between courses/books/workshops/whatever.

Just choose one source, a book, or an online course, or a local workshop and learn only from that.

Constantly switching between sources will cost you time and money with little gain, so stick to one and master it.

Be willing to spend.

You won’t find quality learning materials for free, be willing to pay for your education. It’s an investment in your future and dream so don’t skimp.

If you can afford to buy a game you can afford to pay 30$ for a course or a book.

Step #5: Make. And Make it Small.

Hopefully the resource you picked in the previous step is practical in nature and has exercises for you to do (following along a tutorial doesn’t count), but if not then no worries.

Design a very small project to apply the things you learned, or as you learn them.

These exercises shouldn’t take more than a month and preferably only hours or even minutes depending on what the skill is.

Remember, this is only one skill out of many, the goal here is to get you to an adequate level in this particular skill, not someone who would be hired to do this one thing.

As an example, my own current pain skill is lighting and coloring 3D scenes in Unreal Engine 4.

To improve this skill I’m taking color theory and cinematic lighting courses on The Gnomon Workshop while applying what I learn in pre-made scenes from the asset store where I only modify the lighting setup.

Step #6: Reflect.

Log your progress.

It could be in the form of pictures, videos or even tweets, but note what you just did.

At the end of every project, look at where you started and where you are now.

This exercise has two purposes:

  1. Seeing progress from project to project boosts your confidence and enthusiasm to keep learning.
  2. Seeing your progress has stalled will let you look into problems much earlier and point you where you need to go.

You don’t need to share your log with others, but it could help keep you on track.

Step #7: Make it Bigger?.

If this is your first or second skill then skip this step for now.

But if you’ve learned 3+ new skills so far, then it’s time to combine all these separate skills into one bigger project.

Simply putting it all together will be difficult and push your skills into new heights.

An example would be: if so far you learned to 3D model low-poly objects in Blender, then you learned to Texture 3D models, and then learned to Animate 3D characters, then it’s time to design your own low-poly 3D character from scratch, build it and give it life.

Limit the new skills that need to be combined together.

Learn around 3~6 skills at a time before combining them, with a hard top at 10 skills.

Step #8: Rinse & Repeat.

Time to go back to step #3 and choose the next skill to learn!.

One skill and project at a time, and you will reach your goal enshalla.

 

This ends this guide, if you have any comments or clarifications you want then comment below.

And please share to anyone you think would benefit from this post.

Thank you for reading!.

E3 2018 Logo

E3 2018 Live Events Schedule in Bahrain Timing

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Blog

E3 2018 will start on June 12 at 9PM Bahrain Timing (GMT+3).

But before the main events, there will be a few pre-E3 events as well.

In the following table I link and put the timing for the major events according to Bahraini local time.

Time

Saturday 9th June 2018

Sunday 10th June 2018

Monday 11th June 2018

Tuesday 12th June 2018

01:00 AM PC Gaming Show
04:00 AM Sony Playstation
04:30 AM Bethesda Softworks
06:00 AM Devolver Digital
07:00 PM Nintendo
08:00 PM Square Enix
09:00 PM Electronic Arts
11:00 PM Microsoft Xbox Ubisoft

Based on timings as reported by Polygon

To invest in yourself is the best investment of all! by Randall Tiongson

Monthly Reflection #3 – Invest in Yourself

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Reflections

Every last working day of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

In May I worked on a Pinball simulation using Unreal Engine 4 as a learning project.

I meant to release the game by the end of the month, and while I did finish it, I just couldn’t publish it.

The UE4 Editor is a Power-Hungry Beast

I own a 9-years-old Dell Inspiron N5010 with a dual core 2.4GHz processor and an ancient AMD Radeon HD 5000 graphics card that, with care and an excellent build quality, is still working flawlessly.

However, it’s well below the recommended hardware requirements for Unreal and, although it runs Unity 3D without any problems, it just can’t handle Unreal at all.

I’ve been working on the lowest editor settings and the most FPS I get is 23.

That wasn’t too bad in the beginning, but later on UE4 proved to be buggy and unstable, constantly freezing and crashing while I work or try to test the game.

