A New Medium
Shortly after discovering, sometime in the late eighties, that magically, mysteriously, I could use a joystick and button to control a spaceship or a keyboard to command a boy to explore a castle, I found myself wishing that I could make that magic happen myself. In grade school I made some plans. In high school I read some books. In college I took some classes. In grad school I studied algorithms and I even interviewed with video game companies, maintained a stats site for an existing game, built AI that learns to play a board game, and so on, but never quite turned the corner.
A number of friends had expressed interest at some time in my life in helping me make a game. None of us ever did. I made attempts—built a rudimentary physics engine, contacted my favorite band to ask if I could use their music, and wasted a great deal of effort on other equally fruitless tasks. I should have recognized this problem for what it was, a disease commonly afflicting software, called scope creep. In short, it happens when we try to do everything at once, and it prevents us from doing anything ever. Somewhere deep inside, I felt like making a game meant making a blockbuster.
Extending My Reach
I decided that I needed to reach outside of my base of friends and family. Fortunately, I wasn’t the first in my town to have this thought. Again, however, I spent a fair amount of time learning new tools, toying with mechanics, thinking, discussing, and now, networking. All of these things were useful, but I still hadn’t quite reached the milestone of having made my own. Then, my scope tightened.
There is a game development competition. It’s called Ludum Dare. The premise is to build a game in two to three days. That’s it. The prevention of scope creep is baked right in to the rules. I participated in Ludum Dare 33, and did in seventy-two hours what I had previously failed to do in twenty-five plus years. Was it great? Absolutely not. Was it good? No! Was it terrible? Almost certainly. Take a look for yourself. I asked my wife to draw some artwork on a white sheet of paper, scan it, and send it to me. I borrowed some generic assets for a background. I neglected to add music or sound.
Then I asked my five-year-old son to show it off to a small crowd of people collected to celebrate what had been built that weekend. And the amateurish mechanics, unpolished images, and childish puzzles are still magic. I built an unambiguously complete game and learned a breadth of things that would have otherwise taken months.
Given the technology available today, and the growing base of people like me, who grew up with gaming as infrastructure, not as new technology, I’m excited to see what happens as it, like books and television before it, becomes more integrated into our daily lives. I think it will do much greater things than either of those predecessors and I have a feeling I’ll have more to say about that in a future post. In the meantime, I’ll certainly be making more games myself, maybe even some good ones.