Monday, February 06, 2006

How To Make A Game In 6 Easy Steps - Dec 27th, 2005

With all the talk about escalating game budgets for the next generation consoles and how hard it is to bring your game to market - especially an original IP - I thought it would be an interesting challenge to make a game in my spare time. The result is a game called Word Shake that I developed over the last nine months. You can check it out here:

Word Shake is a Casual Game. It has nowhere near the complexity or graphical finesse of a regular console game but it’s still a game. And people are buying it. And those that buy it like it (it’s free for the first hour, so you get plenty of time to work out if it’s a game you want to own).

So, how did I do it?

One thing that made it easy for me to build the game was the fact that I can program. I’m not the best in the world, but I’m reasonably fast and can get my ideas on screen. God forbid if anyone was to look under the hood! But my code is stable and it works. But if you’re not a programmer then don’t let that stop you from making a game. Go out and find one - especially one that wants to make a game. They’re not too hard to find.

Anyway, let’s go over the steps I took to make the game.

First of all you have to free your mind of any preconceived conceptions of what a game is. For me the thing that makes games such a wonderful medium is their diversity. Soccer, tic-tac-toe, chess, Halo, patience, Monkey Island, rock-papers-scissors, Resident Evil, Simon says, Go Fish, hop scotch, Grand Theft Auto, Tetris, I spy with my little eye... these are all games. Each game is as valid as the other.

In order to pick a genre I took into account the limited resources I had. I needed a game that:
a) could be done over nine months with an average of three hours a week spent on it,
b) could be delivered on a platform with tools that are cheap (or in some cases free), and
c) was a game that I would enjoy playing.

I love puzzle games and I love word games. I also wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before, so I chose to do an anagram based word game.

Let me stress that my reasons for choosing this genre wasn’t born out of the desire to make loads of cash. That would be nice, but I wanted to make a fun game that was unique and that I would enjoy playing.

There was only once choice for delivery platform - and that was Windows. There are no licensing fees and there are a ton of cheap and free tools for budding game developers.

Like most people I have extremely limited time. I have a family, a day job and a social life. So I set aside certain times such as early in the morning before my baby daughter would wake and during the weekend. I made sure that these times were used as productively as possible... however I probably surfed the web a bit too much early on in development.

I wrote a spec for the game and made sure that I kept the feature set as small as possible. This wasn’t going to be an epic RPG or a graphics intensive action game. Although I was making a game that I wanted to play, I was also aware that it had to appeal to fans of word puzzle games, so I did a lot of research into this area. I discovered that these games generally appeal to women over thirty.

There are some wonderful tools and engines out there that are cheap or free. I started out using Blitz Basic ( but moved to C when PopCap released their framework for free ( I chose PopCap’s framework because it’s easy to use and is rock solid - games built with their framework have been downloaded millions of times.

As I was building the game I used placeholder graphics that I made myself. I replaced these with professional art as the game neared completion. If you require a nice little 2D art package you can’t go wrong with Pro Motion which is a bargain for USD $29.95 (

For sound effects I purchased a Mojo Audio sound pack from Garage Games ( and made the rest myself using the incredibly versatile and free Audacity sound editor (

This is the hardest part of making a game. Actually doing it.

One thing you have to understand is this: doing 2 or 3 hours a week is better than doing nothing. Within 3 weeks you will have done over a full days work. Never underestimate how much you can get done in the shortest amount of time. Remember, every journey is made up of many steps, but if you don’t take any steps you won’t go anywhere.

With Word Shake I quickly built a prototype to make sure the core gameplay worked. Once that was done I began building the rest of the game. I used my badly drawn programmer art to create menus and the user interface. As the game solidified I passed these on to Pete Mullins, an awesome artist, to create professional copies that I could use in my game. I also used Pete Dodemont, a local musician, to create the music for the game.

All the time I used friends and family to test the game to make sure it was fun and bug free. Finally, after many months, I had all the elements in place and deemed the game complete.

But it wasn’t all over yet. I still had to get the game to market.

I built a web site called Casual Games Arcade ( to sell the game. I used Microsoft FrontPage and hosted the site with IX Webhosting (

To handle the e-commerce side of things I chose TryMedia ( They have an extremely easy to use secure digital distribution package called ActiveMARK which all major Casual Games publishers use. After packaging and uploading the game it was tested and finally approved for release on the TryMedia affiliate networks. The game was now available for people to buy. And buy they have!

But that’s not the end. Now it’s an ongoing job of marketing the title and making sure that people are aware it exists. As I explained this is a niche genre and there is plenty of work to be done to make sure that these potential customers are made aware of the game. But that, my friend, is a topic for another day!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them here.


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