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Making A Name For Yourself in The Game Renaissance

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Making A Name For Yourself in The Game Renaissance

Mensagem por IuriMonteiro em Qua Abr 06, 2011 7:52 pm

Making a AAA game in 2011 is a massive undertaking. Today the industry's biggest titles take tens of millions of dollars and a crack team of developers working for years at a time. They require gargantuan development budgets for 150 people, programmers, artists, modelers, designers, and producers to create. Studios need to get a contract with a large publisher to bankroll it, and word is still spread through traditional advertising: expensive television ad campaigns, magazines, and in-store partnerships with large corporations.

For many students and one-person development teams who dream of making their own games, this can be disheartening. It would seem that the game industry has lifted off up into the air, far far away from what is possible by a young artist looking to make their mark on the world. What is a young visionary to do?

Luckily, these big budget studios aren't the only game in town anymore. As major titles have flown up and up in sophistication and cost, they have left great opportunities down below on the ground level for students to be known.

Students today are in the middle of a game making renaissance, a time where any student or one-person development team can create the games they love, spread the word, and be rewarded if they know how. Whether that means an industry job offer, a little bit of cash, or just plain old satisfaction at creating a work of art, imagination is the limit for those individuals who know how to take advantage of the opportunities given to them.

So how can a student today take advantage of these opportunities? How can they get started making a game, get it in front of players, and reap the benefits? It begins with just knowing what tools to start with, how to spread the word, and some dedication.

Pro Tools for Students, for Free

You can't make games without the right tools. While in the past this would have been a show-stopper, during this game renaissance anyone with an internet-connected computer has a shot at creating great games. Whether it's artistic digital poetry (Today I Die), building a worthy tribute to one of their favorite action platformers (Megaman X Corrupted), or creating a worldwide, online sandbox phenomenon (Minecraft), the possibilities are endless. There has never been a time in history when the quality of tools available to students was as high as they are now. There is no excuse for someone who says they want to make games to not get started this very hour.

Many student developers like to get their start using programs like Game Maker or The Games Factory, simplified programming tools that can be downloaded as demos for free (and unlocked full versions for $30-110). These are great ways for players to get started making games today because they allow for quick iteration and minimum fuss in terms of bugs and problems. They are fantastic stepping stones to building larger titles and are still powerful enough to allow for creating unique experiences.

Flash is another medium that has created fantastic opportunities for students, with a distribution network that is nearly endless all over the web. And while Adobe's official development kit may not be in the budget range for everyone, other programs like FlashDevelop provide free access to one of the world's most portable platforms with only a small amount of hassle to get started. Other sites like Studica offer deep student discounts for industrial-grade software, such as Adobe Photoshop.

And the resources don't end there. For some students, development on Flash and 2D titles are a great place to start, but not the kinds of games they dream of. Where are the first person shooters, the 3D virtual worlds? Never fear, Microsoft allows anyone to download Visual Studio Express, giving them the ability to make incredible 3D titles using the Direct X library. Another option is Eclipse, an open source development environment primarily for making programs (and games) in Java, the same language that powers Minecraft. Tools like these were once off limits to everyone but the well-paid industry professional, but today they are available to everyone.

But what if you want to take your games off of the computer and onto the console, the biggest stage in gaming there is? Yes, even console development is possible for students today. Microsoft's XNA Game Studio allows anyone to start making games for their Xbox 360, while sites like Wii Homebrew, though not supported by Nintendo, provide students with resources for building their own games for the Wii. Other online tutorials and communities allow mash ups of these technologies, such as using the Wii remote to control PC-created games. For the intrepid student developer today, no platform is off limits to grow their talents and flex their development muscles.

Chris Dodge, a 2010 graduate who is now an engineer at Zynga, had this to say in his interview for Game Development Hero: "You don't need to be with a big company to start working on projects in your free time; so many professional development tools are freely (or inexpensively) available." All of these tools, and many others that haven't even been mentioned, provide the means that a motivated student needs to make a great game.

After that's done, the next step is to share their creation.

"If You Build It, They Will Come"

Minecraft developer Markus Pearsson, known better to his fans as Notch, is living the dream. His 8-bit styled sandbox title has sold over one million copies and has been nominated for both Independent Games Festival awards as well as Game Developer's Choice awards. It has become the darling of PC games, and it was all started by a single person, working from home.

And what did the small team at Mojang need to spend to generate this kind of feverish buzz? $1 million? $2 million in advertising? The answer shouldn't surprise you: Notch hasn't spent any money on advertising. The game has spread like wildfire through social media and online game review sites, thousands of YouTube videos, beginning from a simple homepage and a few short blog posts.

Minecraft does a great job of showing off one of the greatest advantages of today's game making renaissance: how easy it is to raise awareness for student and independent games. Students who create innovative titles have a fantastic shot at hitting the big time. While Minecraft is certainly far from the normal case, there is plenty of room for students who create a game to get the word out and gain notoriety. In Game Development Hero I spoke to developer after developer who talked about how they were able to take a small student game and turn it into big opportunities. Whether that meant making some money or getting an industry job offer, the stories kept rolling in with how they were able to do it using accessible resources they had as students.

No student team exemplifies this better than the group that created Narbacular Drop, the predecessor to Valve's smash hit Portal. When I interviewed Realm Lovejoy of the team, she shared how her student project allowed to make a name for herself: "Gabe Newell, the co-founder of Valve, came in to check it out... and within minutes, offered the whole team an opportunity to work at Valve." By creating a game using simple tools, building their game's presence online and taking advantages of opportunities for publicity around them, the team has gone on to a thriving career, creating one of the most innovative console titles in recent memory.

So how can students today get started with publicizing their work? For starters, in addition to the free tools available to make games, there are free tools available to publicize your own student games. Students don't even need to code their own website; there are dozens of free services online that make creating a website for your game an absolute snap, sites like Blogger or Wordpress. Posting images, tracking progress, and getting readers excited about the game is something that any student can do with just a few minutes of time; no microphone or auditorium necessary.

After that, it's time to get the student's game to the players. Distribution is another factor that used to keep game development from the masses. But today getting their game into the hands of thousands of players is a snap through download services like the TIGSource Database or Game Jolt. Flash titles can reach millions of players through sites like Kongregate or Newgrounds, which allow any and all developers to upload their games and be on screens all over the world in minutes. All of these don't require so much as an application; students can set up an account and have their games on the web in no time flat.

But even when a student's game is online to play, what hope does such a title have in being heard? There are numerous news sites all over the web, all just waiting for that next great independent title to show its face so they can write about it., TIGSource, RockPaperShotgun, and Bytejacker are all sites with huge readerships that are frothing a the mouth for titles that students can create. Their editors love receiving emails with screenshots of interesting titles, ready to share and cover. During this game-making renaissance, the spotlight is wide open for anyone who wants to step in.

Visionary Students, Now is Your Time

In the past it would have been insane for a student to dream of making their own console title, being covered by multiple articles and publications, and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of players would have been a pipe dream. Maybe after a few years of working in the industry at a major studio, then that would be possible. But now is a time for game making like no other. A motivated student has the ability to download the tools they need, make a game, set up a website, distribute it, and get press coverage, all for free.

So if you dream of making your own games, of making a name for yourself, then don't wait another moment. All you need are some free tools, some publicity, and a little bit of luck!


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