How to design video games with no experience

Making games can be just as much fun as playing them


Dennis Scimeca

Internet Culture

Published Jan 7, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 7:58 pm CDT

Learning how to make simple video games can be easy, thanks to free software and instruction from a developer who knew nothing about programming before he launched his career.

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In a new YouTube series, indie developer Tom Francis will show you how to use GameMaker: Studio, a program meant to teach novices how to make video games. The free version gives you basic tools to experiment with and get a handle on core concepts of game design. Once you’ve figured out whether or not game design is for you, the paid upgrades to GameMaker allow you to build games that are viable commercial releases in terms of production value.

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GameMaker: Studio resembles the myriad programs and Web tools that let just about anyone to build a website. The user selects layouts and inserts content, and the program or Web tool writes the basic HTML code behind the scenes. Anything more complex than the raw basics will probably require some coding work, but to get a site up and running, these DIY programs and Web tools do the trick.

GameMaker is similar in that it helps the user build a basic version of a game to experiment with concepts and designs. The advanced versions of GameMaker could then help you build something like Gunpoint, the first game developed by Francis. Gunpoint is a 2D game about a spy who uses secret agent gadgets, and who manipulates security systems to his advantage, to break into buildings and steal stuff.

Francis was a writer for PC Gamer magazine when he made the jump into game design. Gunpoint, designed in GameMaker version 8.1, was praised by critics for its innovative mechanics, and it received some impressively high review scores for a first game by a developer with zero prior experience. When Francis released the game on Steam, he sold enough copies to make a living as a game developer.

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“First thing to say is that I’m not a good programmer,” Francis says in the  intro to his first GameMaker tutorial video. “And if you want to be a programmer, this is a terrible series to watch.” Take that statement in conjunction with the fact that Francis was able to make a living off Gunpoint, to get an idea as to how this program really can support game design aspirations.

Check out his first video and see whether Francis whets your appetite to make video games. The tools are there to download for free. And even if you don’t succeed, you’ll have an idea as to what goes on under the hood of the video games you love to play.

H/T PC Gamer | Screengrab courtesy of Tom Francis/YouTube

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*First Published: Jan 7, 2015, 7:34 pm CST