Building a Game

A lot of my peers went to school to become game developers. Instead, most went on to work for big software companies in northern Virginia. I studied human-computer interaction and wanted to fix everything from poorly designed user interfaces to frustratingly complex household items. Instead, I became a Mac, iPhone, Flash and game developer. In a way, we both went where the money was.

How to start your game

I’ll assume you already have a game idea. No matter how ambitious you want to be though, think in milestones

  1. Display some graphics.
  2. Animate your graphics, either manually, or with basic input controls
  3. Get hit detection working.
  4. Everything else! (level loading, artificial intelligence, etc.)

If you can even make it to the fourth milestone, you’re farther than 90% of most game developers. If you make it past milestone four, you’re farther than 99% of game developers. Only the passionate, motivated and able ship. This is how I’ve started all of my games and it’s important to achieve tangible results to keep yourself motivated. In fact, this same step-by-step process can be used in regular application development as well.


Start your development with a skeleton application. This does one of two things: first, it forces you to plan the architecture of your application by creating the objects (in files) that you’ll need in your development and second, it provides an outline for you to work from. So first, think about what display controllers and object controllers you’ll need, what model objects you’ll need and then go ahead and create the files for those. Also go ahead and fill in some functions too for the basic functionality. The point is, make sure you break up the functionality into bite size chunks. It’ll make your life easier, trust me.

Put in the functions you think you’ll want and then just put in print or trace statements to make sure they’re being called correctly. Then, just build it piece by piece, usually starting with getting something like a player character on the screen (DisplayController, PlayerController, GameController), then getting him to move, moving him via inputs (InputController), then applying constraints like hit detection or getting him to jump (implementing basic gravity), etc, etc. Just keep introducing and implementing new features, one at a time, playing the game, realizing you want to tweak something and playing it some more. This is called iterative design.

Get those milestones done as quickly as possible, keeping your code organized in your skeleton application. Don’t worry about graphics at first. Personally, I stick in multi-colored boxes instead spending a lot of time on graphics I may not use in the end. Objects will be added as you realize you need them, but the idea is to keep it organized, simple and cohesive.

When designing your class structures and diagrams, keep the low level functionality, like file access and keyboard inputs, abstracted and hidden in wrapper classes. The reason you abstract objects is for a couple of reasons: One is to be able to add in hooks before and after a part of code. For example, instead of calling the system clock directly, you want to calculate the elapsed time if your game was paused or suspended on the computer. If you abstracted this in the beginning with a GameClock object, you’d only have to change it once, in a single place. If you called it directly, you’d have to go back to every place in your code and calculate that value. Keep object responsibilities where they belong!

Start Programming!

To start you off, check out a game template designed for the Corona SDK (free 30 day trial), written in Lua. I recommend you create a template of all your project tyes as it’ll help jump start your next big idea and also keep you organized from the start.

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