What Have I got Myself Into? Learning Game Programming

Character for a game idea I'm working on.

Character for a game idea I’m working on.

In the last 3-4 months I have been learning Unity, a 2D and 3D game creation engine. “Why would you want to do that?!!”, is the thought and sometimes words of many of the people I’ve confessed this to. I do very much wonder myself as the journey I’ve embarked on seems hideously difficult at times.

I guess it goes back to a childhood love of moving, brightly coloured things that tell a story or interact. I remember when I must have been about 4-5 being taken by my grandparents to a Santa’s grotto in a large city department store. We queued to see Santa in through various scenes in his workshops, showing his elves making toys and packing them onto the sleigh. It was probably all pretty rough by todays standards but back then I was mesmerised by the simplistic, brightly coloured and gaudily lit clockwork manikin’s repeatedly going about their chores. Later, as a 13 year old a friend of mine had an early console with a few rudimentary games on it. These games were all little more than a dot moving around the screen with the contextual ‘art’ being printed on a transparent plastic sheet you taped to the screen. Other memories include the arcade on Brighton Pier and smuggling my first computer, an Amiga 500, past my Mum, who didn’t approve of computer games at all, (she said they made you thick). Although I played the games I was actually more interested in the idea of making them and bought game programming engines such as Blitz and Gamemaker. However, my enthusiasms often fluctuate, and I just couldn’t get my head around the programming component so would often give up and move onto some hobby that I knew I could understand like cycling!

This time, some 30 years later, I am determined to crack it. One of the reasons is that it annoys me that something I always wanted to do has been beyond my reach. My earlier attempts to learn it have always been thwarted by the layers of complexity, and to some extent the poor tutoring of various books and manuals, written by people who when they learnt had quickly understood the most basic concepts and assume anyone else will do too. The beginners section, usually a thin chapter, would cover these concepts in just a sentence or two instead of really laying them out in diagrams that make sense to a visual person such as myself. Hey, there’s an idea, a graphic novel type programming manual?

So there is just learning it for the sake of learning it, but the most important reason is that I have ideas for games. Although illustrating books is full of ideas, they are static on the page and I am keen to see my art move and interact. Back to the bright colourful things moving around. I’m also thinking that if I can crack the programming perhaps I can make an entire game (we’re only talking about a little ‘indie’ title) and share it or even sell it. I realise that is a long way off, but you never know, with the long winter nights I’ll have some time to get something more than print “Hello” to screen working. I am now getting my head around the concepts and realise that at it’s core it’s pretty simple, or at least with a game engine like Unity you can get some quite fun stuff working almost straight away. I can accept that my games will most likely be very short on clever mechanics, but I reckon I can compensate with some quite nice art. I just have to get past the notion that my mother embedded in my head that computer games make you thick.