How do you get into games development without a computing background?

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One of the questions we get asked a lot at The Games Hub is whether or not you need a background in computing to come onto the programme. And while we do have our fair share of computer programmers at the hub, we’ve also seen artists, sound designers, and even politics students build some incredible games here.

Just in case you still need convincing, we’d like to introduce you to Jason Ware, founder of Flitch Games. Jason joined The Games Hub just under a year ago with next to no programming experience – and yet in that time, he’s already building his first game Klink, which even scooped second prize in the Rapture Gaming Festival “Best Indie of Show” award.

We asked Jason to tell us a bit about his experience at The Games Hub, and how he has found working on his game without a background in computing. Thanks Jason for your valuable insights!

Joining The Games Hub

I joined The Games Hub because I’ve wanted to work in the video games industry for a long time, but struggled to get my foot in the door due to lack of experience and knowledge about making games. I found out about the programme when I was looking for local games studios and came across Teaboy Games. The fact that it’s free and open to anyone made it an unmissable opportunity.

I was very nervous coming onto the programme as I thought I’d be way out of my depth. I also started halfway through the year which added to the feeling of being the “new kid in school”. It turned out many of the participants were in the same position as me, completely new to the field, and those that had more experience under their belt were more than happy to share their knowledge and help others grow and develop.

There’s a really positive culture at The Hub where everyone helps and supports each other.

Learning how to program

Before I started at The Games Hub, I had made a portfolio website using HTML, CSS and some JQuery, and had completed a handful of tutorials about Unity C#. But I had never made a complete video game. The closest I came to something finished was a side-scrolling runner I made in GameSalad, which doesn’t require any coding knowledge but has a simple interface that helps you learn some of the basic logic behind game design.

Being on the programme has allowed me to focus on learning Unity and C#, mainly through diving straight into using the software in order to understand it, but also by speaking to others who have offered their knowledge and ideas based on their own experiences.

I’m at a point where most of the time I can fluently write lines of code to achieve an intended function, but I still frequently look online for reference and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible.

Things that went well...

One of the things that helped me develop my game was mocking up everything first as sketches and then in Photoshop, so I had a crystal clear image of what the project would look like before I spent hours constructing it in Unity only to change my mind later. This proved especially useful as I then had all my assets ready to put straight into the game.

... and things that went not-so-well

The part I found most difficult was coding the dot-to-dot mechanism of the game, as I couldn’t find any existing tutorials for that particular function. However, this proved to be an excellent learning opportunity as I had to understand a lot about C# scripting in order to construct a working version.

There was also a bug that meant dots that shouldn’t connect would be able to, and vice versa, which took several iterations to fix. But again, this challenge helped to broaden my knowledge about programming.

Advice for getting into games development without a computing background

My advice would be to simply just start making something. The best way to learn is to get your hands dirty with a game engine or coding language, and there are countless resources online to get started.

Although it’s relatively basic, I found GameSalad a good tool to start with as it requires no coding knowledge but gives you some basic understanding about the logic behind game design, and you can create the video game you envisage a lot more quickly than if you spent hours trying to learn how to code it.

I’d also recommend that your first games are simple and play up to your strengths – my degree is in graphic design so there was a lot of focus on this when developing Klink.

The YouTube channel Extra Credits also has some useful videos about starting off in the field of video games that are worth watching.