10 Tips I Wish I Knew When I Started Programming

When you first start learning to program, there are a bunch of easy mistakes that make you waste time or lose motivation. Here is a list of my Top Ten Tips for new game programmers, which might save you a lot of time and trouble:

1. Start small

    • One of the all-time biggest mistakes for new programmers is to choose a massive project to be their first game (like a complete RPG)
    • I know it’s sometimes hard to hold yourself back, but a lot of people (myself included) have wasted time by trying to take on too big of a project in the beginning
    • Start with small, simple games, and work your way up to the big league once you know what you are doing

2. Don’t copy+paste tutorials

    • When I first started learning AS3 I fell into the bad habit of just copying and pasting tutorials instead of typing everything out
    • This might seem like a good idea to save time, etc, but believe me when I say that the best way to learn to program completely on your own is to actually type out every single word
    • The typing keeps you more focused on the code, and the repetition drills it into your brain so you never forget it

3. Program games that you actually want to play

    • This tip sometimes goes unnoticed, but try not to fall into the pit of making average, boring games
    • Making games is about the same thing as playing them — having fun is at the core
    • If you don’t enjoy the game, neither will your audience
    • Making a fun game keeps you motivated

4. Don’t worry about perfect programming and performance at first

    • Trying to follow all of the “rules” for programming sometimes just trips you up in the beginning
    • Unless you are making a professional game, it really doesn’t matter if you structure your code like a newbie, or don’t get 100% perfect performance
    • Most of the time, no one will even know
    • But don’t ignore best practices altogether — they are very important to keep in mind as you progress
    • Programming “Purists” might disagree on this one, but while your starting out: if it works, it works, and that’s good enough

5. The more people (beta testers) who play your games, the better

    • I spent a long time learning and programming games without having any real friends / family try them out
    • For one thing, it makes you feel accomplished because everyone is always impressed
    • You can also learn a lot about how to improve your game just by watching them play and asking them for suggestions
    • Asking around online for people to beta test or review your games is also a great way to improve them

6. Stay focused – plan it out, use to-do lists, etc.

    • Just like anything else, it is easy to get distracted when you program — this has been a HUGE problem for me
    • How to stay focused on the job:
      • Plan out everything first with a game design document so you aren’t wasting time wondering what to do and getting sidetracked
      • Find a good to-do list application — or just use paper + pen
      • Collaborate: a GREAT way to stay focused is to know that someone else is waiting for you (deadlines, etc) to do the work, so no wasting time being distracted

7. People want to help you — just ask nicely

    • *Most* people online genuinely want to help you
    • As long as you ask nicely by introducing yourself, explaining your problem, and using decent spelling/grammar
    • Don’t just say what type of game you are making and tell people to do all the work for you — that isn’t how it works

8. Don’t rush into overly complex terrain

    • Don’t feel like you have to keep making more and more complex games with more difficult code before you are ready
    • If you go in over your head, you will probably not know what’s going on and you will just be wasting your time
    • Take it slow, there’s no rush

9. Get into the mindset that you WILL succeed

    • As Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
    • If you keep thinking, “Oh, everyone else is better than me, I’m never going to be able to make a good game like them” then you probably aren’t going to succeed
    • But if you’ve got passion, determination, and you don’t give up, you are going to be a pro

10. Collaborate, join the community, enjoy working with others

    • There is a great community of game devs out there — take advantage of it
    • Join forums, read and respond to blogs, get to know other developers
    • You’ll end up learning a lot from some very talented people and maybe even get to work with them
    • If you are passionate, hardworking, and creative, you will end up being recognized by the community for your talent, which is very rewarding
I hope some of these tips are useful to you. If you have any other tips, be sure to let me know in the comments!
If you’ve got these down, you might be ready for the tutorial series for Pong or the Platformer!
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14 comments on “10 Tips I Wish I Knew When I Started Programming

  1. Ringo says:

    Very nice article :)

    • Ben Reynolds says:

      Thanks! It’s satisfying to know that people find my articles helpful!

      • nabeelfarooqui says:

        I dont think that you read these anymore (thats why im replying) but if you do then could you tell me the difference between your style of coding (using Actions panel) and someone elses (using .as class files, what are classes? I don’t understand these things!!!!!!)

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks for the advice, just started learning Flash so this kind of info is great to reduce the learning curve as much as it can be reduced heh, especially the first two points, which I’ve been doing prior to reading.

  3. very well defined key points :)

  4. danman113 says:

    Great article, keeping it slow is a good idea :3

  5. 10 Things that I always knew but still find time to ignore these and many more as much as I can. hahah. :D

  6. Rhinni says:

    Haha, I started out with flash quite recently (just before the summer holiday) for a schoolproject. Only had 7 weeks in total to learn Actionscript, come up with a game and program it. I got very excited and went totally over my head, wish I would’ve read this list (and found your tutorials) before that! I’ve been struggling quite often while following other tutorials, but yours are just perfect!

  7. Shahbaz Khan says:

    Thanks for your good advice and Tips…..I wana know that from where I can learn each and every syntax of AS3 ??? And are you a student from computer backgroung just like MCA or BCA before you start AS3 programming???….

  8. Bill says:

    As a veteran programmer, I totally agree with your tips. Too many times do I see new programmers attempting too complicated games without even knowing the basics of coding. For the first year or so, learning the basics of programming and the logic behind that will be incredibly boring, but after that the sky is the limit once you have a strong foundation.

  9. Ankur says:

    Great ideas and tips. I have been doing simple things for a while and started working on games and more programming now. Thanx a lot :)

  10. flash says:

    thanks m8 very inspiring

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