[LONG] How can I get into game development and improve?

Hi all.

Bear with me here, because this is going to be a fairly long post and I’m not really entirely sure how to explain my issue or the frustration I’m feeling, but I’ll try my best. This is my third time posting about this, but my previous posts were rather vague and less specific, and I feel it’s worth writing an entirely new post instead of just editing and completely changing the old one.

I’m a 15-year-old, solo (tryhard) developer, modeler, etc. and really trying to get into the game development industry. I have been learning UE4 and modeling/animation for a few years now. Because I work completely on my own, I usually either use marketplace assets or attempt to make my own. As a result, almost anything I make takes a low-poly, simple art style with non-human characters (typically inanimate objects) and in first person. For instance, a first-person game where you play as a narwhal (the only view of the narwhal you get is from first person, and all you can see is the horn - that way I wouldn’t have to do much modeling) and fight off floating heads, in a low-poly cave. It’s worth noting that the floating heads were not modeled by me, but by a friend. My lack of skill in 3D modeling really limits me here, which I think is my first issue.

Back when I used Source’s Hammer Editor for Portal 2 mapping, I still wasn’t great, but I was significantly better. I think that’s mainly because I already knew what style I was going to be following - the broken down, post-apocalyptic, grungy style of Portal 2. Hammer for Portal 2 came pre-loaded with hundreds (or thousands) of modular meshes, textures, and an easy-to-use BSP system. For anyone who’s unaware, most of Source maps are made (almost) entirely out of BSP brushes - the only exception being more complex things, like vehicles, furniture, and some buildings (the exterior for Half-Life 2’s Citadel, for instance). The premade texture and model library, along with the BSP system (no need to model every building or room - just make it in-editor with BSP) made the workflow significantly easier and quicker, but now that I’m working in UE4 and have to model almost everything from scratch, I feel pretty limited. I have watched hours and hours of tutorials - and now I know how to model a cup, or a an eye, or a dumpster, but when it comes to making something on my own, something specific that I can’t find a tutorial for… I’m lost. In other words, I know how the software I use (Blender) works, but I don’t know how to make something with it. I can follow someone along, copy them move-for-move, and end up with a decent result. I know what they’re doing, I know how they’re doing it, but I don’t know WHY they are doing it - I can see the choices they make, but not why they make them, and so I’m not learning all that much as far as technique goes. Then I run into issues, when working on my own, with keeping good topology and a relatively low poly count. As far as UV unwrapping goes, after watching some basic tutorials, I know how to unwrap a sphere, or a cylinder, or a box. But then I’ve got a full-fledged building, or a vehicle, or some other sort of complex shape, and I’m lost yet again.

Two more problems I have (and I’m going to go over them both at once here, as they sort of go together) are with level design and just the game development process itself. To put it simply, I don’t know how to do it. Let me get this out of the way first: I know how UE4 works. I can make things in Blueprint, I can navigate the viewport, I understand the tools, etc. My first issue, with level design, is a bit hard to explain, so please bear with me. I suppose I feel that, when I’m designing a level, it’s not very… structured? Every choice I make is more or less arbitrary. I’ve read a lot and researched a lot about level design - don’t have too much empty room that the player won’t need for gameplay, have a sort of centerpiece that the map revolves around so that the player can remember it and know where they are relative to it, etc. For the sake of clarity and explanation here, I’m going to (dramatically and exaggeratedly) go through what’s basically my thought process as I’m making/planning a game.

