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OPINION : Game Development Shouldn’t Be Hard

November 5, 2010

Videogame development shouldn’t be hard. But it is.

If you want to make games, seriously, for any of the prolific consumer platforms, you’ve got quite an ordeal ahead of you, no matter which you choose. On top of the expense of getting started on a lot of these platforms, which has been dampened to some extent by digital distribution, you’ve also got a huge technological mountain to climb in a lot of cases.

Firstly, let me clarify what I mean by hard. I’m not suggesting that people should be able to click their fingers and make their game or app appear exactly as they envision. Whilst that would be great, it’s a physical and logical impossibility. ‘Hard work’ isn’t the same as ‘Work that’s hard’. Hard work is putting a lot of time, soul and effort into realizing a creative vision, and is to be expected when creating anything of creative merit. ‘Work that’s hard’ is having to fight through a load of red tape, learn new languages, and negotiate the nuances of specific technologies in order to achieve that vision.

I’d also like to clarify that I’m not one of these bitter guys who “really wants to make games but can’t break the pooey code barrier”. I’ve worked on many platforms, including games for Sky digital TV (How’s that for a platform!), and the dreaded [PLATFORM NAME REMOVED ON ADVICE FROM LAWYERS], as a coder and a designer, and I’ve conquered the tech every single time. I just resent having had to do so.

I want to make games, I’m not interested in learning new platforms and languages constantly in order to do it. I’ve noticed, however, that this view isn’t shared among many developers. There’s a feeling that game development should be an exclusive club reserved for those who are tech savvy. Even on this blog, there has been talk that if you can’t figure out the tech, then it’s right that doors of game development should be closed to you.

I see it all the time on forums too, and it’s an increasing trend particularly with iPhone development. Post a simple question, and it’s met with a response like “I hope you’re not banned from Google”. Great, that’s a really helpful reply to post. Here‘s a great example from a recent exploration. The guys ask a simple question, but rather than give a simple answer, the developers on the forum respond by telling the posters to go and read the manual learn the language. I think the reason it’s very common in iPhone development is that in order to crack that particular egg, you have to learn objective-c.

Here’s the thing that these smarmy devs need to realize… The posters on that forum don’t CARE about the language, or learning it. It’s nothing more than an inconvenience to them. They want to know how to do a simple thing, and the guys on the forum refuse to answer it. What the fuck is with that?

Perhaps it’s thought that the ‘privilege’ of being a game developer is seen as some kind of thing to be ‘earned’, and that trying to skip the homework should mean you’re locked out? Or that people who don’t learn the tech inside out make worse games? I disagree heartily with both these things. There are plenty of terrible games out there, made by people with a very good handle on the tech. And there are probably many great games which AREN’T out there, which might have been made by people had these barriers been easier to cross.

This game will never be made…

When I start on a new platform, the first thing I do is try and strip it down to its most basic level and create an environment / engine for myself that doesn’t get in the way of my creativity. But that’s a very hard thing to do, and it’s much harder on some platforms than others. And I hate the fact that lots of people will be turned off game development at the early stages because of this.

Game development, and tech, are two separate things. Or at least they should be. In an ideal world, ANYONE would be able to make games.

Stu xxx

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2010 9:53 am

    Completely agree that there are two different things happening here; Tech Development and ‘Game’ Development. Mostly they both just come under the one heading of Game Dev.

    As a Tech developer, i’m compltely bias. You’re right, tech is most definately hard, and many times a stumbling block, but for me, that’s why it appeals so much. I dont really want to implement the actual gameplay or what not, I want to do the code that makes that gameplay run at 30/60fps – some may say that’s boring, I say it’s actually incredibly interesting and fulfilling work!

    Going from the point of view you are trying to make, in that somone who just wants to make great games shouldn’t need worry about the tech – that is why there is such interest now in different toolsets to complete the job. We’ve got the incredibly sucessfull Unity engine framework, and countless others. It’s only a recent development that gaming level hardware and a route to market is viable for those who are not kick-ass engine/low-level programmers. Those ‘oldies’ route into the industry was probably vastly different from the type we are now seeing, happy to just take an off the shelf game-creator (ish) product and use that. Before all these things, creating the tech by yourself was the norm, so everybody had that first experience of it being bloody hard. It’s just a generational thing.

    However, I still think many people will just keep the ‘Hardness’ of game development going. It is still true on the major console platforms, and most folk still see that as the ‘real’ games industry, regardless of how wrong they are 🙂

  2. November 5, 2010 2:28 pm

    Yep, agree as well. What astounds (and annoys) me is that in the 25 years I’ve been coding, development hasn’t really moved on that much. I still still with a text editor (it has syntax highlighting and code completion, whoopee!) and type the equivalent of IF THEN ELSE GOTO in whatever language I’m using (oooh I now use classes to group my code because I have to type 100 times more code than I did 25 years ago). I still struggle with bizarre error messages and weird crashes. Ok, so the code is a lot more complex, but it just seems archaic.

  3. November 6, 2010 6:27 pm

    It’s a lovely idea, but the only problem with it is that you’re living in Disneyland if you think that building applications (games including) is ever going to be a cakewalk. If your desire is that new technologies should be developed around the idea of developers not having to learn new skills, then technology isn’t going to move anywhere! Part of the danger of being a developer is that your skills tend to go out of date quite quickly if you don’t top them up every so often (there will be kids finishing uni with better skills than yours if you’re not careful!). ‘Oh i hope people don’t get pissed off that this is too different to what they’re used to’ sould not be a consideration that any pioneering platform developer has to make!

    It would be really nice if a developer could just come armed to a project with his ideas, and that implementation was just a fluid natural process. Bear in mind though, that development is an engineering discipline; I’m sure there are architects out there wishing they could just clap their hands and build houses. Just aint gonna happen – and in a way you should be glad of this because it keeps us professionals in a job!

    • November 11, 2010 11:27 pm

      There’s a difference between being easy to develop for a platform, and a platform being vastly different.

      Take Unity, for example. It’s very different from anything that’s been out there before, and requires a very different way of thinking than other development platforms. But it isn’t hard, and it isn’t fiddly. Go on the forums, you’ll see most questions answered almost immediately. I learned it in and had games up on the web and on the iPhone within a few hours.

  4. November 10, 2010 1:47 pm

    I’ve seen exactly that reaction given to dev’s on iPhone forums as well which is why I don’t use them 🙂

    To be honest the Apple docs don’t make some things very clear at all and rely on the darker regions of modern Obj-C a little too much but every so often you find the perfect snatch of documentation on there that tells you exactly what you wanted to know even if you didn’t know how to find it.

    Like most devs I rely on google-fu a lot these days and sometimes wish it was like the ‘good old days’ with a small amount of techy documentation and zero support anywhere because that’s an environment I can work in but on the other hand I wish tools like GameMaker and XNA where easier so everybody gets the tool they deserve and can create something worthwhile with it.

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