How to Make a Web Game All by Yourself

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It's never been easier to make your own web game, but it's still extremely difficult. What game should you make? Which engine should you choose? Let's discuss how to answer these problems and ways to leverage the unique platform that is the web.

Matt Hackett
Matt Hackett
27 min
28 Sep, 2023

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Video Summary and Transcription

This talk guides you on how to make a web game by yourself, emphasizing the importance of focusing on tasks that interest you and outsourcing the rest. It suggests choosing a game engine that allows distribution on the web and aligns with your understanding and enjoyment. The talk also highlights the significance of finding fun in the creative process, managing scope, cutting features that don't align with the game's direction, and iterating to the finish line. It concludes by discussing the options for publishing the game on the web and leveraging unique web features.

Available in Español: Cómo hacer un juego web tú solo

1. Introduction to Making a Web Game

Short description:

Welcome to my talk, How to Make a Web Game All by Yourself. This talk aims to guide you to that elusive finish line and help you ship your own web game all by yourself. Making a game by yourself is hard. You've got to take off all your hats and consider the project from a high level. One way to help with that is to outsource certain parts of making the game. The key is deciding when to make your stuff yourself and when not to. Scratch your itch.

Welcome to my talk, How to Make a Web Game All by Yourself. I appreciate you being here and I think we're going to have a good time. This talk aims to guide you to that elusive finish line and help you ship your own web game all by yourself.

But first, a little bit about me. My name is Matt Hackett, I've been making games for fun in environments like QBasic since I was 12 years old. In 2010, I published one of the earliest pure JavaScript games called Onslaught Arena and I was among the first developers to get a JavaScript game on Steam in the form of a Wizard's Lizard in 2016. Today, I'm working on my new company, Voladria, where I published my book, How to Make a Video Game All by Yourself. I'm also working on two new games, Witchmore and Pixelwasher, the latter of which is being entirely in JavaScript.

Let's jump into my talk, How to Make a Web Game All by Yourself. To begin, you are a producer. Making a game by yourself is hard. It's a much different beast than working on a team where you may have lots of different people with lots of different skill sets. You probably have your own skill sets that you're eager to use on your project. I'm sure many of you are programmers, also probably designers, maybe artists, musicians or writers. These are all fun hats to wear, but to make a web game by yourself, you've got to take off all your hats and consider the project from a high level. So first, think of yourself as a producer. A producer is responsible for shipping a project. Your job is to ship your web game. What you've got to realize is that it all comes down to you. When you're not pushing your game forward, it's not getting done.

So it's easy to get overwhelmed as a solo developer. One way to help with that is to outsource certain parts of making the game. You don't have to make all of your own assets, like sprites or 3D models or sound effects and music and all that. You can make that stuff if you want to, or you can find pre-made assets that you can fit into your project. For me, I usually like to draw all the graphics myself, like for my game Witchmore, but for Pixelwasher, I'm using tons of assets I've purchased from places like Humble Bundle, where I've found hundreds of charming sprites ready to put into my games. The key is deciding when to make your stuff yourself and when not to. In my case, I had an itch to draw a bunch of witches and stuff like that involving witchcraft, but I didn't really have an itch to draw a bunch of modern pixel art to wash. What I had was tons of assets burning a hole in my pocket. Both of these were making me itchy, which is our next topic. Scratch your itch.

2. Tips for Solo Game Development

Short description:

When working on your own, focus on the tasks that interest you the most and outsource or find alternative ways to handle the rest. If you want to create your own graphics or sound effects, there are numerous online resources and tools available. Consider using asset packs or existing libraries to complement your own work. When choosing a game engine for web games, Phaser is a popular and reliable choice for 2D games, while PlayCanvas is recommended for 3D games. Alternatively, you can write your games in pure JavaScript or create a DOM-based game for a quick and effective development process.

It's different when you're on a team, right? On a team, you likely know your role and what you should be doing. On your own, my advice is to find the tasks that are itchiest to you and do those yourself. For the other stuff, outsource them or otherwise find a way to get them done that's not so draining on your time.

If you really want to make your own graphics, you can and should. There's never been so many online tutorials for learning art, nor so many free or open source applications. You can use Krita or The GIMP for 2D images, or Blender for 3D modeling. If you don't want to make your own graphics, there are many places to get free assets. My favorite is Kenny. Here you can find hundreds of sprites, both pixel art and high def, 3D assets, user interface graphics, and more. See also OpenGameArt for lots of free assets you can use right now.

Similarly, if you really want to make your own sound effects or music, you can and should. Web Games benefit from the Audio Element, as well as the Web Audio API, ready to make your game sound great. If you don't want to make your own sound effects or music, there are so many places to get royalty free music like itch, freesound.org, or freepd.com. So focus on your itchiest tasks, the ones you're really excited to tackle. For the other stuff, consider asset packs or similar solutions to fill in the gaps that you don't want to make by hand.

Next, pick a game engine. The biggest game engines of the day like Unity and Godot do have web exports. These web exports can sometimes generate huge files like hundreds of megabytes for some reason, but these engines can be perfectly fine choices for making web games. For the sake of this talk, let's focus on web-centric platforms. Let's say that means an engine is web-first and either already built on web technology or considers the web its primary build target. With those parameters in mind, there are many great options, but for 2D games, it's hard to argue against Phaser. It's lean, it's mean, it's been around for ages, it does all you want, and it's used by some of the biggest names in the games industry. Also, it's actively maintained by Richard Davey, who's a super cool dude and a great dev. For 3D games, I'd take a long look at PlayCanvas, also supported by super cool devs. Personally, I like to write my games by hand in pure, vanilla JavaScript. No libraries, no plugins, just good times with me and my code editor. Yes, I know, that's weird. I also like to use the 2DCanvas API because it's nice and clean, and I love how it lets me make sharp, crispy pixel games, like those found in my new game Pixelwasher. If you're wiser than me, you might consider making a pure DOM-based game. You'll almost certainly have to touch the DOM a little just to set up whatever else you're doing, but leaning into the DOM can be a smart way to make your game quickly and effectively.

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