  • Hmm, I just got an idea for this game! I’m going to make cops and robbers in UE4. That sounds fun.
    I open up UE4
  • Oh, wait… I’m not sure how prisons look, or how to model one either, or how they’re laid out…
    I google prison layouts, and I’m instantly lost
  • Okay, so, this just won’t take place in a prison then… that’s alright… I guess the players will be, uh, vegetables…? Why not. And they can play in a kitchen, too! I know how kitchens are laid out. This will work.
    I start modeling the characters - a porckhop and a rhubarb ('chops and rhubarbs. Get it? Like, cops and robbers? :3). I UV unwrap them, rig them, and animate them. Then I import them into the game
  • Alright, this is going pretty well! I think this might be one project I’ll actually end up finishing.
    I set up the character blueprints, adjusting the movement speed, jump height, and some controls. I also put the player model in and set up the camera
  • Great! This is looking pretty good, now I’ll work on the map. So, uh, I guess I want a kitchen. Let’s see…
    I google a kitchen and find one that looks nice, and start trying to block it in in UE4
  • Alright! I’ve got my kitchen, now to… hm… wait… now what…? It just occurred to me, I don’t even know how cops and robbers in a kitchen is going to work… In cops and robbers, the robbers stay in a jail cell, the cop lets them out from time to time so they can eat, bathe, exercise, etc., and the robbers work together and try to find the right time to make a run for it and escape. So, uh, I guess… I guess the rhubarbs, in this game, will stay in a cabinet…? Or something? And the pork chops will let them out to uhm… I don’t know? Wash off! In the sink! That makes sense… but wait, how would the rhubarbs escape the kitchen? And how would the pork chops force them to go back into their “jail cell,” the cabinet? And how would the pork chops keep them from running away? I mean, a cop has a gun or a taser, what is a pork chop supposed to have? What’s the motivation behind trying to escape, and trying to keep others from escaping? What obstacles are there? Is this map even big enough? How will the players interact with the map? How can they use the map to their advantage? Come to think of it, this map doesn’t really have much to offer gameplay-wise… it’s just a kitchen… and now that I think about it, all this kitchen-y stuff (sink, cabinets, fridge, stove) look pretty hard to model…
    I close UE4, throw my computer out the window, and go ball up in a corner

Sorry for putting you through that dramatic reenactment :stuck_out_tongue: I figured it would be easier to actually show my mindset and thought process than try to explain it. This actually happened, though - the Chops and Rhubarbs game. Two days ago. Here’s a screenshot of the map:

The “centerpiece” in my case was a table with chairs around it. The blocks around the walls are cabinets, shelves, etc. I put big planks across the table to the cabinets, because, I don’t know. It was difficult to traverse the map otherwise. Here’s what the animated characters looked like (GIF): and

My point is, what I’m doing is unstructured - I have a very VERY vague and general idea (IE: cops and robbers, but in a kitchen) and I start building off of that. I build the kitchen, I make the models, then I don’t know what I’m doing from that point on. I would have just copied the original idea of cops and robbers, and made it in an actual prison with actual cops and robbers, but I have no idea how to come up with a map that large and how to model it. By the time I’d have any progress done, I would have lost all motivation and would just become frustrated and give up.

Another, and the last, example of this is a more long-term project that I’ve been trying to work on. It’s been over a year now since I started, and not even a single map or character has been finished. Once again, for the sake of clarity and explanation, I’ll walk through my thought process again.

  • Okay, time for my first horror game! I’m so excited for this - $500+ in marketplace assets, I’ve watched so many tutorials, I’m finally ready. So, hm, let’s see… what is this game going to be like? Well, hmm, how about… hallucinations! Okay, there’s gonna be hallucinations, cool. And let’s see, hmm… monsters, going to have monsters. Hallucinogenic monsters! And monsters that are hallucinations! Okay, great. So there’s going to be monsters, but they aren’t ACTUALLY real. They’re just hallucinations. So basically, you’re insane, and fighting against your mind. That sounds really cool! So, where is this going to take place? Hm, well… what if you played as MULTIPLE characters? And like, there’s this one monster that’s actually real. He’s like, causing hallucinations for everyone. A serial killer monster! He makes you hallucinate, and then if you get caught by one of the “monsters,” you have a heart attack and die. So, he’s an indirect serial killer! Okay, so, to recap:

    • Hallucinations
    • Monster hallucinations - not real monsters, but you have a heart attack if they “kill” you
    • Multiple characters, all of them victims of the one REAL monster that’s causing the hallucinations

Alright, awesome! This sounds SOOO cool, I’m really pumped. So, what kind of environments will this take place in? Hm, okay, so, houses. Different houses - so like, you play as a bunch of different people in their own homes, and each house has different monsters. I like it!
I start up Unreal and begin throwing together all of the paid assets I have to try to make a map. Now I have a basic house made - blocked out, based off of my own home. At this point, I begin thinking about how the gameplay is going to work

