How to fill in the gaps in your skillset

In previous installments of Stop Pining and Get Game Designing we talked about (1) the importance of short-term and long-term design communities and (2) the value of assessing your current skillset before starting the design process.

In today’s post we will wrap up our little unit on skillsets with some advice about filling in gaps in your knowledge. Providing advice on this topic is a bit trickier than with the previous ones. In the last post I warned about the danger of infinite research—the tendency to delay your designing process in search of that mythical “one last resource.” Yet here I am, telling you that you need to fill in the gaps in your skillset.

In the post announcing this series, I said that we would like these posts to be a bare-bones, high-velocity guide. When we think about the process of filling in skill gaps, then, we want to utilize strategies that will allow you to preserve momentum.

Without further ado, this is our advice on filling in skill gaps.

The best way to identify the game design skills you need to improve is to talk to experienced designers

Utilize those short-term and long-term design communities to figure out which skill gaps are the most urgent. To put it another way, which things do you need to learn at this very moment in order to make your game? Which things do you need to learn at some point? This is an opportunity to lean on the understanding of the professional contacts you’ve made.

When you reach out to those contacts, make sure that you’ve done a little bit of preparatory work. Remember—what you’re looking for is information about the specific kinds of skills you need to learn at this very moment to make your game. If your question is too broad (i.e. “What kinds of things do I need to know to design games?”), you will probably be overwhelmed with information.

To find out the kinds of skills you need to learn, you will need to communicate these things at minimum:

The kind of game you’re trying to make

Although there is common ground to all game design, the specific skills you need to design a platformer is much different from the skills you need to make a dating sim. Asking something like “What kinds of skills do I need to make a platformer?” will produce resources that are much more relevant to the project at hand. This will cut down on the amount of time you have to spend sifting through a massive pile of game design resources, trying to find the specific details that are relevant at this moment.

The software you’re using to make your game

As with the previous point, the necessary body of knowledge for designing a game in Gamemaker differs from the knowledge needed to design a game in Twine.

Your current skillset

Now that you’ve taken the time to think about your current skillset, you can use this information to find resources that address your skill gaps. If you feel confident about your writing but know absolutely nothing about programming, slogging through resources on games writing might not be the most effective route for the time being. (In the long term, you will certainly want to hone your existing skills. Right now, though, we’re trying to keep our momentum!) Explaining the skills you feel confident in will allow the person you’re consulting to point you away from resources that try to teach you what you already know.

The skills you need to learn now

What are the specific areas of design that make you anxious? It’s okay to be really specific here. If you’re working on a dating sim, you might be a little concerned about setting up the system of logic that translates player input (dialogue choices, etc.) into romantic opportunities. You might not need to be a programming wizard to design a dating sim, but this is the sort of programming obstacle you must eventually address.

To illustrate these points, I defer once again to our interviewees:

Katie (“Elentori”), Lead Concept Artist for No Mercy

It’s okay to be fairly direct with your questions. If I needed to learn how to code a platformer game, I might narrow down my search by using the terms “coding,” “beginner,” and “tutorial.” If you’re looking to learn, the most important terms are ones like “tutorial” and “demonstration.”

Although Katie is specifically talking about using search engines to locate resources, her advice applies just as well to face-to-face conversations with experienced designers.


Laura Lee Cooper, Lead 3D Artist for No Mercy

Sometimes when you try to learn about something online, you end up learning about different segments of the design process and may not learn how to tie all of those things together. It can be overwhelming for someone who has no idea where to start. That’s the catch. There are plenty of online resources if you know what you’re doing. You have to know where to look.

This is one of the benefits of asking experienced designers for advice. So many people in the community are going to have certain resources that they recommend. They can tell you the kinds of things they tried out when they were just getting started and the kinds of solutions they found to problems that came up. You’ll get a lot of shortcuts that way. There’s no need to bang your head against the keyboard a hundred times to get the same information you could get in twenty seconds if you asked an experienced designer.

So what are the skill gaps you need to fill? You might not know the answer yet, but if you take our advice you can get those answers pretty quickly. Since GDEX is just around the corner, consider taking advantage of the expo's massive pool of experience and talent.

In our next post, the last in our Stop Pining and Get Game Designing series, we will give the simplest and most frustrating advice of all—JUST DO IT—and will point you in the direction of resources that will help you do just that.

See you then!

- Lindsay