Game Development is Rocket Surgery

Sometimes, an expression comes up in conversation and it just sticks with you. ‘Rocket surgery’ is one of those. One day it was a play on words, and the next, it was part of our everyday language. And, I think, it’s the perfect term for the game development industry.

Obviously, the phrase is a mash-up of rocket science and brain surgery. So, let’s look at those. Rocket science is hard and complex and mathematical. It’s the stuff requiring a white coat genius. I can totally visualize Doc Emmett in Back-To-The-Future. Perfect! On the other hand, you have brain surgery, which still requires genius and white coats, but also has the implication of elegance and sophistication and grace. Looked at another way, what we have is science and … art. Which is exactly what game development is all about. The science of time travel with the surgical precision and grace of art.

Can I Has Your Easy Button?

So, game development is rocket surgery. At least, that’s how I see it, which is probably why my panties get in a bunch whenever I come across a post like this:

“I have this cool idea for a great game. I don’t know how to code and I’m no artist, but I had this idea for a zombie-apocalypse-mario-kart-angry-kung-fu-panda-sim game. I even wrote a design on a napkin! I don’t have time to learn to code or develop or draw right now. Is there an ‘easy’ button?”

Easy Button

We’ve all read these kinds of posts. Doesn’t matter which forums you like, there’s always some knuckle-head asking the same thing. It makes me want to reach for the fly swatter, so I can swat ‘em, like some flying, bloodsucking pest, before they have a chance to breed. But, at the same time, I want to guide them too. I want to assume the best and help ‘em out. So, here it is, my one time answer to all of these 5-minute-cocktail-napkin game-developer questions.

The Answer

There is no easy button. No, let me be more clear. THERE IS NO EASY BUTTON! Developing games is hard! Yes, even the cruddy looking ones and the ones you hated. They’re hard too. The ugly truth is that game development requires patience, trial and error, study, persistence, and a triple-scoop helping of hard work. The idea you had for a wonderful game is just the cherry on top of the banana split. It’s the embodiment of the phrase, ‘10% inspiration, 90% perspiration’.

Games are made by artists and coders and designers and testers and project managers and teams and people who have money to fund all that stuff. As Schell explains, ‘game design is more cooking than chemistry, more art than science.’ In short, it is ‘Rocket Surgery’.

So there. Now you’ve heard it. There’s the ugly, gnarly truth. But don’t give up yet. There is a light of hope here. Because one fact remains. Even though game development is hard, it’s obvious that people do it! After all, games are released every day and someone, somewhere built it! Which means, you can learn to do it too! In fact, the only difference between you and the experienced game developers of the world is that they have years of … well … experience. They were all new at one point just like you.

Begin At The Beginning

So, here’s my advice. Begin with the end in sight. Realize that game development is hard, but it is learnable. And, there’s too much to just learn ‘everything’. So, decide what you are trying to accomplish first. What is it you want to do? Then, with that in mind, just start learning. Begin at the beginning. It’s not magic, there is no easy button. Get yourself some coding books, check out some game development blogs, watch game design videos, and my personal favorite, read great books like the ones discussed on this site.

Stop waiting for it to happen one day and start making it happen today. There’s nothing stopping you. It is, after all, the golden age of indie game development. Start with the end in mind, pick a topic, and go! And remember that the point of life is in the getting there. It’s the journey that matters. The learning, and growing, and building, and trying, and failing, and succeeding. That’s all part of the ‘getting there’, which is what makes life great in the first place.

And, that is what being a Rocket Surgeon is all about.

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