To many, creating their own video game feels something like a far-off dream: It’s something only the artistically inclined with plenty of time on their hands could accomplish.
But the truth of the matter is, every great video game designer had to start somewhere.
From Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto to Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, these visionaries in their fields weren’t born with a wealth of video game coding knowledge or even game design theory in their heads. Over time, they learned to create the titles that would define their careers.
Here’s the thing: So can you. You’re capable of creating amazing things — legendary games, even — if you put your mind to it. But you have to start somewhere.
The School of Game Design is a great place to take your first steps.
With courses for developers of all ages and skill levels taught by experienced instructors, this interactive online course contains 120 hours of video to help take you from aspiring game dev to creating multiple short levels and games of your own. Even if you’ve been creating games for years, there’s something to learn here.
Read on for our hands-on experience with the School of Game Design.
Here’s how the courses work
School of Game Design offers five types of training courses: 2D game design, 3D game design, computer animation, graphic design and digital painting. There’s also “Did You Know?” a curated selection of game design videos and articles that might be of interest for fledgling creators.
There’s no right or wrong place to start. You can select the course of your choice and begin viewing the introductory videos from expert instructors. Each course is split into several chapters, each with its own objective.
For instance, the most basic set of tutorials in the palm of 2D game design revolves around creating a playable game level with no programming via the Unity game engine. Later, a more advanced tutorial is available to help teach you how to create a game like the viral sensation Flappy Bird.
There are no course materials required other than the dozens of short, digestible clips available in a playlist for each chapter. The videos will direct you to download any applications you may need to use, with step-by-step instructions narrated by professionals.
We found the simple, no-nonsense walkthroughs complete with clear-cut instructions easy to follow. These experts clearly know their stuff, and they make their craft seem positively effortless. With hundreds of videos at your disposal for each series, you can start and stop whenever to learn at your own pace. All files needed for each lesson are downloadable from the course page.
Of course, this particular bundle offers lifetime access. You only need to purchase it once, and then you can keep coming back to the lessons you love or the ones you want to continue honing your skills with forever.
You can watch the lessons over and over on the go, which means you have access to learning materials 24/7, anywhere in the world. That already makes this bundle worth the money – try getting that kind of access from a brick-and-mortar school.
2D game design: From Unity to indie platformer creation
Creating 2D games seems the least daunting out of the courses offered, at least to most. For the most part, yes, it is simpler than creating 3D games, so this is a good place to start.
You can jump in and learn the basics of the wildly popular Unity engine, as there’s a series of lessons that prep you to build a playable game without a shred of programming knowledge. It’s a highly interactive set of videos that walk you through every single step of getting acquainted with not only the engine, but its basic functions.
Each video lesson goes in chronological order, and most chapters are taught by different experts, but they all share crisp graphics and explicit instructions, so you don’t miss a beat. At the end of 34 detailed chapters, using the assets provided to you, you will have created your own short gameplay segment, which is an impressive accomplishment for the few hours it took to complete.
It can be empowering to go from creating a full slice of a level to going back to the basics and starting to learn actual code. So by the time you go through lessons that cover working with 2D physics and the fundamentals of game design, you’ll be ready to create your own full-fledged game at the end of it — or at least a level, if you want to take things slow.
However, much of the rest of the 2D game design course is based around an engine called GameSalad, which requires a separate download and payment with a monthly fee if you continue to use it. There are design principles that may apply to a working knowledge of game creation software, but the lessons require this additional program. Keep that in mind if you’re primarily interested in working in 2D design with other engines.
3D design: Developing Unity skills, racing and game creation
While the 2D portion of the course focuses on more fundamentals, the 3D segment is a much more involved and challenging one. That’s only due to the subject matter, however, and not the instructors, who do a fantastic job of giving a crash course in Unity, as compared to the previous level slice tutorial.
You’ll learn the skills you need to start from scratch and create your own game with the engine.
There are some fabulously in-depth segments that will require you to slow down, take notes and think about how you should implement each new facet of design. Creating a boss battle is particularly challenging, as it touches on the interactions between a player character and a seemingly insurmountable enemy.
The end result is a satisfying boss encounter that feels like a Herculean effort. At the end, however, you’ve done it, and it’s a bit surreal. That’s the feeling that completing these courses gives you, though.
Further lessons in the 3D creation course include coding with C#, a programming language that will be of the utmost importance for creators who want to make titles of their own. We found this particular segment one of the most useful of the entire series since it teaches real-life applications in the gaming world through this coding language.
Computer animation, graphic design and digital painting
These creative pursuits can often be the most difficult aspect of game development. While many decide to farm out art assets or hire others to create them for the project, it’s valuable to know your way around 3D applications like Mudbox, Maya and 3D Studio Max, all of which are covered in this course’s extensive art tutorials.
These tools may not be relevant to everyone who wants to create games, but there are extensive and exhaustive options for anyone who wants to learn the basic fundamentals of programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to expand their portfolio.
The tutorials seen in these sections are like what you might find on YouTube for similar purposes, but the bite-sized lessons sell you on things like digital painting techniques, how to animate GIFs within Photoshop and how to create rudimentary graphics for your game in progress.
The School of Game Design is an absolutely fantastic selection of helpful, easy-to-follow tutorials that make learning feel less like a slog and more like watching your favorite YouTuber walk you through bite-sized game design classes. There’s no homework or classes to attend and you can complete each module as you see fit.
We think the School of Game Design ($49 for a lifetime subscription, store.cnn.com) should be your one-stop-shop for learning how to create your own games. You’ve got it for life, which means even if you end up creating a blockbuster, triple-A title someday, you can always go back and run through the basics.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.