I recently put together this article covering some of the basic of game and mod creation. This is aimed more for the novice and free game developers (those posts in the requests forum). Plenty of rules and tips squeezed in a to-the-point, brief article.
Game and Mod Development Basics
I see many game and mod ideas out there that defeat themselves by missing the basics of game development. This was written to briefly cover those basics.
So you want to make a game?
Most games today follow the same rules. 3D environments, running and jumping, vehicles, online play, killing with guns, and so on. Aim to create something similar to a game you are inspired by. For example, an RPG with realtime combat like Baldur's Gate.
Game Modification (mods)
Pick a game to modify that has the gameplay features you want. For example, if you want to make an FPS game like Unreal Tournament, make a mod for it. The engine is already capable of all the rendering, networking, combat, vehicles, tools and community you need to make almost anything. Popular games with large communities ensures that a lot of people will play your game. Mods also offer the developer a scalable level of development from small alterations to total conversions.
There are many freeware, shareware, and open source 3D engines available for use in creating your own standalone game. Beyond that, a programmer may still want to create their own game engine. Any of these options allows the freedom to release a playable game anyone can download and play. More pre-production work will be required to get the game started without the assets of a mod, but allows the game's feel and style to truly stand out.
Game and mod development occurs in distinct stages, such as.
1. Design Document is a writeup of everything about a game. For example, game's booklet, strategy guide and a technical writeup of everything described would be equivalent of a design document. Programmers need a design document to implement all of the assets created by artists. This order does not have to affect mod authors, as art can be added to the game at any point.
2. Pre-Production consists of developing initial gameplay mechanics, content pipelines and a schedule. Most of the design document is written at this stage, and it's a good time to get some placeholder art working in-game.
3. Alpha can mean a lot of different things, but a playable demo is the best description. This could be the first level with all gameplay mechanics and placeholder art working. The design document should be finalized at this point so that during beta production the game isn't subject to heavy change.
4. Beta is a fully playable version of the entire game. It doesn't have to be polished or optimized, that's the final. From this point, you'll want heavy bug testing, because you have to fix everything. Final release shouldn't be rushed, but try to stick to schedule. There is plenty of time to patch.
5. Final is testing the beta build, and writing a list of everything that needs to be fixed, finished and replaced. Taking screenshots, writing/outlining what needs to be fixed on the image, and assigning it to the proper department is a good start. This is also the time for all the proper menus and GUI to be completed.
Using a website
A website can be a powerful tool to announce a game's development, release the game, recruit talent, and seek publishing. A web design that uses images from the game with latest downloads/demos as the main focus gives the user an instant idea of what the game is like, and access to playing it.
Make certain that you are easy to contact, and credit anyone who contributed to the project. A few brief paragraphs about storyline and game play is enough, but let your game tell the story, not the web site.
Add a recruitment/jobs page if you need help. Be sure to be descriptive, explaining all aspects of the position. There are many community sites and forums for game developers that specialize in what you need. Most have a mod/requests forums where you can post a link back to this page.
Tips and Rules
Do not mod or game about an existing character or intellectual property. Do not steal its name or likeness. This is illegal. It's also unethical because you're piggy-backing on the success of other people's work and limiting your creativity. Be inspired by what it is, and what it's about.
Write everything down. It's easier to pick out good ideas from a long list of bad ones than it is to remember every good idea you thought you had. Save chat logs, keep a pen and pad with you. Notepad is one of the most-used programs by designers. This can fill out a design doc quickly.
You can't compete with AAA games from major corporations with 100 person development staff. Avoid trying to make a massively multiplayer online game and other game types that require an asset heavy development, support staff and expensive infrastructure.
Small core teams can be tremendously effective with the right idea. Teams as small as one artist and one programmer have a better chance than an 'idea guy' getting people to make his game. Be prepared to make everything yourself because it's more likely just going to be you working on it.
Never talk about money. People don't join mod teams for the hopes of getting paid, and offering of royalties is an empty promise. If your game happens to strike gold, you have a fantastic opportunity to build loyalty and longterm relationships.
Having free game/mod experience in the resume is very valuable to a developer wanting to get in the game industry. I encourage anyone wanting to get a job to join or start their own mods. Which is also great for building industry contacts.
Game modding can lead directly to professional work. The game industry is a small who-you-know industry. The people you mod with today could be the leads of major companies tomorrow.
There are plenty of great games, engines and people ready to make your game happen, and you can do it all yourself. It's hard work staying strong to lists and schedules, but with self motivation and discipline, anyone can make it happen.