Getting Started with Video Game Programming

Programming a video game does seem like a complicated task. Most beginners have a hard time getting started. They lack knowledge in selecting their tools and the solving problems that come along the way.

Want to develop your own video game but unsure where to start? Read on to grasp the main concepts, tools and best practices for creating a game.

Game development tools

Before you sit down to create your game, study the development tools you will need. Software is critical in understanding how to program a video game. Here are some of the tools you will need throughout the process.

Game engine

The beauty of game development today is that not everything has to be built from scratch. Gaming engines smooth out the process, helping developers put together projects faster. They simplify the work through advanced tools for altering 3D models, scripting events, and other common game applications.

Top video game engines you can consider include Unreal Engine 4, Godot, CryEngine and Unity. These game engines leave room for you to get some hands-on programming done. The websites for most game engines offer users resources to help them use the software. You can also find an online community to ask questions when you get stuck. Stack Overflow is a great place to start. You can find code to help you with your video game and also discuss problems with other programmers.

Frameworks

Frameworks provide you with essential tools like APIs for streamlining your coding projects. Although they offer fewer tools than a game engine, they can help speed up the development process. A framework is considered an entry-level software for video game developers.

Great choices frameworks include Polycode, MonoGame and Turbulenz. Some frameworks have limited functionality; hence you may need access to more advanced APIs like OpenGL.

IDE (Integrated Development Environment)

An IDE provides a collection of source files that simplify work on complex programming projects. It serves as a general-purpose compiler, enabling you to put your video game projects together with less hassle.

Most IDEs have in-built features that allow them to interact with graphics and audio systems. There are several IDEs you can choose from, including Visual Studio and Eclipse. However, it’s best to stick to the one based on a programming language you already know.

Programming languages

You can’t learn how to program games without knowing any programming language. If you do not have any technical experience, it’s best you start learning one now. The best way to learn is by creating a project, as merely following a tutorial will limit your problem-solving skills.

Most video game development tools are centred around a specific language. Below is a table showing the most popular choices throughout the gaming industry.

Type of device Programming languages
Any device C++, C# and Lua
Desktop (Web) Flash ActionScript or HTML5
Mobile Java, Swift, Kotlin and Objective C

Other languages to consider include Python, Ruby on Rails and JavaScript. Most independent game developers tend to rely on these languages.

The planning stage

Writing up a game concept.

Select your game theme and a complete concept before anything else. A clear direction on how you will proceed will help you organize your tasks better.

You have to think of things such as:

  • Genre
  • Type of gameplay
  • Character design
  • Graphics style

You can play games similar to the one you are trying to create for ideas on making it more interesting. Make improvements on your favourite games’s concept with new character abilities and challenges. You can try out an ambitious vision, but make sure you can grasp the fundamentals for making your ideas work.

Digital assets

To make your game aesthetically pleasing, you will need various textures, sprites, sounds, and models. You can find free ready-made game assets online. If you are gifted as an artist, you can try your hand at creating your own.

How to begin game development

Once you have the concept and corresponding digital assets, it’s time you bring the game to life. The following steps include the practical steps on how to program a video game.

Script the game

When considering how to program a video game, you will need a script to control the engine’s actions. You can create your own, but most open source solutions come with their own scripting language. You can find tutorials and more resources on these on their websites.

You will also need a game loop that continuously checks for user input and determines what the graphics card displays next. An “active listener” script is also part of the necessary requirements. It will check for events and respond in real-time.

Some of the programming concepts you will need to understand include:

  • Variables: This can be a word, a number or a symbol
  • Operations: Adding, subtracting, multiplying
  • Functions: These make your game characters move
  • Conditions: These control game events and results of user input
  • Classes: These link all the functions to process the gameplay
  • Arrays: These can list variables of objects in your game
  • Loops: These relay graphics displayed to the player and perform other programming functions

Design different levels

To make an exciting game, consider incorporating multiple levels. Each level must be more complex than the previous one, or build off mechanics established in earlier levels. Here are some steps you can follow in developing different levels in your game.

  1. Basic outline

First off, design the essential background used for that level.

  1. Player path

Consider the steps the player will take when playing the game. If the game allows them to explore their environment, focus on the most likely path to use. Add different challenges along that path and some perks too, to keep the player motivated.

Tip: Place your game assets close together for fast-paced games. For slower, more simple games, you can put some distance between the challenges.

  1. Graphics

Design the graphics for the game to suit the game’s concept. Focus on light and attractive colours where you want the player to go. Side Paths can be dimmed out.

  1. Gameplay

Develop elements for gameplay to correspond with your chosen theme. You can create suspense with surprise attacks or excitement with consistent challenges.

Testing the game

Testing your game is a very crucial step. This is when you will see if the game has come out as you initially intended. Don’t be afraid to change up some things if it will improve the player’s experience.

To be thorough, get someone else to play the game. It would help if you had unbiased opinions; therefore, preferably, don’t ask your family or friends. You can provide them with a simple tutorial on how the game works to get started. Playtesters offer valuable feedback, helping you identify challenges.

The finished product

With your game tested and running smoothly, the only thing left is releasing it. Some game developers choose to release their work for free. If you want to sell your game, many distributors are willing to put out independent games to market.

Also, read through the terms and conditions of the game engine and any other software you used. Some products are free for non-commercial use only.

However, it’s best to consider selling your more polished projects. You may want to borrow game assets from more superior games to improve your project, though always make sure that you’re obeying any copyright restrictions those assets have.

Conclusion

Now that you understand the tools necessary for building an awesome game, it’s time to get to work. Reading up on how to program a game is only the start. Keep in mind the best practices that will help you create a more polished game. You can leverage several tools and ask other programmers for help to complete your project faster.