There’s More To Video Games Than Just Playing Them

Teaching Kids How To Make Video GamesLast week we did something very different – we went back to high school! Cathy and I spoke at James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic Secondary School in Toronto to nearly 200 kids over 4 class periods about how we make video games.

Part of our mission here at Rocket 5 is that we want to teach kids and parents that there’s more to video games than just playing them and that kids might want to consider a future in the industry that provides them with so much fun and entertainment. There are tons of different job skills that are needed to make video games in areas ranging from the very creative to the very technical, so you might be surprised to learn that some things you’re already interested in might help you get a job working in the games industry someday.

Teaching Kids How To Make Video Games

To give you some idea of the skills involved in making games, here’s a partial list of the jobs found in a typical medium to large sized game studio. When you work in a very small studio like Rocket 5 or if you’re making games by yourself or with a couple of friends, you’ll need to learn how to do many of these skills yourself, which is totally possible given all of the free resources available online these days.

  • Game Designer: Develops the game concept, defines everything that will happen in the game and communicates those ideas to the rest of the team.
  • Level Designer: Builds the environments (buildings, tracks, terrain) that the characters will interact with and scripts the game’s encounters and challenges.
  • Writer: Writes the game’s story and dialogue.
  • Programmer: Writes the code that handles everything from rendering the game to the screen to player movement to gameplay systems.
  • 3D Artist: Uses 3D modeling software to create characters, level art and props.
  • 2D Artist: Uses 2D image editing software to create character and world concepts, paint textures for 3D models and more.
  • Lighting Artist: Places lights in the game’s levels to create atmosphere.
  • Visual FX Artist: Creates everything from sword trails to sparks to fire.
  • Animator: Brings the characters to life through movement.
  • Technical Artist: Bridges the gap between art and code.
  • Producer: Coordinates the development of the game.
  • Sound Designer: Creates all of the sound effects that you hear in a game.
  • Composer (music): Writes and records the music for the game.
  • Voice Actor: Acts out the game’s dialogue lines so they can be recorded and played back in the game, similar to a TV or movie actor.
  • Tester: Test the game for “bugs”, reports problems to the developers.
  • Marketing & Sales: Brings the product to the attention of the public.
  • Accounting, Finance and Executives: No game studio could survive without the skills that these people provide.

Teaching Kids How To Make Video Games

Getting back to the presentation – the last thing we wanted to do while talking to a room full of teenagers, was to bore them to death with an hour long powerpoint presentation (although we did start with a short powerpoint to introduce who we are). So I thought a good way to teach them about how to make video games was to show them how a game is made and then let them play it. On the Saturday before the event, I prepared for our presentation by making a 4-player cooperative “Capture the Flag” style game. I then broke the game down into basic components so that I could re-make the game “from scratch” in front of them in about 20 minutes. While I remade the game, I talked about the various skills involved – starting with the initial idea, writing/brainstorming the idea into a design document, and then I got to work on the gameplay prototype. At the end, the kids got to play the final game.

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We also gave the kids a handout with information and links to lots of freely available resources to help them get started making their own games. If you know of any additional resources (especially if they’re free), please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

Toronto Game Dev Community:

Hand Eye Society: The Hand Eye Society is a not-for-profit coalition of projects and people in support of Toronto’s videogame communities.

International Game Developers Association: The mission of the IGDA is to advance the careers and enhance the lives of game developers by connecting members with their peers, promoting professional development, and advocating on issues that affect the developer community.

Gamercamp: Toronto’s festival celebrating the artistry, innovation and power of play.

TOJam (Toronto Game Jam):  A great local game incubator where for 3 days once a year, hundreds of people gather together to make games over a 3 day weekend.

Academy Of The Impossible: Teaching each other that our dreams can come true, and how to achieve them, through innovative artistic, technological, social and literacy programs.

Game Development Tools:

Scratch: Scratch is a free programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.

Stencyl: Free tool for making iOS and Flash games (free to use, subscription required to publish games). The programming interface is similar the one used in Scratch making it easy for game designers of all ages.

Unity: Free tool for making Web and Desktop games. Unity is a feature rich, fully integrated development engine for the creation of interactive 3D content.

Corona SDK: Free tool for making iOS and Android games (free to use, subscription required to publish games).

Adventure Game Studio: Provides the tools to make your own adventure games, for free!

3D Modeling Tools:

Blender: Blender is the free open source 3D content creation suite.

Maya: The industry standard 3D modeling and animation program (free education edition available).

2D Tools:

Inkscape: Free open source SVG graphics editor that’s similar to Illustrator.

Gimp: Free image authoring, photo retouching and composition software that’s similar to Photoshop.

Online Tutorials:

Digital Tutors: Software educational site ($400/year). Software educational site ($375/year).

Audio Tools:

Audacity: Free open source software for editing sounds

SFXR: Free tool for generating 8-bit sound fx.


Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure: A game made by a 5 year old girl and her dad!

Gamasutra: News about game development.

Game Glossary: A reference of the language of games.

I mentioned before that I made the game we used in the presentation on the weekend before the event. Since I knew that I would be making the game in a short amount of time, “game jam” style, I thought it would be fun to take a time-lapse video of the development to help give people an idea of just what goes into making a game like this. I used a Terminal script to automatically capture a screenshot every 5 seconds during the (roughly) 10 hours that it took to make the game and then used QuickTime Pro to compile and export the 4,896 frame image sequence.

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In the end I think the kids were really excited to hear what we had to say, we fielded lots of questions and they really liked getting to play the game we made for them!

If you’re in the Toronto area and you would like us to speak at your school or event, feel free to contact us at rocket5[at] or through our Facebook page.

This blog post is part of iDevBlogADay, a collection of indie developers writing about their development experiences.

About the author

Tim MillerTim Miller is a veteran game developer with over 15 years experience in the video game industry working as a Level Designer and Lead Level Designer at LucasArts, Secret Level and Nihilistic Software. He co-founded Rocket 5 Studios with his wife Cathy and their dog Rocket in 2009. Twitter, LinkedIn, Portfolio

2 thoughts on “There’s More To Video Games Than Just Playing Them

  1. matt

    There is also lmms and musagi for audio, and ive used wings3d for 3d modelling which is a great tool as well

  2. Pingback: Going Indie: Making the Transition from Cog to Linchpin | Rocket 5 Studios

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