So you want to be a game designer, but you’re not sure what all it entails? What are the needs? I remember feeling overwhelmed. There is so much software out there. There just feels like there is so much to learn. Knowing where to begin is often the biggest struggle. Let’s look at some of the items that might be really helpful. You will be surprised what you might already have!
So, what equipment do you need as a game designer?
Most game designers do not need a lot of equipment. A computer that contains basic hardware and 2-3 pieces of software installed will generally be enough for most game designers to get started. Many game designers may want to expand their expertise as they continue to learn about new possibilities.
My advice is, that even though I am going to suggest a few specific items, if you do not have the budget, do not feel like you are not in the ball park. These items are generally considered to be an ideal situation. If you are operating on an older computer right now, you may be just fine without having to upgrade for a while.
However, if I am looking for something new, I would consider the suggestions below as viable options. I do not recommend the highest-end items. I am just recommending the items that I use or would purchase if I were looking to purchase new equipment.
This truly is one area that you cannot do without. The vast majority of game engines and other software you will be using must be on a computer. Some of it does work on Mac, but generally, for video games, I would recommend a standard Windows-based computer.
I would also recommend that you purchase a gaming PC of some kind. If you want to test out your game in a similar condition in which it will be played, you will probably want to find one that can run your game well for you.
These days, you can save only about $200.00 on most gaming PC’s by building one yourself. I have personally built 4 of my last 5 computers that I have owned. Up until about five years ago, the price difference was still pretty significant. Right now, unless you plan on upgrading it in the future, the price difference will be pretty low.
For me, I never really did too many upgrades. By the time I would upgrade, almost all of the components were pretty old so it was time for a total overhaul. For that reason, I decided to just go prebuilt this last time. I now own a Lenovo gaming PC. I have been extremely happy with its performance.
If you are unsure what to purchase, I recommend checking out a gaming PC. I would look in the $800 – $1200 price range for what is available. As new hardware continues to be released, what you can get two months from writing this will be more improved than what I have here. For that reason, I will only provide some minimums on specs. Anything beyond that would be an added bonus. I have personally purchased a computer similar to the one below and have been very happy with it.
In the video card, I would suggest nothing less than a 4GB card, but at this price point, you may be able to find something that is 6GB. I see Lenovo has an NVIDIA 1660 Super 6GB within this price range on one of their builds. It would not be a poor option and puts you in the specs that would be fine for years to come.
The processor speed is pretty important for building video games as well. I would suggest an i7 or better. Ryzen builds have gained some popularity, but call me a stickler, I am still partial to the Intel processor. Again, I would probably look for an 8 core instead of a quad-core.
The RAM will allow the software to run considerably faster. The development process will feel a bit more smooth when you are opening and closing applications and there is a strain on making builds of your game, etc. I would recommend at least 16GB of RAM at this price point.
This is one area I am fairly angry at myself for not looking at. I did not follow my own advice here and regret it now.
You really do need a Solid State Drive these days (SSD). It’s going to boot your computer much faster. Applications will be able to read and write to the disk much quicker. A standard drive will just make your computer feel slow, even if your other hardware is really good.
I upgraded all of my lab computers two years ago to a 1TB SSD. Students wanted to often save to their hard drive and my computers were slowing down once they maxed out their storage on their main drive. With hard drives getting cheaper all the time, you should be able to find something that is at least 512GB in size. 1TB would be far better. Make sure it is an SSD.
A secondary spinning disk drive (standard hard drive) would be fine. You want the primary to be an SSD though.
In terms of software, you can start really simple. There are really three main areas that I would suggest you look into, and the third is probably combined with the second.
If you know you want to do a 3D game such as a first person shooter, RPG, or other common game types that you find in 3D environments, you will need something to create those assets. You can review my recommendation of 3D applications and texturing software.
If you are on a shoestring budget, I would recommend Blender and possibly Photoshop. Although Photoshop costs money, there is a lot you can do with it when it comes to assets.
For 2D games, I would recommend just purchasing Photoshop. You can do a lot with it. There are a lot of tutorials available for how to create 2D art for video games using Photoshop. The software truly is affordable these days, unlike it was just a few years ago. You can check pricing for Adobe Photoshop here.
You can build a game without a game engine all together. Many people have built their own. That being said, if you do not have a lot of development experience, I would avoid this. There are some great options. I highly recommend Unity as a great starting engine regardless of whether you want to do 3D or 2D. It is capable of doing both.
It has a lot of features that I think make it very beginner friendly. Unity can do a lot of different things and is capable of building most anything that I have ever imagined to create for a video game.
If you are using Unity, you do not really have to worry about this because Visual Studio is generally a default that is installed along with the software. However, if you are using a different engine, it may require that you installed your own IDE.