The most pain I suffered was when it was time to compile and package my project. Despite it being a small Pinball game, it took hours for a single build, and it often failed with errors that had nothing to do with my actual code ๐Ÿ˜‘ .

So, I gave up.

Instead of wasting so much time (several days so far), I decided to buy a new gaming laptop that more than can handle Unreal.

Gaming laptops are over priced in Bahrain (like, think 2x its actual worth) and my budget is tight, so I bought an Alienware 17 R4 from Amazon for around $1330. Here’s hoping it comes in one piece ๐Ÿคž.

I’ll be attempting to package the game again when the laptop arrives.

Investment is Key to Growth and Self Fulfillment

If you’re an amateur or hobbyist, then my advice is to stick to what you have till game dev becomes an important part of your daily life.

But, if you’re already committed to becoming a pro and starting your own studio, then it’s extremely important to invest in yourself And your tools.

Never again follow some random tutorial on YouTube or go through low-quality courses just because they’re free.

While their authors mean well, amateurs unintentionally teach some really bad habits that are costing you a ton of time and effort without you realizing it.

Invest in your education and choose courses and books made by experts in their fields, don’t shy away from paying for high quality knowledge.

Also, buy the tools that would greatly improve your workflow.

Whether it’s a Visual Studio plugin that vastly improves your C++ workflow, a license to some expensive software or more capable hardware, investing in your tools and speeding up your work allows you to create more and higher quality content in less time with fewer hiccups.

I can’t emphasize on how important these two points are. If you’re in this for the long run, then not investing might hamper you or downright stop you from achieving your goals.

What’s Next

I completed the 30 Day Blog Transformation Challenge course on Udemy, and while waiting for my new laptop to arrive I’ll be focusing on my blog for a week or two.

I’ll be writing a guide to learning game dev effectively, and will touch on choosing your learning materials in more detail.

Other than that, while working on Pinball the skill I lacked the most was coloring and lighting. I will subscribe to Gnomon’s Workshop and do their color courses.

I’m planning on using Houdini in my work too for creating assets and VFX, so I’ll go through Gnomon’s Houdini fundamentals course as well.

To know when I post my guide or other articles, subscribe to my RSS feed or newsletter .

Monthly Reflection #2 – Starting Small

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Reflections

Every last working day of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

During April I focused on learning the basics of Unreal Engine 4, mainly the editor and Blueprints. If you read my previous reflection, you’d note I had planned to make a small mobile game that helps players de-stress.

However, after researching stress, its causes and ways to combat it and designing as small of a game as I could manage that would fulfill that purpose, I quickly realized my technical skills (especially in UE4), are not up to the task.

So, I switched strategies and focused completely on developing my technical skills by making a series of small projects, and have no intention of commercializing them.

My First UE4 Project: A Basic Room Visualization

No code, no Blueprints, no gameplay or asset making, focusing completely on learning the very basics of Unreal Engine 4, which is the level editor.

A 2-week project where I made a basic room using pre-made assets.

Things I learned from this:

My Second UE4 Project: A Pinball Machine Simulation

After achieving level 1 on my previous project, level 2 would be to learn to develop actual gameplay using Blueprints as well as creating custom materials.

For that purpose I’m making a Pinball machine simulation. This project is still ongoing, you can see my current progress below:

Note: I mistakenly wrote Day 4 in the tweet, but it's actually Day 5

Writing Better Blog Posts

Beside game development, I’ve been going through the 30 Day Blog Transformation Challenge course on Udemy.

My wish is to write better, more engaging blog posts that are more useful to you.

I would greatly appreciate any feedback in this regard, and if you have any requests for content you wish to see from me, please do ask.

What’s Next

The plan for next month is to finish the Pinball Simulation project.

I haven’t decided what to do after finishing the Pinball game yet, depending on my skill level at that point, I will either get started on my first commercial game or do another learning project.

This ends this month’s report. Your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated, so do comment below. ๐Ÿ™‚

Monthly Reflection #1 – Starting Anew

Written by Zainab Al-Ansari on . Posted in Reflections

Every last Thursday of the current month I publish a report reflecting on the previous month. These reflections exist to demonstrate my progress, share my experiences and help transfer what I learn to others.

