Last night, my friend Felix asked me for an article for No Time To Play, and since I owe him and this time I knew I can do it, I started thinking about games once again and my history with playing. And I thought about sharing with you as much as I can in a blog post. So, this is it: my (incomplete and far from final) story with games.
I used to be quite a gamer. I was playing around 2-3 hours a day on average, and I had 5-6 hours sessions at times. I loved it. I was escaping to alternate worlds, exploring different situations and having a wonderful feeling whenever I was winning.
Not anymore. Now, when I play games from time to time I can’t help myself analyzing them. I see most games as repetitive, dull, without substance. Maybe I learned too much about how my brain works. Maybe I’ve seen more of the real life and games seem artificial. Or maybe games are not what they used to be.
It’s only natural for a gamer to dream of making their own games. The good news is, the means for doing that are available to just about anyone nowadays. The bad news is, many people shy away at the thought of having to learn programming. And while that fear is completely unfounded, getting help as a beginner is of course useful.
In part one of this article, I mentioned a number of game-making tools that make game programming much, much easier than starting from scratch. This time I’m going to look at the kind that seeks to eliminate programming altogether, at least for the most part.
Making your own games is exhilarating, and surprisingly accessible considering all the work involved. But it’s still non-trivial; computer games are software, so beginners will struggle with learning enough programming, and they’re complex, so experts will struggle with juggling all the details.
This is why people have developed various pieces of software to ease game creation, ranging from the very general, that just help with the basic framework of a game, to modding tools that only allow making more content for a specific game (although the line is easily blurred, seeing how the Starcraft 2 SDK has been used to make everything from a falling blocks game, through shooters and racing games, and all the way to a full-blown MMORPG).
In the following paragraphs, I will focus on tools that cover the middle ground between those extremes.
Remember this article from three months ago, which decried the treatment classic game franchises get nowadays? Turns out, the feeling is shared. Which isn’t exactly surprising, and maybe I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning it, but for the remarks I made in my previous article.
See, the fact that many modern games (and movies) have terrible stories can be forgiven. It’s a matter of fashion, and fashions go as easily as they come. But when you make a sequel of a cult classic from decades ago, turning it into a brainless GFX-fest — as is the current trend — simply can’t go unnoticed.
When it comes to starting out with game development, people seem to be divided into three main categories. First, there are the kids who show up on forums with posts along the lines of:
I’m 13 years old, and I have this idea for the next big MMORPG that will topple WoW, but I don’t know any programming or 3D modeling. Where do I start? Would you like to work on it? Help!
Then there are those who will promptly and mercilessly mock the poor kid without offering one word of useful advice. And then there are those who will happily tell you how hard it is to make a MMORPG (hint: it’s really difficult). Or even an apparently simple game. Or just a single encounter. And they’d be right. But that misses the point.
Point is, it’s natural for gamers to want to make their own games. Especially nowadays that the means for doing it are cheap (often free) and information is so accessible. Why, then, are we making it so hard to get started for those who want to try?
In the next paragraphs, I will try to give a few pointers from my own experience. Hopefully you’ll find them useful. But first, a word.
Back when videogames were still new, there was no such thing as game genres; the very concept of a videogame was still taking shape. But we humans love putting labels on things, and once certain types of game mechanics proved popular, it wasn’t long before the market settled on a few easily identifiable genres which it exploited. Sure, new kinds of games continued to appear all along the 1980es and 1990es, but they were all promptly milked to death by an increasingly risk-averse gaming industry.
Luckily, nowadays the situation has been reversed again. Not only are indie game developers churning out an impressive array of innovative titles, but even established genres are going right back into the blender. RPGs are borrowing from shooters (Fallout 3, Mass Efect). Shooters are borrowing from strategy games (Team Fortress 2, Tremulous). And strategy games have had RPG elements since at least Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (for a modern example, see Battle for Wesnoth).
But even in the intervening years there were games that dared to break the mold and combine two existing kinds of gameplay into a coherent whole, or even do something entirely unique.
A long time ago, on a blog far, far away, I was pointing out that playing games a lot and playing a lot of games are different things. Turns out, this isn’t such an original idea; while preparing to revisit that topic, I ran across this Massively interview with Cory Doctorow, in which he makes the point that games are so ubiquitous nowadays, that many people have played lots of games without ever considering themselves gamers. That puts an even heavier burden on (would-be) game developers, who are supposed to know more about what’s out there than the average gamer, especially in their niche of choice. Well, I consider myself a developer (amateur, mind you), so it occurred to me to check a very simple thing: how many games do I keep around?