How does one go about creating a computer game?
February 4, 2006 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone here ever created their own computer game? I don't play computer games that often but my sister and I just came up with the most brilliant idea for one

It's something that has never been done, we both searched high and low to see if a game similar to our idea has been done and there really is nothing.

I know nothing really of the industry, but I think it is something that would be very popular and could expand if need be.

How do we get started? Should we seek out a patent, if so how long and costly is that process? What about the actual designing of the game? My sister is quite good with the conputer, she does a lot of graphic design as a part of her major but she really has no idea how to design game software. Do I approach companies about our idea? (but risk them stealing it?)

I feel just really clueless about where to start and who to approach, its an idea, if executed well, could take off and be very successful. Any advice or tips would be much appreciated!
posted by bluehermit to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you serious about this game as in (a) "we want to make it a reality, and have it on a website as a 12mb download for people to have fun with", or (b) "we want to make it a reality, have haved it packaged up for sale in computer stores on CD for $40 an item"?
posted by Jimbob at 2:09 PM on February 4, 2006

Response by poster: (b) "we want to make it a reality, have haved it packaged up for sale in computer stores on CD for $40 an item"?

With expansion packs and everything
posted by bluehermit at 2:12 PM on February 4, 2006

bluehermit; I hate to discourage you, but making an actual boxed retail game is very difficult. The average good game for PCs or consoles has a budget above $5M and takes over two years to implement by a staff of 50+ people. Game ideas are very seldom bought from the outside.

If you want to know more about the traditional route, one way to start is by reading back issues of Game Developer magazine. Their online site gamasutra is good, but most of the content is behind a registration.

The difficulty of making independent games is leading something of a backlash in the game development community. A good place to touch base with the indie dissidents is Greg Costikyan.
posted by Nelson at 2:20 PM on February 4, 2006

I think you might be overestimating the value of a single idea in the game design process. People that make the games are overflowing with good ideas. Implementing those ideas -- especially in a way that's actually fun to play -- is the difficult, time consuming, and expensive part.

If you don't currently have the skills to create the game yourself, then your options are to

1. learn computer programming and game design
2. approaching a developer or design studio and convince them to make a game from your concept.

The first option is going to take a lot of time. No offense to your sister's skills, but there is really no overlap between graphic design and game design. The graphics for a game are basically just overlayed on top of the game mechanics.

The latter scenario is akin to trying to find a film studio to produce a movie based only on "an idea" but without having a script, actors, a director, or any of the expertise in the movie industry.

I don't mean to be too discouraging, but I don't see much chance of this coming together for you.
posted by camcgee at 2:30 PM on February 4, 2006

Your extreme enthusiasm for your idea, the phrase "if need be" (which signals imprecise plans), your use of the phrease "never been done," your clue-deprived question about patenting your idea, your misunderstanding about how games are made (design requires a very small part of the time and resources involved), your goal of making money (meaning, if I am reading your subtext right, "I want to get stinking rich"), your acknowledgements you are not much of a gamer and that you "feel just really clueless" all make this seem like an "ads over urinals" idea. These are ideas that many people think they thought of first because they know so very little about the target industry--which you also acknowledge.

If I were you, I'd float the idea on Mefi Projects and see if you can get someone to code it for you as shareware or else find an open source team willing to take it on. But most importantly, you have to tell people in the industry the idea. This inclues hardcore gamers, programmers, game designers, and suits. Then you'll really begin to understand for sure whether or not the idea will fly.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:33 PM on February 4, 2006 looks to have a lot of resources. The beginners section, especially "How Do I Make Games?" might be good starting reading material.
posted by Gator at 2:33 PM on February 4, 2006

I've made games both as collaborate with friends, and working in the industry.

Short answer: If you want to profit from the idea without work, there is no way. If you want to do serious work on the idea, then maybe.
If there is a mechanism in the game that is unique and crucial, you could try to patent that. But bear in mind you can't patent ideas. (In theory, in practise, the USPTO doesn't seem to follow it's own rules half the time :-).

The industry, by and large, isn't very interested in ideas for games. Since producing a game takes $2M or more, a year or more, and includes a team of designers, each one with pages of great game ideas they'd love to see made, there are hundreds of great ideas for every game that gets made. The industry is awash in ideas. (And chances are people have come up with the same or similar idea as you, but it's generally business reasons that decide what gets made, thus an idea is more normally applied to a product outline, rather than a product designed around an idea.

So, the industry is frustrating to many who want to create original games. Indie games is a growing movement.
Again though, in Indie, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone in need of ideas - everyone has those, it's the workhours and skills and money that are in shortage, so to get things moving, you'll have to

But I suggest getting in touch with local enthusiests, asking around on indie game forums, etc.

Making it yourself is the most reliable way to see it get made, but you almost probably won't recoup a good wage-per-hour.

