You’re a gamer, I’m a gamer, and I bet we’ve both had the same thought cross our minds while playing our favorite video game: “I could make the best damn game ever if I really put my mind to it.” If you are anything like me, you’ve got a “dream game” bouncing around in your head. At idle moments, you tinker around with it, adding new features, revising your vision, and enjoying those moments of wouldn’t-it-be-awesome-if…
My dream game, for instance, is a fantasy world simulator within which a world evolves with the passing of eons. The player leads a culture amid a world of monsters and men alike who all adhere to real principles of ecology and economics, living off the land or changing it to suit their needs. They breed, they die, they conquer, they are conquered, but unlike other strategy games— whatever their successes— all civilizations are extinguished just as life around a dying star. In my game, decay is as common as growth, and while the player leads a new civilization in its struggle to survive, the “dungeons” and ancient cities of old that you explore weren’t just put there by some procedural generation script in order to be looted. They were instead the lonesome ruins of once vibrant societies that played in the world before you, but who failed to withstand the tides of time.
“Events” in the game aren’t scripted. They emerge from a complex system of organic, underlying mechanics. Monsters weren’t set in dungeons to mill around until they are defeated by the armies of civilization. At one point, they went there seeking habitat and a landscape around it where they can hunt for food (or plunder nearby civilized folk!) The Undead Necropolis in that burned out city isn’t there for the sole purpose of being purged one day by the player, it’s there because it was set to sacking 100 years ago and its citizens were murdered and left in the streets to be picked by the crows.
And as the monuments of these old civilizations gradually grind down to dust and the player’s rises, they will one day face a calamity and similar fate to the very civilizations that lie in ruin. Whether at the hands of an orcish barbarian horde that was displaced from their habitat by a dragon or due to the Apocalypse itself, your civilization as well will one day be picked over by some peoples of the future. All that will matter in the end is how long you are remembered as the deeds of your society fade from living memory into story, then into legend, then into nothing.
So… sounds neat, huh? Well, as it turns out, despite the 20+ years of imagining this game, I have one major thing that stands in my way when it comes to bringing that game out of my head and into reality. And its kinda a big thing. At the start of this journey two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. And trust me, this isn’t the first time I’ve decided I’m going to make my game a reality. On more than one occasion I’ve been driven by some boost of enthusiasm: a late night of inventing new concepts, raspy little sketches, what have you. From there I would then revel in a glorious two and a half hours of creative fervor, but like a naive child who thinks he’s going to run away from home and live off the land, my enthusiasm quickly deflated upon encountering the many major hurdles in the process.
On most occasions, I was forced to face the reality that I had zero experience in game development, no computer science degree, and zero formal training in coding at all. Other times, I quickly became aware of the enormity of the endeavor; the endless hours of work, the personal sacrifices. In other cases, I simply got bored or lazy.
Whatever the case, I’d invariable shove my great game concept back on some dusty shelf in my head and make some vague promise that I’d follow it through later.
Well, that “later” is now. In some ways, things have even gotten harder for me. Aside from lack of experience, I’m a 30-something year adult with a wife, two kids in diapers, a job, and precious little time. So is it possible for someone like me to follow through on this vision? Can a complete and utter unwashed noob possibly make their own, sophisticated video game? Is determination, a willingness to learn, and a dream good enough to get the task done? Well, this is what The Noob Game Developer is all about.
So now as I stand here ready to take a crack at it again for the n’th time you might be wondering what’s so different for me this time around? Well, I now have one thing to my advantage that I didn’t have before: I discovered my passion. I’ll save the details for a later column, but the short of it is that I’ve had an unhealthy phobia of computer code and a lazy streak for most of my life, but two years ago I transformed myself into workaholic who finds immense joy in the very thing that once terrified me: coding. If ever there were a time to make my dream of the ultimate game come true, its now.
So I invite you to follow along from the beginning and witness each step of the journey, but not just the technical process of learning a programming language and adapting to the tools, but the emotional trials as well: I want to show all the minor victories I win and all the moments I fail; the times I’ve plunged forth with unrestrained enthusiasm, and when I’ve struggled to stay inspired; the challenge of balancing an outrageously ambitious creative project with work and family; every moment I was sure I was ready to give up— but didn’t. I want to demonstrate how someone can claw their way up from a total, clueless noob to actually making a living doing the thing they love, beginning to end. And maybe, just maybe, I can help you to find the courage and passion to pursue that creative project you’ve had bouncing around in your own head.
I’ll be documenting and streaming every step of the way and building a community of like minded individuals. Not only will I go into detail on the subjects of learning to code in a true object oriented programming language, but I’ll be exploring community building, paths to monetization, balancing such a project with the rest of one’s life, dealing with all of the emotional ups and downs of the process, and how to contend with the “forever struggle” of maintaining one’s motivation.
There will be days of intense excitement and pride at what I’ve built, but these bright moments will cast just as many shadows. I will fail often. I will make embarrassing and naïve mistakes often. I’ll even want to quit often. But that’s okay. I want everyone to witness and experience them with me. It’s important to understand that no one escapes these dark moments in the creative process, and I believe that the best way to move past them and keep them from destroying your ambition is to know that you are far, far, far from being the only person who has ever endured them. On the way to your objective, you aren’t the only one who screwed up or got confused or “didn’t get it.” And I also want everyone to know that pride you feel in the end— and the day to day feeling of purpose— far exceeds the negatives.
So come with me on this adventure, whether it lasts months, years, or a lifetime.