No One Really Knows What They’re Doing In Game Development
Today, I just want to be the guy that tells you that NO ONE in this industry has any clue what they’re doing. When I went to college for game development, I started out thinking that there was some kind of secret or some kind of secret sauce or written rules or some kind of rulebook or Ten Commandments or something for how to make games. That’s one of the main reasons I went to college. I wanted to learn how the pros did it what kind of things they had in their secret lairs of how to make games. I thought there was a checklist of specific things you need to do to create a mechanic or specific things you need to do to tell a great story. And there are a couple things out there that help you improve doing those specific skills. However, what I realized overwhelmingly across the board, was that no one knows what the hell they’re doing.
It was in college that I started to realize that everybody had a different approach to making games. It’s kind of like making art. For example, there is no specific way to draw a humanoid figure. There are many styles out there and everyone does it a little bit differently. Coming from a point of low self-confidence and low self-worth in the beginning, I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing and I didn’t really feel worthy to make games. I thought that there were things out there that all these professionals knew that I wasn’t aware of.
After going to college, to GDCs and meeting a bunch of people, after working with literally hundreds of game developers in marketing and stuff like that, there is no right way to do things—there is no single right way. If you ever feel that triple-A or indies game developers know something you don’t—
There’s no insider’s secret. Sure, they may have some great skill set or some great art style or whatever, but hear me out here.
There is NO SECRET.
Even today, I sometimes have to catch myself because I still have like this inherent belief in my head like, “Oh, I can’t I can’t do that because I don’t know the secret to that. I don’t know how to do that.”
But there isn’t anything you can’t learn—everything is on Google. And if you have somebody that you love out there like an indie game developer or a triple-A developer, reach out to them via email and ask them things like, “Hey, how did you do this? How’d you do a specific thing? I want to know because I’m trying to do something similar.” They would be more than happy to reach out to you. I’ve done it plenty of times with a lot of the games I play. Even if it’s a triple-A game from a massive studio, I’ll find the person that was responsible for that part and I’ll find their email and say, “Hey, I really loved this piece of artwork or I really loved the design of this specific part of the mission. Can you tell me some of your thoughts and why you designed it this way because I’m a game developer and I love learning this kind of stuff.” Dude, I’ve got a response from EVERY person that I sent an email to, every single one. They love to hear from you.
Nowadays, not only can you shoot emails to people with the power of the internet, you can also google search anything. There is no secret to it. There is no hidden sauce, believe me. I’m telling you because I spent years believing that there was such a secret. I spent years on a quest to try to find this stuff out. I thought it was real. I thought there was some mystical magical thing out there that the game developers won’t tell you that you have to learn. Everybody has their own different way of doing things. Everybody has their own approach and the main thing that you have to do as a game developer is to find your process.
Many games that you see are not completely original creations. They are formulations of the things that inspire the person, fit together in one little package. I know every game that I’ve ever made has been a mash up of some of the things that I love and that is just how I work. I see something that inspires me, I take it and make a version of it, and then I add some other things that I love into it, and I tweak it from there. That’s my process. That’s what I love to do that that makes so much more sense for me. I’m not like, I have to start here, then do this and that, etc. I don’t have any specific process. I don’t have a checklist of how to do things. I start with the things that inspire me, make some of my own, and mash them together. I think everybody does that to a certain point.
Whatever process works for you, do it. Don’t limit yourself by thinking, “Oh, I need to learn this first before I can do this”, that can be paralyzing and you won’t accomplish anything with that mindset.
A quick story: At the college I went to, I decided to talk to a counselor at the Art Center in Pasadena because at the time I knew I wanted to make games but I wasn’t sure which side of game development I wanted to be on. I had built software but I really loved art, I loved the storytelling ability of art, and I loved that you could convey an idea through art.
I spent a lot of time learning 3D modeling and I could never draw. I could build 3D models but I couldn’t draw. And as I was sitting there with a counselor, I was showing her my 3D models and it went like this:
Counselor: “Wow! These are amazing! Do you have concept drawings?”
Me: “Concepts? What do you mean?”
Counselor: “The actual hand-drawn concepts.”
Me: “No, I don’t do those.”
Counselor: “Well you’re going to have to learn that.”
And she said it in a really mean way, almost is like my 3D models weren’t good enough because I didn’t have concept drawings to go with them. If you don’t have that skill (drawing), that doesn’t mean your approach to doing things is wrong as long as the end goal is clear. If you feel like you can make 3D models go in and make those damn 3D models! Who cares about the drawing stuff? That, for me, is an unnecessary step to get to where I wanted to go.
This mindset, I think has helped me in so many different areas of my life. By not going through the traditional mold or not even believing that there is a traditional mold, I was able to do what I set out to do. It actually makes it a lot easier to know that there is no right or wrong process, that there is no secret sauce because you’re allowed to do your own thing. There will be teachers that will try to tell you how you should do things, but in the end, you decide on the process that works for you.
Either every great game that I know of has the entire concept or a very core feature of it built around some random shit, like it’s not something that you design intentionally. Many times, you can just play test and say, “Hey, I really wish this dude could swing off the ceiling”, or “Hey, I wish these bullets were faster” or whatever. It’s a constant creative iterative process and there’s no right way to do it.
The reason why I love game development so much is the fact that there are no limits as to what you can do and achieve precisely because there are no rules. Next time you think that there’s some kind of secret that you don’t know about and that you should hold off and not do those things because you feel you might be breaking the rules— DON’T. There are NO RULES and no one knows really knows what they’re doing. We’re all just trying to make some fun shit.
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