Look into user-editable game engines. Many PC games allow users to edit their content and design. Unless your idea is way way out there, there is a good chance than a game engine exists that can do a fair chunk of what you need, making it easier to do the rest, however check the licensing terms - some can require up-front fees of 6 or 7 digits, plus a cut of each sale, some can just be a cut of each sale, and some are free. In most cases, you wouldn't need to deal with licensing until the game was done if you didn't want to (ie you could develop on a engine without telling them or paying anything, and only sign up to licence once the game was done. For an industry game engine though, you'd normally pay up front, and thus buy access to tutorials, engine dev staff, helpdesk stuff etc. You could develop without all that, and many do, it just wouldn't be as qucik.)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:37 PM on February 4, 2006

Oops. Dropped a sentence:
so to get things moving, you'll have to make a start yourself. I'd suggest looking at the amateur mod route. (more on that later) since you probably can't bankroll a production out of your own pocket, and if you could, would almost certainly lose money on it.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2006

Right now, your question's breadth means that you'll only get very general answers. Given your inexperience, you should talk about what sort of game you have in mind. That would allow people who have some familiarity with creating games to give you some specific guidance or offer their assitance.

Don't be afraid to share your high-level ideas. As -harlequin- says, everyone's got a ton of cool-sounding big picture concepts, but the real work in game development comes from refining those concepts and making them fun.

Here's a great article on the subject: Why you should share your game designs.
posted by Fourmyle at 2:51 PM on February 4, 2006

"If you want to do serious work on the idea, then maybe."

By this I mean "profit" in the sense of earning less per hour than flipping burgers, but doing more interesting work than flipping burgers :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:53 PM on February 4, 2006

Besides the excellent advice above, consider using freely available development tools already available to you. I'm talking about scenario and level editors for Unreal, Half-Life, Neverwinter Nights, etc. With those tools, you can develop a working prototype of the game, and you'll begin developing the overall game development skills needed to see the project to fruition.

Get the idea out of your head that you're going to develop, out of the blue, a game that a publisher is going to buy and put on shelves. Not gonna happen without a significant track record in the industry and an extensive professional network. Focus instead on creating something that will serve as a steppingstone to a career. The latter is completely do-able.
posted by frogan at 3:14 PM on February 4, 2006

Don't lose heart, by the way. If you are REALLY determined, you can do it. Look at Snood. Snood has become a phenomenal success, although it's a really basic game you could code within a few weeks using something like DarkBASIC and it's basically a rehash of an unoriginal idea (Puzzle Bobble).

Small simple games can work. If you want to make a massive, complex game though.. you're on dangerous ground. If you want to look at the small game industry Google for articles about 'casual gaming' and how it's growing in popularity.
posted by wackybrit at 4:40 PM on February 4, 2006

Also, might the game lend itself to being developed for playing over the Web and charging a subscription or similar? If so, it'd make development a whole ton easier and probably be a lot more 'sticky'.
posted by wackybrit at 4:41 PM on February 4, 2006

Here's an article by self-help guy Steve Pavlina about what it took to develop his puzzle-like game, Dweep.
posted by callmejay at 4:46 PM on February 4, 2006

Puzzle Pirates is another example of a small game gone biggish. It is distributed through the retail channel now.
posted by xyzzy at 5:06 PM on February 4, 2006

I don't play computer games that often but my sister and I just came up with the most brilliant idea for one.

I know nothing really of the industry, but I think it is something that would be very popular and could expand if need be.

So, you don't play games, and you know nothing of the industry, and yet you already know that your idea is brilliant, and that it would be very popular. Just think about what you've said there.

I suggest your first move should be to discuss this idea in detail with somebody who know what they're talking about. Make them sign a NDA if you want. But you really need some objective feedback on this idea from somebody who's already immersed in the gaming world.
posted by chrismear at 5:23 PM on February 4, 2006

On the discouraging end of things, you might find these two essays interesting: Will Your Brilliant Game Idea Make you Rich and Famous?, the topic of which is obvious, and ideas for startups by Paul Graham, which is in large part about what the value of an idea is more generally.

However, as several people have pointed out, making money off of indie/low budget games is possible. spiderweb software is another case in point.
posted by advil at 6:59 PM on February 4, 2006

I don't know about making money on it, but I've fooled around with game concepts using libsdl.
posted by substrate at 7:23 PM on February 4, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I know I'm a bit in over my head, I know I'm not that familiar with gaming, I'm not out to be a millionaire, I'm more curious about what it takes to get a game off the ground, Your tips and resources you posted were very helful and I'll look into them all, thanks so much!
posted by bluehermit at 10:08 PM on February 4, 2006

I've always wanted to create my own computer games as well, though I'm sure millions of other computer gamers have this dream from time to time. It's actually not very realistic, as it takes a lot of work and a lot of skill. However, it can be done.

