How to get the most out of game dev tutorials

Learning can be a tough process, but how you learn can make a big difference.

You’ve spent hours playing video games and you know all the in’s and out’s about your favorite ones, but you have yet to solve one little detail: How can I turn my passion into something productive?

Streaming is paid like an actual job, right? Aren’t pro players really famous around the world? These are good options, however you might not be the best at charming crowds or the most skillful player, but instead you enjoy building things. That leaves you with the brilliant idea of developing your very own video game. What could go wrong?

The following days, you search all about game development, which engine and language will you use, how to get assets and, probably, you’ll watch your first video tutorial. While there are a lot of ways to learn to create and publish your own games, it’s safe to say that the majority of aspiring game developers use video tutorials a lot.

Why watching is not enough

If you’ve seen at least a few game dev video tutorials, you know the quality and the effort put into some of them. It’s definitely a solid method to learn many things, yet you need to be conscious about your learning process itself.

“If learning becomes too easy, you’re not learning anymore.”

After some time, watching tutorials can become something you do out of pure habit: you open the tutorial, watch it, replicate the instructions in the tutorial, repeat the process and in no time you’ll end up with a nice project for the world to admire, just by watching the course on your computer. However, being able to build a project showcased in the tutorial doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand the subject well.

Practice is key

Imagine you just found a great tutorial that explains how to create a 2D game like Zelda in the engine or language of your preference. Even if this game genre is not your favorite, it would still be exciting to begin a new game dev journey with a tutorial like this. Now imagine you complete the course and now have a small videogame, made by yourself. It would also be a good achievement, but the real question is: Would you be able to do this by yourself?

The answer would likely be of course I can, which would turn into can I? after sitting for ten minutes in front of your computer. Why? If you just followed through, doing as the tutorial does, experimenting as the tutorial experiments, there’s a chance that you don’t understand the process as well as you could, even though you completed the tutorial. Courses are what is commonly called a passive learning; e.g. you don’t have to make much effort in order to learn. However, this comes with the cost of a worse understanding.

Even though everyone has a different learning process, doing something actively will get you better results almost all the time. And by actively, I mean getting your brain to work hard and pushing yourself, regardless of your skill.

If done without care, doing the hardest thing can have negative results. I’m not saying that you should pick the absolute hardest problems from the book and try solving them, but instead that you should always be looking to solve problems that are hard for you, at your current skill level.

Returning to the 2D Zelda-like example, if you followed along a section of the tutorial where you are taught to create an enemy, you could try adding a different enemy to the game or adding new powers and moves to the existing enemy.

Adding new features that aren’t explained in the tutorial to a project is a great way to reinforce your understanding.

Going the extra mile from what a tutorial teaches can be immensely helpful. You’ll have the chance to explore the technology you’re using to develop the game and may even need to research more content such as the engine’s documentation, forums, articles, or even more tutorials that further explain the subject. This will make it easier to apply the specific knowledge in future projects.

The best way to actually learn from a video tutorial is to not only watch or follow the instructions unconsciously, but to also push your limits and knowledge of the subject by trying to do something extra.

Even when this extra doesn’t pan out or get you the results you were expecting for, you are still learning and getting closer to becoming a self-taught videogame developer.

Software developer & student

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