The little black book of newb game coding

Wanna try out your game idea, but don’t know how to code? Do not despair! There are a bunch of awesome people out there willing to help you – here is my collection of super awesome articles and tutorials for any game programmer wannabe. Warning – do not expect any pro advice, this is for n00bs like me who have no idea how to start this scary journey, just like my 2D art tutorials collection gathered here.

What to Start With??

The question that troubled mankind since the Iron Age of game programming was this: how should I start? I know I want to learn basic skills of game prototyping, but there are all kinds of strange letters and words out there, like C++, Java, C#, HTML5 and more, and I feel like I somehow need to discover The Best One and pick that up, otherwise all my future learning progress is for nothing and I will NEVER to get my own game prototype out there. How can I pick one, considering that all of them sound like 中國的?

But there is hope! It’s in the form of easy to use, drag and drop, sometimes No Coding Skills Required At All editors like Unity, GameMaker, Construct, Unreal, Twine, RPG  Maker and more, and they are all free, all you need to do is just grab them and make your game prototype!

This is Unity3D. It’s really very easy, just download it and do your thing!

Of course, you need to look at a few and see which one works best with you!

This is Game Maker, the most recommended game engine for n00bs

By the time you would have tried some of these tools, you may end up feeling like me: stupid. Or maybe incapable. Or at the very least, lazy as hell. In any case, the conclusion is simple: clearly, game prototyping is not for you (or me). But just hold on….

Let the PROs speak!

What choice you ACTUALLY make depends on how core the feature is to your game, how much time you’re willing to spend making it, and whether you have the technical skills to implement it.

Here is Liz England’s quick and comprehensive advice for your first steps in coding, intelligently taking into consideration your start-up skill inclinations. For those of you who don’t know, Liz is a game designer at Insomniac Games (a studio absolutely packed with super helpful people who are always out there helping and sharing their knowledge) and she is responsible for the now famous Door problem.

It’s very important to take things one step at a time. If you approach your dream game all at once, chances are you will get frustrated and overwhelmed.

Here is Tommy Refenes’ advice on how to start programming games. It covers a nice range of topics, from what programming language to choose, to what tools and frameworks to use and what tutorials to read. The nice part of the article is that it does not really answer any of these questions, because the simple and painful truth is that there is no game dev answer for all. It really is about you. For those of you who don’t know who Tommy is, get your hands on Super Meat Boy, now! And also follow the team behind it, because they are awesome. They are also one of the protagonists of Indie Game: The Movie.

 Yes, you can code […] it’s really not hard. It just takes time.

Here is James Cox’s encouraging and wonderful words for game coder wannabes. The article debuts with the story of his own road towards this exciting adventure of making games, and then continues with simple and factual advice written in probably the most encouraging, no-excuse way I have ever read. I wish I could tell you who James Cox is, but the article does it better than me.

…all you need to break is the psychological barrier that you’re missing years of experience necessary to do anything. The only prerequisite is the ability to think logically.

Here is an action oriented article from Axel Rose, which pretty much gives you a start-up task list if you really are in front of your PC and ready to start learning. He rightfully points out the key magical words you need to grasp in order to take your first logical steps, such as conditionals, loops, variables and functions, and points you to a resource that is very dear to me, CodeCademy, and one of the best interactive classes I ever found, the JavaScript one.

Note to self: CodeCademy deserves an article of its own.

…by the end, because you learned by doing, you’ll be much further along than someone who just read and did nothing.

Here are precisely 4 projects that can jump start your skills to make your own game prototypes. This is an awesome resource because it puts you in the right mindset to start coding. It shows you in detail how to start simple, as opposed to dreaming up the worlds best [insert your favorite game genre here] and then getting super depressed when you learn you cannot compete with veteran game developers and veteran game dev teams.


To be continued?

If you found this article helpful, let me know and I will write a follow-up. In the meantime, here is a step-by-step guide on how to make Pong in Unity. Beware that the BallMover script does not work (or at least, it didn’t for me).




  1. I’m not a game dev so I don’t know useful is my intuition, but I don’t think that running from coding is the solution. You’ll(not necessarily you; a general you) hit into it regardless of the engine you use. Learn to code. Specifically, learn Python. It’s a very strong language and stupid simple. The Pygame library has lots of features.

    From my very limited experience I’ve gotten a lot further making games in Python (even in C++ with Glut, but that was for school so I don’t know if it counts) than using Unity or Game Maker. Instead of directly doing what I wanted and how I wanted, I had to learn how to make the tool do it for me. Which was a bother.

  2. Pingback: Newb game coding strikes again!!! | Laura Bularca

  3. You can check a very good Unity “HOWTO” for non-programmers here :
    Everything is for free, and you can easily learn how to use Unity UI, a scripting language for Unity (they chose JavaScript here), some Unity API basics and then you get a few projects examples.
    I would recommend those tutorials for any non-programmer wanting to start using Unity. It’s really a very good place to start.

    Now, you can also use Unreal Engine 4 with their Blueprints system without having to write a single line of code ! And we already know how powerful UE4 is.
    More details about blueprints on their official YouTube channel, look for “Blueprint Essentials”.
    They also have complete 2D and 3D sample projects in addition to tech demos to actually see what you can achieve with it. And it’s only going to get better.

    Last but not least, you also have the CryEngine 3 option (free SDK or Steam version). The scripting in Lua for CryEngine can get a bit tricky, but their editor is awesome for 3D worlds.
    A very good start on how to make a level with this engine would be here : Old tutorials but *should* still work. Watch the video and prepare to get amazed.

    Then you have plenty of other choices, but they are just tools : choose the one you need for the project you want to make. A good methodology is to have a very simple game in mind (or even tech demo ?) and use all those game engines/editors to make it. Shouldn’t take more than a few hours (to keep the motivation up :p). Then you will see how easy or hard it is with each option and you’ll get to know the tools better and know which one to use for what. You can use a hammer to kill a fly, but it’s overkill.

    [[ ” Yes, you can code […] it’s really not hard. It just takes time.” ]]
    It’s the same for everything involving intelligence : “Easy once you know how”. Time is the only variable.

    Looking forward to seeing your Unity web demo on this blog 🙂

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