When it comes to making games, everybody is afraid of the programming
side. They all think the hard part is taking an engine (never mind
coding one from scratch) and turning it into something that can be
recognized as a game. That fear is why Unity3D has become so popular.
The promise of not having to code to make a game entices many, many
people. It's enticing even to me, and I am a programmer.
But if you look online, you'll see a lot of game development projects
abandoned at the stage of "a little dude running around a nearly empty
map". And that's odd, because if programming was the issue, then you'd
expect people to show off a pile of writing, concept art, 3D models
and music, then complain they didn't have the programming skills to
put it all together. You'd expect Unity3D demos with huge multi-map
worlds where you can run around and look at things but not much else,
simply because the creator lacked the skills to script a full-blown
game, and couldn't get someone to do it for them, either.
Where are those piles of content? The maps, the tomes of lore, the
introductory novellas, the visual guides to someone's pet fantasy
You aren't going to find many, because what Tolkien did with Middle
Earth was the hard part.
Look, programming is tricky. It's a mess. Take it from a professional.
Making that part of game development easier is essential if we want to
democratize the medium. But if we don't also make it easier for people
to make art and music, or at least reuse existing assets, we're not
going to get very far.
Wait, did I just say reuse? Why, yes. Imagine you're making a game
with playing cards in it. Should you have to draw your own deck from
scratch? Obviously not, that would be absurd. Indeed, it's not hard to
find playing card images online under a permissive license, or even in
the public domain. Or rather, it's not hard as long as you're looking
for the standard deck. Tarots, surprisingly enough, are less readily
available in digital form, even though the best known decks are long
out of copyright. As for other kinds? At one point there was a project
called WTactics, aiming to create an open source collectible card game,
but as of June 2015 the project seems dormant at best, with little of
use released to the public.
You don't have to reinvent language every time you write a novel.
And language isn't just words, but also expressions, sayings, common
metaphors... All of them already there, for anyone to use. Oh, a novel
still takes work to write, just as it still takes work to build a
house even when you have all the bricks. But imagine having to make
your own on top of everything else. And being expected to make the
most cutting-edge bricks you possibly can, using the newest and
shiniest machines on the market, for every single new construction
Luckily, there are ongoing efforts to do for visual imagery what
dictionaries have done for writing. Open Clip Art (edit: now defunct)
and Open Game Art are two of them.
The former is pretty much what it says on
the tin: a large collection of public domain clipart, with no specific
focus or style but good for illustrating a wide variety of material.
The latter is much more game-oriented, and despite the name also
provides other kinds of assets such as sounds and fonts. It can be
hard to assemble a complete set by mixing and matching, and open
source licenses don't always play nice together either, but overall it
works remarkably well. Sure, you might roll your eyes a little when
every few days a new shoot'em up using Kenney's public domain Space
Shooter Redux art pack is published on Itch.io, but I say that just
goes to show how much our expectations have been skewed by decades of
gaming being equated with flashy graphics. How we use those graphics
hardly ever matters, apparently, since people keep buying AAA games
even as they complain about subpar gameplay and story.
How many famous novels can you think of where a constructed language
was the main focus and selling point? Last time I checked, even Lord
of the Rings was written primarily in English.
(Incidentally, I can think of one or two text adventures revolving
around constructed languages. If you know how to make your own, more
power to you.)
Now, if you do have the time and inclination, then by all means, make
your own art and music. I hear it's not that hard to learn how to use
a tracker, and tutorials on the basics of music theory can be found
online. As for graphics, you might already have useful skills and not
realize it. Nothing But Mazes (Greg Boettcher, 2006) made a very good
impression with its whimsical illustrations in colored pencil. And
you'll say that's just interactive fiction, but then so is 80 Days,
Inkle Studios' smash hit from 2014. Admittedly, the latter uses rather
more advanced technology than just static pictures, but the point is,
a game can be successful with much less glitz than you think.
Of course, nothing can spare you from the work of actually writing
the dialogs and whatnot in your game, or putting all that art together
just so. But doing the latter in imaginative ways is no less valuable
than making the pieces in the first place. After all, a pile of bricks
isn't a house yet. And we're still seeing innovations in house design
after many thousands of years.
Games, however, appear to be stuck in a rut after just a few short
decades. Could it be because we spend so much effort recreating the
building blocks every time instead of figuring out how best to combine
Let's start a culture of remix in videogames and see where it takes us.