  • Okay, so, um… I guess I need an overall goal for this level. So, like, I guess the goal can be to, um… Well, all the lights are off in the house, and all you have is a flashlight, so I guess the goal can be to turn all the lights on by flipping all the light switches? Okay, that works. Hm, but there’s no challenge in that. What kind of monsters could be in the level? Hm, okay, I’ll put two monsters in the level - one upstairs, and one downstairs. They both look different but they do exactly the same thing - walk around from room to room in circles. If they see you, they will run toward you and try to kill you. Sure, why not.
    I set all of this up, and finally have something that is more or less playable. But it just isn’t fun.
  • …Okay. So I’m running around the house, in a half-baked game, trying to outrun monsters while flipping light switches and boosting my electricity bill… but this is broken, and it isn’t fun. I can walk into a bathroom, and have a monster chasing me, and then I slam the door in its face. It just stands there, it keeps trying to get to me - just hugging the door, camping there, and now I’m trapped. This isn’t fun, and I don’t know how to fix this. I’m being chased by a monster, and I start running up the stairs, and the monster gets stuck at the bottom and doesn’t follow me up. It just stands there, at the bottom. Now the monster from upstairs is camping at the top of the stairs, and I’m trapped on the staircase. Ugh. Okay, scratch that – I’ll start all over, from scratch. So, if we’re playing as multiple characters… I guess it doesn’t always have to take place in a house. It could take place in a campground, too! I’ll make a forest level. That sounds pretty good.
    At this point, I’m many months into working on the game (I took frequent breaks, often weeks to months at a time, because I was slowly losing interest because I was getting too stressed out and frustrated from the lack of progress). I have now made a basic forest level and come up with some more ideas. Here, again, you’ll see where my arbitrary decisions are causing problems
  • Okay, cool. I’ve got a forest, with a little pond in the middle, and a campfire, and a tent. But that’s all this is… If this were just some CGI forest scene render, that would be fantastic. I mean, it looks alright. But from a gameplay standpoint… there’s not much here. It’s just a forest scene, nothing more… Alright, cool, cool, I’ll just uh, add a pathway. It can branch off into the forest, and then um… a parking lot! I’ll have a parking lot. And um, a bridge, because… why not?
    Now I have something that looks a little more gameplay-oriented, but it’s still not much to work with
  • …Okay, I have no idea where to go with this. I’ve got a small little forest with some random pathways, fences blocking the out-of-bounds areas, and very few ideas. Okay, monsters, I need more monsters. I know what I’ll do!
    I go on Google and search up urban legends, found footage, monsters, folklore, creepypastas, movie characters, book characters, etc. I spend multiple days doing this
  • Alright! I’ve finally got it. Okay, I’ll have this dog thing, right? And so, it’ll uh, do something, in the map, like… it’ll hide! And if it sees you, it’ll chase after you or something. Great!
    After a few days, I’ve got a basic AI for a monster that spawns in a random location in the map, and then chases you around nonstop until it catches you.
  • Okay, you know what, just forget it. This game is trash. I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve spent over a thousand dollars on marketplace assets, thousands of hours pouring my heart and soul into making this, and it’s still trash. I’m trash. Everything I make is trash. I’m new to this, I get that - two years is nothing, it takes MANY more years than that to ever be good at anything. But then there’s all these other people - college students, hobbyists, and just other noobs like me. They’re not good either, of course, but at least they’re getting something done. Two years, and what have I gotten done? What projects have I finished? None. I made a game jam game here and there, but those were half-baked as well - broken, glitchy, ugly, and mostly just marketplace assets. Even THIS project, this isn’t my own work. I didn’t do this. I took assets from the marketplace, placed them into a map and called it a day. Two years and that’s all I’ve done. I can’t make this game, I can’t make ANY game, I need to give up. This is hopeless.
    In frustration, I delete a lot of the map, delete most of the code, and exit Unreal. This was late last year. The first time I touched Unreal again was two days ago, when I wanted to try making the cops and robbers game.

Here’s what the map looked like:
Here’s one of the original monsters from the original house map that I made at the start of the project:

