Authors note: What follows is the first in a series of posts dedicated to my longstanding dream of making video games. Enjoy.
I spend a lot of time thinking about video games. Sometimes I write about them. When I find someone to listen, I talk about them a lot, too. And in a recent post, I mentioned my dream of making video games as a hobby. Here’s what I said:
“I’d like to write full-time, and make video games as my off-hours hobby (more on that dream in a future post).”
So in this post, the first in a series of many, I’ll talk about the beginnings of that dream. In future posts, I’ll share what I’ve learned so far, including what tools I’ve tried, and some (hopefully) practical advice for any aspiring independent game developers who might stumble across my blog.
I imagine my history with video games is pretty similar to a lot of gamers’, so I won’t delve too deep into it. We had a lot of game consoles in out house (no need to name them), and I spent a lot of time playing them (badly) or watching my brothers play. My fanaticism, once I had the pocket money to afford it, led me to make monthly purchases of video game magazines (my favorite was Ultra Game Players). It was in these magazines that I first started seeing the names people of who would become my first heroes. Will Wright. Peter Molyneux. John Romero. These were the guys that were making games happen.
I imagined these guys were oddities, super-geniuses that possessed skills far beyond the reach of regular folks like me. Which is sort-of true, I guess. So I never really thought of video games as being any sort of career. Later, of course, I’d learn that those guys certainly weren’t acting alone. At the time, though, to me, they were legend. I may have even started to think of them almost as clergy. Creepy, I know.
I graduated high school in 1998, and did nothing for almost a year. I eventually got a job at movie theater. I worked, I made good use of my friends’ PlayStations (I didn’t own one myself), and I forgot about trying to find a career for myself. I wrote a lot in those days, accumulating quite a collection of unfinished prose, most of which is now lost to the world. Video games were always on my mind, especially with my brother working in the industry. He got a job as an artist at Outrage in 1997 or 1998. They ended up getting shut down. It happens. It was around this time that I really started thinking about video games as a possible career path. And I wasn’t about to let a lack of education or experience get in the way.
After Outrage my brother got a job at Volition, and after he’d been there for a few years, I actually applied there myself as a writer. Needless to say, I didn’t get very far. I thought I might’ve had a shot at being a writer or a designer. I wasn’t much of a programmer, and I had almost no skill as an artist (I’ll talk about my quest to become an artist/programmer in a future post). I knew I could write, so I went for it.
Epic Fail. We may not have been saying ‘epic fail’ back then, but this was definitely an Epic Fail. Capitalized. In the process I learned a lot about how game developers work. I met with the lead something-or-other for the studio and we talked for a bit (this meeting, I believe, was a courtesy extended to me because my brother worked for the studio). He gave me some advice and sent me on my way. Looking back, I can easily say that I had no business applying in the first place. I just didn’t have the skills, and I grossly underestimated the hiring standards of a AAA developer (ah, to be young again, although that was only four or five years ago). The whole experience was kind of embarrassing, actually. Not something I’d want to repeat (although I did apply to be tester once, and that was even worse; those guys were turds).
But the dream wouldn’t die. Those sour experiences wouldn’t dissuade me. I mentioned I was stubborn, didn’t I? And once I realized just how possible it was for a small team or even a single person to make an honest-to-goodness video game, outside the restrictions and shenanigans (and hiring standards) of the corporate publishing world, I knew what I had to do.
Of course, the real challenge was in finding the time and the tools to do it.
Stay tuned for part two.