In my early to mid teens I was part of a couple of bands with friends. They were the kind of bands that we knew would never go anywhere, we were just a group of friends hanging out in my living room, making some loud noise and hoping we didn’t bother the neighbors too much. There was drama, there was laughter, it was how I grew to love music. Don’t worry, this metaphor does come full circle and relate to Indie games, I promise.

Like many people, my first experience of really learning to love playing, performing and making music was covering music from other bands. We got together in a room, we looked up some rough tabs for other people’s music meaning we could see exactly how they played it and we gave it a shot. If we couldn’t manage to play what they play we tweaked it and made something that we thought sounded just as cool but was much easier to do. We were all a bit out of time. It wasn’t polished, it was as raw as can be. Still, we had great fun jumbling things together to try our best to recreate someone else’s work. Once we were done we stuck it on the internet, we shared it, we showed others, we were really proud of what was a not quite as good replication of someone else’s work.

This is where we got our confidence. We started to not only record those covers, covers we were getting better and better at performing every time we tried, but we also branched out and tried to make our own music. Sure it was simplistic, sure it was objectively worse than the covers we had been doing before, but we had finally had the confidence to take that terrifying plunge, stick with it and create something that was entirely our own. By being able to copy other peoples work, see how they made it, feel like we’d achieved something by learning to copy them and practicing that, we got the confidence to stumble through all the pitfalls of creating our own piece of art.

So, I’m on paragraph four of this article and I’ve not yet mentioned Indie games. Fear not, we’ve reached the part where my metaphor all comes together. Making an Indie game from scratch is a rather terrifying prospect. Lots of people try to create their own and are instantly put off by worries that it’s not as good as their favorite games, or by the fact that they have no idea how their favorite games were made. The secrets to how those games were made are hidden for fear that others will steal them, meaning that you have to learn all that knowledge from scratch. There’s very limited resources out there for people to pick open a game and see step by step how it was made.

But, if more developers showed their entire development process to the world like a set of tabs for their game, would that encourage more children and teenagers to try and make their own games? If more devs shared their work and encouraged people to look through that work and try to recreate it for themselves, would that encourage people to dig in, learn how things are done, try and scrape those things together and practice game making? Would that give first time devs the needed courage to try and make their own games and most importantly stick with it until it is finished and out there?

I’m not ignorant to the problems this poses. Unlike music where a lot of the challenge of a cover comes from understanding and recreating the tabs you’re looking at, game development is slightly different. If you’re sharing how your game was made then new developers don’t need to understand or be able to recreate that, they can just type what you type, click what you click and do what they’re told without any understanding. Recreating a game with all the steps to do so in front of you doesn’t foster understanding of the craft in quite the same way as learning and practicing playing a piece of music does.

The other problem is that making a game is a much longer process than performing a song, so looking through the steps to learn how to do it yourself can be a much more difficult process too. With some musical ability you can crack out a cover of Smells like Teen Spirit or Song 2 in a pretty short time as a band and feel awesome doing it, it’s going to take you much much longer to go through and understand all the steps needed to make a game that you admire.

I’ve so far shared every step of development of my own game, You are the Reason, on Twitch as I have done it. I don’t ever expect anyone to use my game as a learning tool in that way, but it does mean that if anyone ever wants to know how I did a specific thing within the game, they can ask me and I can find the stream in which I did it. It means that they can watch me, they can replicate the way I did it and, down the line, they can do new things with what they learnt. It’s unlikely, but I’d like to think that the lessons I learn making this game will help others in the future. I’d love to see people doing covers of my game while they learn how to make games of their own.

About The Author

Founding Member

Laura’s gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them. Why does she want to write about indie games? Because indie devs are awesome and she wants to be their new best friend by telling them how terrible their games are. That’s how it works right? Twitter: @LauraKBuzz Email: Laurak@indiehaven.com

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  • GrungiAnkhfire

    A big difference with learning music through covers and learning from other devs is that usually games encompass a humongous amount of information, in a multitude of areas. Plus, usually, even for just the code part, you usually end up with something that works in very arcane ways, not in easy-to-read, clearly structured patterns. I do find the update videos from Wolfire for Overgrowth to be one of the best format to actually see how games are made. You can get the nitty-gritty details in a variety of places, but the bite-sized delivery makes each technical detail easy to understand. It was perhaps even more true a while ago when there was more technical stuff being worked on, but you get my point…

    In our team, we’ve pledged to release the source code of our current game once it’s done, but honestly I wonder what good it will be for aspiring game developers. I guess you touch upon what is really needed at the end of your article : having source materials (your streams or our code) is good, but is only really useful for aspiring devs if you actually help them wade through the stuff. A dialogue is needed.

    Which makes me think, a very good thing could be to try and start some kind of “mentoring” program for, say, Ludum Dare. Have more experienced devs guiding first timers get through a game jam with advice and motivation.

    I think that “covering” very simple games is still a valid starting point though. “Clone pong” is still a very valuable learning experience. But nothing beats speaking to a “real” dev about their game!