I’m 15, so I can’t take college classes for this and most live classes outside of college that I’ve seen I’m too young for, but I’m thinking that a one-on-one tutor (or class, if I’m able to find one) might help with this. Then I could tell someone my goal, and they could help me get there slowly, and help me figure things out. Again, I’ve tried tutorials - I even watched several hours of someone explaining how to make an alleyway scene. That’s great, now I know how to make an alleyway - if I have the video open for reference, and to go back to if I forget something, that is. But how do I make a full-fledged house interior? There are many videos on house interiors. Great, now I know how to make that SPECIFIC interior design. What about my own design? No idea. Watched hours and hours of videos on programming - now I know how to make that typical zombie AI that walks around in circles and attacks you if it sees you. Now how do I make this monster I had an idea for? No idea. I see your video on how to model a gun, that’s pretty cool. Now, if I’m following along, I can make a pistol. But now I want to recreate this cool sci-fi gun design I came up with. How? Or, I see how to make an anime character. Or a machine. Now I’ve got this robot concept art, how do I model it? I’ve got this idea for a level, how do I design it? To put it simply, I understand the tools I’m working with. I can watch someone make something, follow along, and create it myself. When it comes to doing anything on my own, though, I’m completely lost and clueless. It may be because my workflow is too unstructured, my decisions are often without reason because I don’t know any better, but at this point I’m not even sure if this is something I can fix or if I should just give up altogether.

So, this was a fairly long and dramatic post - again, I wasn’t sure how to explain my problem here without making the post ridiculously long. Some parts of this were not written all that well, please excuse that - I’ve been writing this for a little over an hour now and quite honestly I’m getting tired :stuck_out_tongue: Any advice, suggestions, tips, tutorials, criticism, thoughts, feedback, etc. would be greatly, greatly appreciated. Thanks!

EDIT: Just found an old video of the first attempt at the second game - the one in the house with the lights and whatnot. At this point, I had a generator in the map that you had to activate before you could use the lights.

EDIT 2: Here’s another game I have footage of - it was going to be a multiplayer game in an office (I forget most of the details), but it was never finished.

  • Okay… when I finish reading this next year, I post my thoughs and edit this post lol *


Artists use references all the time for this same reason, they aint no geniuses, they just study references a LOT.
You open Google Images and search jail designs and there you go; there’s no obligation on you to follow exactly what you see, just plan a building design that fits the purposes of gameplay within that particular area of the map.
What are you working on? Think about it…

Is it a FPS shooter? Think about how the design of the jail will provide interesting cover spots and interesting strategies for a shootout.
Is it a Skateboarding game? Well, the jail must provide interesting obstacles for the tricks, ramps for the air tricks, rails and slick walls for the slides and wall-rides and so on…
Is it a Horror Survival game? Hmm, nobody would like to die trapped inside an old abandoned jail with zombies and monsters crawling in it, make sure the player gets trapped in cells somehow.
Is it Point-and-Click game? You gonna have to design the building to hide puzzles and treasures the player has to solve, you make the level around the purpose of your game.

other ideas
Don’t. Once you picked something is plausible to you, stick to it. Develop the idea, do not simply jump ship to something else because ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘lost interest after a while’.
Teach yourself from the very beginning: commitment. It’s absolutely very important. Get used to get things done, no matter what.

Iterate, develop the idea until it becomes satisfying experience.
Do something, then repeat, then again, then some more, and then some more again… and again and again. Until it becomes something you do automatically, like speaking for example.

Paraphrasing Master Yi (I played him a lot during 2011/2012):

“-Doubt is the greatest enemy.”
“-A true master is an eternal student.”

For everything else you express, my advice is:

Give yourself time and don’t give up.
Learn from the basics; start with drawings, storytelling, painting, whatever…
Do not be too much dependent on the technology you use; Unreal is just a tool, learn the core concepts behind of the art and level design. Understand the WHY of everything even if people start to think you are in general an annoying person, just ask and question the WHYs of everything.
Meanwhile, practice like crazy and don’t give up if it is really what you love and you absolutely need this to be happy in the future. Somethings tutorials won’t do anything for you, you just have to sit that chair and pilot that airplane for some 10.000 hours just like any professional pilot have done!

This… was actually extremely helpful. Thanks!

How much would you recommend working on a game every day? I’m still in high school, but I’ve got ~6 hours a day that I can be working on this, but I feel like 6 hours straight every day might be a bit much.

Diagnosis: Based on this novel and your other posts…
You’ve got a case of ‘shinny new thing’ syndrome etc.
There’s a shinny thing. Oh wait, there’s another one.

You could go and work on someone else’s project…?
Where deadlines are real & you have to finish things.
Doing everything on your own isn’t working atm imo.

That is something you figure out by yourself :stuck_out_tongue:
Your age, there’s not much of a point sacrificing life enjoyment in advantage of something else.
Take your time, learn as much as you can as long it doesn’t become something detrimental to your personal life (my own obsession did become somewhat detrimental to me personally, because I did REALLY obsess totally out of control when I was 17, but that’s another whole different story).