The Past Month

Woah, where to start.. This has been a very crazy and hectic month. Well, I guess I’ll begin by explaining why I’m restarting Z’s Laboratories.

On 8th March, 2018 I resigned from my job, and despite how much I liked my colleagues and working there my health was deteriorating rapidly due to stress and my already battered body couldn’t take the hit. But since IT jobs in Bahrain (I worked as a web developer) are generally very stressful, and I had enough cash to last a year + was confident in my small project and business management skills, I decided it’s time to give Z’s Laboratories another shot.

11th March was my last day at work, and on 12th March I started working on setting up a business.

My main focus for the month was to write a simple and feasible business plan for my first year of operations, setup my work processes, establish a new routine and get started!.

Throughout March, I accomplished the following:

  • Planning my work/life routine and applying the new habit.
  • Planning the gaming and game dev events I will participate in.
  • Writing my 1st year plan using the Clean Canvas business pattern, and setting a clear vision for Z’s Laboratories.
  • Building a small HTML5 game called Hooman is Yum!, and publishing it on Kongregate, essentially establishing my 1st income stream.
  • Putting Hooman is Yum!’s source code up for sale on Scirra store, which became my 2nd income stream.
  • Participating in Unreal Bahrain’s Bahrain Comic Con booth and showcasing 4 of my games.
  • Setting up an accounting system for Z’s Laboratories.
  • Signing a contract with myself to better manage the business and finances while holding myself accountable.
  • Preparing an excel sheet to track my work hours, tasks and leaves.
  • Setting up a YouTube channel for Z’s Laboratories and uploading the 1st video.
  • Updating my portfolio, website’s content and layout to match my vision for Z’s Laboratories.

I’ve set my work hours to be from 8AM to 2PM, Sunday to Thursday while having 45 paid leave days that I can take anytime of the year. This is both to maintain a steady productive workflow while having a stress-free and balanced life style. I go to bed around 9PM and eat my meals at the same times everyday to keep my biological clock ticking like a real clock.

My current routine looks roughly like this:

Time/Day Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
6AM-8AM Morning Ritual* Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual Morning Ritual
8AM-2PM Work Work Work Work Work Free Free
2PM-4PM Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Family Time & Lunch Lunch Lunch
4PM-5PM Study/Practice*** Study/Practice Study/Practice Study/Practice Study/Practice Free Free
5PM-6.30PM Free Free Free Free Free Free Free
6.30PM-7.30PM Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner Preparing & Having Dinner
7.30PM-9PM Night Ritual** Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual Night Ritual

You may have noticed that I’m treating myself as my own employee. This may sound strange, but I did this for 2 main reasons:

  1. I have a very real tendency to overwork myself to death and self destruct while neglecting everything and everyone around me, so by setting strict boundaries I make sure to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
  2. It makes managing and planning the business easier, while giving me stability in my personal life.

This setup isn’t for everyone, but it’s working extremely well for me and I look forward to each new day.

* My morning ritual consists of exercise, shower, breakfast and dressing for work
** In my night ritual I turn off all electronics, dim all lights, meditate, reflect and get ready for bed
*** For this year I'm studying Japanese

What’s Next

The type of games I decided to specialize in as Z’s Laboratories is 3D stylized Open-World games for Nintendo Switch, that have a positive effect on the players’ real lives, either by teaching them a real world skill, exposing them to different view points and getting them to reflect or by making their day a bit better.

To prepare myself for this path, next month’s main focus will be to build-up my game dev skills by making a small game that helps players de-stress after work. I will aim to publish it on both Steam and mobile app stores for iPads and Android tablets, since that combination roughly matches the Switch’s hardware.

I plan on making all assets for my games by myself as part of my business model and put them for sale on asset stores, hence establishing small passive income streams while building games.

This is going to be a very exciting year for me and hopefully I’ll be able to at least break even, that will let me continue for another year without getting a “real” job.

 

This ends this month’s report. Your comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated, so do comment below. ๐Ÿ™‚

About Z’s Laboratories

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