I started really working on a game about 3 weeks ago. I was able to officially call it a game after the first week, though it's a very poor game, and it's text based. I'm starting with it small and moving up as I learn to Program. I have some previous programming experince with easy languages, but C/C++ is too advanced for me to learn on my own. I've tried before, and I lacked the motivation. For this project, I'm using Python, which is fairly easy. There are some free tools around for it, including PyGame, and wxPython, which are GUI/Graphics wrappers, that you could use. If you didn't know, Freedom Force and it's sequal were written in Python. Some games out there also use it for internal scripting.

Keep in mind that I have no intention of making tons of money, and I have no silly notions about it being on the shelf. But there are other ways to sell, and make a bit of money. Shareware being the most common, and I'll go into more a bit later. If you want to email/chat about Python, game making or anything else, throw me an email, it's in my profile.

Also, you need to be aware that game designs themselves are not copyrightable, just the code. Freeciv is a clone of Civilization, there were tons of fighting games back in the arcade days, and the whole FPS and RTS games. So you needn't be secretive about your idea because you can't get a patent. You can, however, make your game, and if people come out with clones, feel good that you came up with it and your ideas are good.

I would like to point out to any aspiring developers that these things can be done. Garage Games has been doing rather well. They do direct downloads of games, and they sell licenses and provide support for their Torque engine. The company was started by the main guys that developed Tribes2: Vengance, and they have been in the industry for some time. The Torque engine is reasonably priced, I believe about $100 or so. I'm sure they'd happily sell your game via directdownload from their website, for a small fee.

One of my good friends just spent 5 months there as an intern. I was fortunate enough to visit him at their offices, which is only a short (2.5 hour) drive from where I live. He's been into game development since HighSchool, and has a functioning but low feature space flight simulator engine built around the Torque engine. GarageGames has ported the Torque engine to the Xbox360, and released one of their games via Xbox Live download (for $10) a few days before I went to visit. They got their initial sales numbers in a few hours before I arrived, and everyone was overjoyed. I'm not sure if I'm safe to give out numbers, but I was impressed.

There's also an Independent Game Developers Conference that they hold every year. You might go to the next one if you are serious and have progressed any. I believe it's in October. For a trade show, the entrance fee is fairly low. $200 range I believe. They sold out of booths last year and have found a bigger place for this year to meet demand.

This turned out to be a longer post then I thought. Again, feel free to contact me if you need help or ideas. Same goes for any other aspiring or current Indie developer out there. We don't have the resources of the large developers, so we have to stick together to make things work.
posted by Phynix at 2:24 AM on February 5, 2006

Popcap has made it's game development framework available if anybody would like to use that. They will help you license and distribute your game, if you have developed it and it is good.
posted by Roger Dodger at 7:55 AM on February 5, 2006

to see if a game similar to our idea has been done and there really is nothing

The last two original ideas in computer gaming were Doom and Myst. Everything on top of that is window-dressing.

That's harsh, but almost true. Half-Life was a hit largely because it stepped up the interactivity -- but it's still a First-Person Shooter at heart. Command and Conquer and other Real Time Strategy games basically mix board games with elements of Civilization and start a timer. Grand Theft Auto mixes FPS with Role Playing Game. World of Warcraft is the Sims with weapons. At this point the industry is desperate for something truly new, but I somehow doubt (politely) that you've come up with that Holy Grail. Every new game seems like a rehash of something two or three years ago, only with better graphics, more semi-nudity, or bloodier gore. In a way, games like WoW have succeeded more by paring down the ideas in the game and making it more accessible to the casual gamer, rather than offering anything surprising or new.

Going back a few years, and riffing on suggestions above, I've seen dozens of "mods" for games from Doom to Unreal that were quite interesting, but failed to really change the nature of the game, or did change the game, but weren't really playable in a meaningful extended sense. Those successes, such as they were, were the result sometimes of 18-24 months of hard work at a near-professional level and pace by a small but dedicated (obsessed) team. The idea was irrelevant; as Graham says in his essay, an A idea with a B team is less attractive than an A team with a B idea. Many times these efforts fell apart halfway through, with thousands of man-hours down the drain.

Even so, doing a mod is probably a prerequisite to being remotely successful in the retail arena. I'd investigate what popular moddable games there are that are vaguely similar to what you want (yes, I'm sure they exist, barring a tear in the fabric of the universe -- again politely), and start playing with modding them to be just a little bit more like what your idea is. If nothing else, you'll quickly learn how damned difficult it is, and whether it's still worth it to you.
posted by dhartung at 4:23 PM on February 5, 2006

I recommend that you find a local university that has a game design project class and take advantage of the cheap labor. This might get messy legally with the school itself, but you might be able to strike a compromise.
posted by spiderskull at 6:33 PM on February 5, 2006

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