Ever since I was a little kid, virtual worlds fascinated me a great deal. Movies like Tron and The Lawnmower Man got me dreaming of exploring and or creating such virtual worlds. But mostly by playing legendary titles such as the first two installments of Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion and especially its sequel Day of the Tentacle, which I still consider to be one of the best games I ever played, the dream of one day creating a game myself was born.
At first I was only at the consuming end of the pipeline, many times playing games I liked over and over again. At the age of 9 years old, I started to read the QuickBasic book, that came with my mothers first PC. Unfortunately I didn’t understand much since it was written in English, which at the time I did not yet understand. The next logical step was to wish for a book to learn English (the obvious thing to do as a nine year old who only spoke German and wanted to learn to program…) and at age 10, my parents sent me to a computer camp, where I got to learn a bit of Logo.
The early days
A couple of years later I got to go to the Computer Camp again, that time around for 2 entire weeks instead of just one. Back then, Turbo Pascal was a big deal and thus was the programming language we got to learn there.
With the help of some older kids and some grownups, another kid and I wrote a single player Pong clone with the creative twist that you would be playing on the vertical axis instead of the horizontal one in the original. With the help of a pseudo random number generator, we created a beatable opponent that was only allowed to move a random number of pixels towards the ball each frame and thus sometimes missed the ball. That was my first game, though to be fair, most of the complicated math was served to us on a silver platter by an instructor at the camp, but still a great success for two 12 year old boys.
Unfortunately, when I got back home, I did not have access to a copy of Turbo Pascal and buying one was not really an option, because back then such software had hefty price tags on them. But with puberty kicking in, other things moved into focus and programming games became less important than other, more hormone driven interests.
Social Networking in the late 80s and early 90s
In the absence of internet access as we know it today, our “network” had its nodes in the basements of friends, playing games on the Amiga 500, C64 or some PC running DOS 5.0 and exchanging games we had or copying a walk through for Leisure Suit Larry line by line on actual type writers (most of my friends didn’t have a printer back then). Some friends even had two floppy drives, so you did not need to switch disks back and forth to create a copy, what a luxury!!!
Back at home, one would load the Larry floppy disk into its own computer and start playing, ever so carefully keeping an ear open to hear ones parents coming up the stairs, while typing “u s e c o n d o m” to help Larry finally survive and get passed the part we’ve been stuck at for ages, just as it was written in the walk through. Not being English speakers, we only had a vague idea, what the words actually meant we typed using the proved hunt and peck technique but it still was a ton of fun.
Things changed fast with the advent of the internet and after a few years of parents screaming at me for driving the phone bill up with my blazing fast 56.6k modem, we finally got a broadband provider in our area! With a whopping 256kbit/s I was finally able to access all the information I ever wanted at bearable speed.
Becoming an actual Software Developer
In the year 1999, I started my 4 years of education as Software Developer and during that time, real time 3D rendering made giant leaps forward. In 2002 Battlefield 1942 came out and got me an my friends in heated battles taking place in huge levels, where one could drive tanks, fly planes and even the Katyusha to fire aimlessly around…
Another couple of years later, I had to spend an entire month worth of salary, to get me a GeForce graphics card to play FarCry that was using the CryEngine, in my eyes a significant leap forward in game engines. Suddenly almost realistic looking graphics were possible, even though one needed top of the line hardware to play the game with reasonable frame rates.
Back then I almost got into a game development gig, unfortunately the so called project leader wasn’t really worth much and it soon became clear that I wouldn’t be entering the game dev world that way.
After my education I briefly worked as a web developer, but it being the period after the Dot-com bubble burst, finding work wasn’t easy, so I changed course entirely and got into the job I still do today and development became the hobby again, without it being my source of income.
The meaning of games for me
Software development becoming more of a past time activity and having moved for work, which took me away from my inner circle of friends, I started gaming more often again.
Sometimes I would be into playing the various football games (as in soccer, just to be clear!) and enjoyed the fact, that I could build up my crappy team and start beating the hell out of Bayern München, Manchester United, Barcelona et al. Other times I was looking for world dominance in the latest Civilization installment and every once in a while, some friends and I would organize a makeshift LAN party, listen to the sweet 60s tunes inside the helicopters of Battlefield Vietnam while flying aimlessly around the map to find something to shoot at.
All those times were precious to me. All those games allowed me to dive into made up worlds and do things, that in reality just aren’t possible and all in the safety from a more or less comfortable couch/chair. Creating a powerful civilization that flies to Alpha Centauri, while always being able to save the game and pick it back up whenever I feel like it again. Winning game after game with my football team, that in reality battles to remain in the top Swiss national football league every other year or so. Almost single handed winning wars, where the history books tell us otherwise.
That is why I can spend hours on end inside made up worlds with simplified and/or abstract rules. They let me experience, what I otherwise couldn’t and they give my imagination a boost to bring back the feeling I had as a child when playing with blocks and bricks, inventing my own fantasy worlds and matching stories.
Games help me nurture my inner child, being more creative in other tasks and simply forget for a while, how we humans seem to be ruining this planet at an exponentially increasing rate.
I firmly believe that there cannot be enough games in the world and I guess that is why I want to develop one/some of my own (or in a team, fwiw).
What's to come?
Since I live in the luxury of not depending on my skills in actually creating games, to get food on the table, I can’t really answer this question. This luxury means I can change course whenever I want and drop one project for the sake of another. Since I do have a day job, there is also a limit on how much I can actually achieve. So while I can dream big, my scope is limited and I invest energy in projects that can be managed by just one guy.
If you’ve been reading some of my older posts you can see examples of projects that are on hold or even dead. Right now I’m working on yet another Solitaire/Klondike clone, currently Android only and maybe someday I’ll get to the point to actually releasing it publicly, potentially even on iOS as well. But that maybe is the important part. I don’t know what will draw my focus away next and I actually don’t really mind, as long as I keep on learning and advancing while doing these projects.
I currently plan to finish my CSG project, which is on hold until I got my Solitaire clone to the point of my own satisfaction, but whether this will be in a couple of months or in a few years remains to be seen. I don’t judge my future self for changing course for more interesting and/or exciting projects… just stay tuned for whatever comes next ;)