When trying to tackle your first GB Studio project, there are some best practices that will greatly increase the chance of successfully completing your game. Many people start and end up frustrated or overwhelmed at the possibilities of what to make, or trying to figure out how to make their game work. We’ve compiled some advice from the GB Studio Central team and laid them out here. Keep these tips in mind when deciding what should be your first foray into the world of Game Boy development.
Keep It Small and Simple
You may want to create a massive open world, or the next Final Fantasy, but as a first time developer you’re going to have many hurdles to overcome that will make ambitious and lofty games more challenging to complete. Think of how you can reduce the player’s experience to the bare minimum for success. Create just one level or map. Complete a small section of your larger idea. Build the “Demo” for what will be a larger game later or just make a short game. Once you’ve successfully built and released a small game, you’ll have the tools to tackle something larger at a later time.
Replicate A Proven Concept
It’s no surprise that many games are built on the concepts and ideas of games that came before them. While it may seem cheap or unoriginal to copy an idea, knowing what mechanics and design choices work from previous games will help you focus on how to actually pull them off. Most great artists and musicians got their start by trying to replicate another’s work, why should game design be any different?
Have A Plan
It’s tempting to go full throttle into building your game right away, but not knowing where you are going can lead to dead ends and frustration. Write out your game’s “script” if you have a lot of dialogue. Draw maps on paper. Type out “pseudo code” of how you think the mechanics will work in the script. Figuring out where your game is going beforehand and how to accomplish it will help keep track of the bigger picture and not get bogged down in the details. Speaking of which…
Build The Gameplay First
A not so polished but functional game is far more playable than a pristinely presented game that’s missing mechanics. So many first-time developers get fixated on the presentation that they neglect how the game actually plays. If you watch the development of any big budget game, the art assets are the last part of the game to be built, with much of the mechanics being prototyped with primitive graphics. It’s like building a house, you wouldn’t start to decorate and paint the walls before the roof is up.
It’s All Math
Everything in a game boils down to math at some point. If you aren’t sure how to achieve a mechanic, look at it from a mathematical and logical perspective. Variables are all numbers being stored, so how can you manipulate and compare those numbers to achieve your goal? If a script isn’t working or achieving a desired result, chances are the math is wrong or you need to break down the steps further into their simplest form.
Get Help and Input
There is a wealth of knowledge out there from the many other games and developers who’ve been using GB Studio since its launch in 2019. Call upon them for guidance on how to achieve the results you’re looking for. Read the docs (or this site), check out the reddit page or join the discord. Go look at the many GB Studio tagged games on itch and contact the developer. See if they’re willing to share some insights. Bounce ideas from your friends and people outside of the community. Seek collaboration on the art and music from those who may be more skilled than you, or ask someone who is good with coding to help figure out the scripts you need for your game. When you have a free and open source tool that is designed to be easy to use, you’ll find a myriad of people who are willing to help you use it.
If you are stuck, stop and take a break. Go have a coffee, go for a walk, listen to music or read a book. Do anything that takes you away from the computer. Sitting and staring at a screen can be detrimental to both the development of the game and your health. Taking a break will help recharge you, and you’ll be surprised at how easily some things come once you take some time away from the project.
If All Else Fails…
Go to the shop and make breakfast. No, not in real life – make a game where the character has a shopping list for items needed to make their breakfast (eggs, milk, cereal, etc.) and build a small multi-scene world where the goal is to get all the ingredients, then go home to cook it. This simple scenario should get you all the basics for working with scenes, sprites and actors, variables and simple scripts. Once you’ve built this, you should have a taste for the GB Studio workflow and can move on from there.
Hopefully with these tips in mind, you’ll know what your first game should be and how to best achieve it’s creation. From there, who knows what you can make next!
Audio Engineer, Mac Technologist and Video Game Developer. Managing Editor of GBStudio Central. (he/him)