How To Learn Game Development Effectively in 8 Simple Steps
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.
NOTE: 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.
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.
“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.
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:
- Seeing progress from project to project boosts your confidence and enthusiasm to keep learning.
- 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? Maybe.
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 if God wills.
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!.