Monday, August 1, 2011

So I'm Going To Make A Game

Like most people who spend any amount of time around video games, it's always been my dream to make my own game.

This dream actually started shortly after I learned about video games. I was about 7 years old and had barely played 3 or 4 video games TOTAL and realized that I wanted to make my own game. I used to spend hours drawing screenshots for games I would never make. I was very meticulous: Each screenshot had to show a new part of the game, a new level or a new boss. I couldn't make a game idea unless I had a real idea for it.

I made up six games called "Stanley & Marvin" and another six based off of some characters named "R. Williamson & Joe" that were typical platformers. I wish I still had pictures, but those are lost to the mists of time and my disapproving mother who HATED video games and didn't want them in the house.

A few years later, I put together a series called "Hopeless Hero" where the hero would beat bosses and take their powers just like Mega Man and another couple of games called "Super Chicken" that was a shameless ripoff  of Earthworm Jim.

I always strived to put in something that wasn't being done at the time. Another of the Stanley & Marvin games was full of collectibles that would make it easier to beat the game, and if you found a super-secret item, you would find the "true" ending. That's right, I predicted the collect-a-thons of the N64 era when I was 8.

For example, one of my Hopeless Hero games included its own game-within-a-game that would be unlocked after you beat the final boss, a robot named Omicron. You could play as Omicron through his own separate series of levels and beat the "real" final boss of the game who was controlling Omicron. That's right, unlockables. I was 11.

I also put together my own Mario games by carefully copying the sprites out of my Super Mario Bros. 3 strategy guide and inserting them in my new Mario games. One final level I invented was full of EVERY enemy in the game, all in the same level, including "Jelectro," the unbeatable electric jellyfish. One of my games included a final boss that you had to beat before the clock ran out. How did you have to beat him? By ripping the clock out of the ground and throwing it at him, that's how.

Bear in mind all of these games were formulated in my head before I was 12 years old, and you have an idea about how badly I wanted to make a game. By the time I got to high school, I still didn't have a computer, but I had a graphing calculator that enabled me to finally program my own games. With the generous help of a few friends in class, I quickly became one of the better programmers in the class. I threw together an arcade game with powerups, but my crown jewels were two RPGs that I made in a week for each one. They had their own leveling system which revolved around purchasing your upgrades so that the only resource you were worrying about was money.

I went on to make my own engine for graphing calculators to handle movement on a 2D plane while still allowing for random battles. All you had to do was supply the background image and the engine would sort out your movement. I had hoped to use this to make piles of high-quality RPGs quickly and with as little overhead as possible.

The funny thing is that I would come back a few months later to these programs and engines and be really pleasantly surprised. I would look at my code and say, "Wow, how did I figure that out so well? That was a really elegant solution to a complex problem." Never mind that no one else could understand my code (which I understand now was pretty important), I understood it perfectly.

After a while I stopped making game ideas. Whereas before I had the time and the help of other people to help me through programming, all my programmer friends went on to different things while I stopped trying. I got super-depressed for a while and did nothing but play Lords of the Realm II for about a year (still a great game, by the way) until the itch to make a game started taking me over again.

When I wanted to make another game, I kept looking for a magic bullet to make game making easy. I tried DarkBasic, a programming language specifically designed to build games. I never got any farther than putting a logo on the screen for my "company." I even picked up some books that promised to "Teach you game programming in 30 days!!!" Every single one of them felt like this:

Day 1: Create "Hello World!" program.
Day 2: Create the Matrix.
Day 3: Bend the Matrix to your will.

And so on.

I moved away from it for a while and decided to just write about games for fun. It's a heck of a lot easier than making them, right? But that itch, that darn nagging itch keeps coming back. I keep wanting to make a game, and I keep building worlds in my head that can't be realized unless I know how to use the tools.

As I get older, I realize that there IS no magic bullet to making games, or doing anything worthwhile for that matter. You can't just pick up a simple program and expect it to transmute your raw thoughts into gameplay. Learning programming and making games is a slog, but it's a slog that I've decided that I should attempt for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I'm getting older. I'm 29, soon to be 30. I know I still (hopefully) have a long life in front of me, but  the days are going by quicker than I care to notice. Why wait to follow your dreams?

Second, I have ideas. I know ideas are worthless by themselves, but if you combine them with effort and action, you can create great things. Most things in this world start because someone with an idea decided to do whatever he could to make it a reality. That's what I want to do.

Third, I'm coming around to that idea that anything worth doing is going to be horribly difficult to accomplish. I learned Spanish and it was incredibly painful. It was also extremely rewarding. I got married and found it to by incredibly difficult, but also one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I can't believe it took me almost 30 years to figure that out.

For these reasons, I've decided to bite the bullet and make my own game from scratch with very little prior programming experience and document every second of the struggle on this blog. I may not even make a real game for five or ten years. I'm okay with that. I would be remiss if I didn't at least try, though.

There are going to be a LOT of naysayers that will tell me it can't be done, and that good ideas alone can't make a game. They'll say that I'm going to quit as soon as it gets complicated. I understand that. A lot of people do quit. I'll need a lot of support if I'm going to pull this off, but I'll also need to call on my own (admittedly small) reserves of fortitude.

I'm pretty excited to do this, and above all else, I'm excited to be sharing this with my readers. My sincere hope is that I'll inspire other people to pick up some tools and make their own games. Wish me luck.

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