Blackout Dev Diary 1: 10 Steps to Making a Game

  • Date Published: August 14, 2020
  • Last Edited: August 27, 2020
  • Topic(s): Blog, Walkway

Starting a brand new adventure

My name is Edward Ota, and I’m making a video game called Blackout. Over the past few years, I’ve created a couple of cool things to experience online; prototype of my dream video game, a gaming website, a Google Chrome Extension, and now I’m making a text-based video game.

Making a video game takes a lot of pieces of a puzzle to function correctly. Even the most simple game comes with its grand scheme of complexities. I’m learning about game development every day, and next month, I will begin my Masters of Arts in Game Development at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.

I am sharing my journey to becoming a game designer with the world and documenting every step of the way.

Ultimately, I develop games because I love the craft, and I want to prove I’m capable of producing quality work. My dream would be to start a business, make video games, and live off my creativity. I would pass on all my knowledge to my employees and anyone willing to listen.

Every game designer has philosophies with game design and produces something unique just as every chef learns how to prepare food, but they have their way of cooking. I’m ready to start this journey. The following information shows ten steps process I created when making a video game.

1. Main Goals and Focuses

I have a few main goals that I want to accomplish. One is that I want to work my way up from developing the most basic video games to the most complex and profound gameplay experience. Two other main goals are to create games that are accessible to everyone and convert people who don’t play to start playing videogames.

Text-based games are the perfect place to start playing video games. Text-based games are most similar to visual novels, and the mechanics are simplified. In some cases, players do not end up losing or “dying,” which leads to frustration.

People who do not play will find text-based games similar to interactive picture books. These users find it complicated to pick up a controller, manage fast-paced adventures, or using the camera properly.


2. Research and Modernizing the Text-Based Genre

Now that I know I want to create a text-based video game, the next part is deciding the exact limitations of the game. I need to set out what the player can and can’t do and what they will experience along the way.

When Text-based games were invented, the technological advancements had limitations. Thus, interactivity and design could only go so far. Skip thirty years later to present day 2020, and now many features that were not possible now are.

Since the game is text-based, the majority of the game focuses on storytelling with minimum interactivity. I first created an almost identical throwback to the look and feel of the 80’s text-based games with a black screen and green text. But that is too boring!

My circle of people told me to include sound, imagery and improve the interface because we’re not in the 1980s anymore. Blackout is an opportunity to add new features and innovate with the genre.


3. Concepts and Sketches

Blackout started with an entirely black screen. The only thing you could do was imagine how the rooms were through text. A close resemblance to being surrounded by pitch darkness is when the electricity goes out during a thunderstorm.

I drew out level designs and created the path for the players to explore. I thought of also what they will interact with and how they would make sense with what was presented to them. The game was first called Lights Out, but I don’t like the title. At least Blackout sounds cooler.


4. Blackout Gameplay

In Blackout, controls are simple. Players move through rooms and read the text displayed on the screen. After reading the descriptive text, decisions appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. Relevant keywords appear in the colored text to help guide the player.

Players can interact with particular objects by inputting commands. Write verbs such as TAKE, USE, EXAMINE, and writing down the NOUN you want to interact with. You can also write INVENTORY or to view what items you currently have. Type GO accompanied by North, East, South, or West to head in that direction. Press ESC to open the Menu to either Resume, Restart, or Quit the game.

Listen to the sounds playing in different rooms to get a better understanding of your surroundings. If you get lost or need help, use the strategy guides in the form of the Level Layout, Floor Plan, and the Blackout Script.


5. Programming

Would you like to make websites, applications, and video games? You gotta program.

Programming is at the core of developing video games; there is no way around it. The main problem I’ve encountered is that so many programmers haven’t developed an eye for design. It falls upon the designer’s job to be able to translate detail in every mechanic presented perfectly.

Programmers do the job, but from my experience, the majority are unable to see what they’ve built has errors. I have to continuously test run for bugs to make sure everything functions properly. It’s a lot of back and forth, so designers need to know how to program and for programmers to learn how to design.

I am using Visual Studio, CodeX, and the Unity engine to program Blackout. I followed a series of YouTube tutorials officially produced by Unity professors. After following every video, I created my first video game.

However, the tutorials contained bugs and other game-crashing errors that would make the final game unplayable. I had to analyze each of the bugs, fix them, and later build upon what was already present, ultimately to increase Blackout’s overall experience.

The video game needed a visual overhaul and improvements to the gameplay. After including a bunch of new features, Blackout has more of an identity.


6. Bugs and Play Testing

A considerable portion of game development is playtesting your creation. I don’t know how many versions I’ve created, but they are over 70 by now. Even the smallest flaw means that the game doesn’t work, and we must go back and fix it. Test it again, and continue to discard old versions, working your way to the final version.

The more features you add to your video game, the more complicated it becomes, and thus when playtesting, problems in programming are bound to come with it. The only solution is to continue pushing forward and fixing the mechanics.

The devil is in the detail.


7. The UX & UI

I was stuck on focusing solely on making a homage to old retro video games that I forgot to innovate. It was a mistake that made Blackout outdated and dull. Video games are supposed to be fun, and I have to ask myself, “Is this something I would play?”

We’re trying to make games that impact the lives and add a twist onto what exists. Sounds combined were added to create more depth in the atmosphere. Special effects like a fly buzzing around help bring out more detail in certain areas when our main form of communication is through text.

Music was added as a third layer and brought the melancholic tone to Blackout. In some areas, a white flash of like resembling thunder or raindrops appears on the screen. Samus’s suit reflections in Metroid Prime inspired the rain.

8. Choosing a game icon

All I know is that I want Blackout to have a game that represents the concept. I would like to have something simple, charming, and easily identifiable. I began making icons with a house in the woods. First, I made a bright and then dark version. Afterward, I made something more creepy with a light shining through a mysterious door.

Since Blackout is about the lights going out, it would look nice to give the game a cartoonish look using eyes in pitch darkness. It doesn’t look frightening, and it’s kinda cute. For now, I am using this image as the app icon for Blackout.


9. Creating a Webpage

You need a portal to showcase your video game. I wouldn’t recommend anything other than designing your website to post content and additional useful information to help your customers understand your video game.

Showcase the concept, the gameplay with screenshots and videos, discussing the design, and the process behind the development. Post the content that the user will be spending hours enjoying and where people can download it. Check out the prototype of the official Blackout webpage found only on Life’s Hectic!

10. Soft launching or Releases

I want to share Blackout with the world and receive feedback. Video games release on platforms, the foremost being Steam by Valve, the Apple Store, and Epic Games Store. Other ways of distributing video games are going through a process with Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft.

I’m going to try Steam and the Apple store first before working my way into the rest. For the time being, I let my friends and anyone interested in playing the Blackout prototype for free. But of course, the official release will be the best version with much more content.

Closing Thoughts

It was about time I made a video game. I wanted to expand my portfolio and educate myself more, and it’s turning out to becoming another project I’ll invest my life in. I’m starting to feel emotionally attached to it because of the hard work it’s taken to get to this point, even if it is so simple.

It takes a group of talented artists and loving people to make a video game. It’s such a fantastic experience.

I’m in love with the process.

Blackout is in the Alpha stages and is available right now. Just download the file and unzip it to start playing. I’m in the process of including more features, fixing bugs, and trying to finalize the very first level before making the second.

Blackout is a video game made in El Salvador, and that’s what makes me the happiest. I want my work to inspire my country in hopes others will follow pursuit and help me make the community of El Salvador a better place to live.


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