A few common ones that I see in video game development is Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code (Open Source), or a lot of the web editors as well such as Atom are good development environments.
If you feel a bit confused here, my suggestion would be to just use Unity and install using the default settings. You will not need to really worry about the IDE side of it because as I already said, it will be installed automatically.
Platform of Your Choice
I have had a few students who have wanted to develop for an Xbox or a Switch. Those are both great platforms. However, my follow up question is, “Do you have one that you can test on?”. The answer is often a “no”.
Last year I purchased an Xbox One for our program area to do some video game testing on. It was quite a challenge to get the testing environment setup. Still, it is difficult to build a game on a specific platform and not have a device to repeatedly run tests on.
In our program area, we use a sprint system and I ask students to deliver a portion of their game every two weeks. This means that I want them to build what they have, test it, and make suggestions on what they can modify based on that test.
One of my earliest years we did very few tests like this. What ended up happening is that when we were supposed to fly to Louisville for a video game contest, the students project was unable to build. They had several glitches and things we had to correct before we could get it working. The night before flying out, I was up at the school helping them try to problem solve instead of packing for our week long trip! Test and test often!
Lastly, I would recommend you pay close attention here. If you are just starting out and this is a hobby for you, then I would probably suggest building something for the PC. The testing will be far easier.
However, if you are in the business of video game development, I would suggest you pay close attention to platforms. Platforms like the Switch have been in huge demand right now. A lot of people want to play games on that device, but up until recently, it was a race to get a game on the platform just because it would be very likely to be noticed.
According to Wikipedia, there are only about 3200 games total for the switch. In comparison, Steam alone had 7700 games released in 2017. It’s safe to assume there were far more released on other platforms, likely nearly 10,000. From a business perspective, it’s pretty easy to see that choosing your platform might be a major key to your success.
Not Required, But Helpful
If you are looking at this article and just considering getting some other items to make the process that much better, I would look at some of these items. Good peripherals will make or break how much time you feel comfortable behind a computer.
If you are not in a crowded classroom, I would recommend a mechanical keyboard. Quite honestly, you do not need to go with a gaming style one. In fact, for many of them, you are paying more for the name and the LED’s and less for the comfort or ergonomics of it. You are looking at around $60 for a good mechanical keyboard.
I am a big guy. A mouse is extremely important to me. A few years ago I purchased new mice for several of my classroom computers. What I ended up getting were some pretty small ones. Since then, I have replaced nearly all of them. My students spend about two and half hours behind a computer everyday. They need to be comfortable.
The concept is similar to the keyboard. You do not need a gaming mouse, although many of them are nice. I use a gaming style mouse, but really it’s for the ergonomics on it. This is the mouse I am currently using to replace any old ones in my computer lab. Students generally like them well. They work nicely.
As stated above, I’m too big to be sitting in a tiny chair. I would highly recommend investing in one that is metal. There was a period of time about five years ago that in my house I was getting a new computer chair every Christmas for about two or three years in a row. I was breaking them because I spend so much time in them. I just simply wear them out.
In particular, I tend to use the arms of the chair when sitting down. I break off the plastic ones in about three months. I am currently using a version of this chair. I think it looks professional, but you can tell the base and arms of the chair are built more solid than your standard chairs out there.
Gaming chairs are nice, but they are not really made for big people in my experience. The place where the headrests sit generally is not comfortable to me. Instead, I’d rather have something a bit more spacious.
Looking for a nice stocking stuffer for a game developer? Just get a nice little sketch pad. There are always needs to be able to explain my ideas. I personally love to put ideas on paper. I would advise anyone just getting into game development to do the same.
Have an idea for a game? Write it down somewhere. Generally instead of just writing, I would advise making a few graphics to go along with it to explain your concept. This will help later on when you sit back down at the computer and begin to wonder, “What was that idea I had again?”. A sketch book is extremely valuable to any creative industry, game development is no exception.
Ultimately, you do not need to spend a lot of money to get into game development. If you already have a computer, it more than likely can handle a lot of basic things. That being said, if you are looking to invest in your future, I hope to have provided some value to you.
I have found that when I am comfortable, I have the right tools available to me, I am simply more productive. For this reason, I try to give my students the best that I can afford. As a school, we’re on a budget, but we are pretty fortunate with what we have done in the last nine years. I believe when students have access to nice things, they also take pride in what they are capable of doing too. They know there is nothing in the way of what they can do.
I believe the same is true for anyone new to game development. When you feel like your barrier to entry is more difficult by the computer you’re using, the lack of access to the software or other tools, it tends to keep people from moving forward. Invest now, so that you can reap the benefits later, even if it’s a small piece at a time.