The Lazy Designer

Tips: Teaching yourself Game Development


I’m occasionally asked for pointers on how newcomers to the gaming industry can get up to speed on building games. The answer to this question really varries based on the skill level of the asker. Still I’ve attempted to suggest some high level activities that can help a newcomer understanding game development.

There are two key activities to help train a newcomer — Modding and Building It Small.


If you have done little or no game building I suggest modding existing games. Find games that have toolsets (i.e., Dragon Age, Neverwinter Nights, various RTS games and many person shooters) and try building maps and short scenarios.

I’m biased but I think the Neverwinter Nights toolset is excellent as a game development learning platform. It allows you to build terrain, write dialog, and learn basic scripting (via a light programming language). There are many tutorials online for Neverwinter Nights and because you get exposed to all the major game development disciplines you receive a mini course in building a full game when you use it.

Building It Small

When you are ready to try to build something of your own, start small. I suggest trying to make a small, simple Flash based game or an iPhone/iPad game.

A year ago I messed around with Flash, not knowing anything about it and found a good tutorial that walked me through the basics. (The 3rd part of the series is here: Flash tutorial)

In Flash (using this and the other tutorials on that site) I did my own art and programming and created a multi-level word trainer for my kids. Not something I’d show off but I learned all the I needed to construct moderately complicated Flash games.

For the iPhone/iPad platforms you could check out Amazon and see what titles they have. I’ve read the iPhone Developer’s Cookbook and iPhone Game Development and thought that both did a good job of walking a reader through the steps needed to build an application/game. Plenty of examples in both though all are geared towards someone with programming experience.

The key is to start with something small but has gameplay flexibility and learn all the core mechanics before getting too complicated. If you’re serious about building a game that someone might pay money for you’ll also have to dig into translation issues, distribution, and such.

I have written a few older blog posts on ‘starting out’:

Getting into the gaming industry

Develop your tech skills

Tips for getting started

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.

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