This is a followup to a previous post, On Soup and Bugs. Give that a read first; this will make a bit more sense.
My game dev journey forged ahead valiantly. I got a copy of DarkBASIC, where you’d think would be the start of my programming adventures; alas, when faced with a totally blank IDE and a very grown-up user manual, I decided that wasn’t the way forward (but not before attempting to upload one of the example games to the official website as my own work…) I also got a copy of FPS Creator, which you’d think would be ideal; and for a while, it was.
FPS Creator was another product from the minds of The Game Creators, who had previously brought us DarkBASIC, as well as the delightful 3D Gamemaker. This brand-new piece of software had a pretty similar premise to their earlier attempt; you get a ready-made game engine, and you get to choose what it looks like. This time, it had a much more robust level editor, enemy AI that made a bit more sense, and a lot more control over how your game played – assuming you wanted to create an FPS.
Despite having all the tools handed to me, however, I kept coming up blank. I think I just enjoyed tinkering around with the software more so than actually using it to make a full-on game. It took me a while to realise that to create a great work required more than just staring at a blank canvas, waiting for inspiration to strike.
Nevertheless, I attempted to sell some of my “games” for 50p each at school – and come to think of it, I’m not sure if I made good on any of those sales. Sophie, if you’re reading this, I owe you a three-level WWII-themed FPS! With one level that’s basically a gigantic maze where you have to find the world’s tiniest key in a storeroom and use it to open a door which looks identical to every other door! Fun, right?
Side note: I still have most of my old levels. One is called ‘Doom 4: Level 12’. Guess who hadn’t yet played Doom?
So, as you can see, my history of game development is already a long and storied one – and we haven’t even got into Game Maker yet.
Ah, Game Maker. What a glorious piece of software! I’m not sure when exactly I discovered it, but it was definitely circa 2008. As was tradition at this point, I started out by editing the example games that came with the software; for example, replacing the plane in the shoot-em-up game with an animation of my cat ‘swimming’ in the air. I even made a compilation of edited example games for that year’s Red Nose Day, which you can download here if you’re curious. Thing is, I still wanted to make games, but I had no idea how – not even how to learn how. It was a bit tricky! I did make a few little experiments, but I mainly liked just browsing the Game Maker Community for new games in development, and looking at stuff other people had made. In the vague hope that I would use it to make something, I did persuade my mum to buy me a copy of Game Maker 7.0 (the one with the infamously broken licensing system); but the most exciting thing I remember making was a little game where two guys climb up and down ladders and throw fireballs at each other.
In short, I’d hit a wall. I’d learnt bits and pieces of Game Maker Language and used it in conjunction with the drag-and-drop system, but I lacked both the knowledge and, perhaps, the focus to create anything more than very basic experiments with it. Little by little, my dream faded out over the years; and while it never died completely, my abilities were akin to treading water. It’s pretty tragic to think that I could’ve been part of the late-00s indie boom, alongside the greats like Vlambeer and Dennaton; but my abilities just weren’t there, for one reason or another.
Another side note: I recall that Dennaton developer Jonatan ‘Cactus’ Söderström frequented the forums, complete with his avatar of a bunny flipping the viewer off; alas, my laptop at the time wasn’t powerful enough to run Clean Asia, his original hit.
Anyway! It’s not all bad news. Fast-forward a good number of years, to 2017. I was in the final year of my graphic design degree programme, and I was working on one of my final projects. The title was ‘Evaluation and Application’, and the idea was to discuss one’s own professional practice, reflect on the degree as a whole, and discuss what the future held for a graphic design graduate. It was meant to be an essay, but we were encouraged to put a creative spin on it. Some people did posters; some did postcards; some did magazines.
I made a game. (And you can play it here!)
Turns out, I had a key for the very latest in Game Maker technology: GameMaker Studio. It’s an interesting tale unto itself, but I’ll try and be succinct about it.
Game Maker 5 was the first version to have a paid ‘Pro’ edition, for which you had to purchase a licence key. Versions 6 and 6.1 followed this trend, and presumably used the same licensing system; one that turned out to be rather insecure, meaning the software was plagued with rampant piracy. Version 7 introduced a new DRM system, called Softwrap, which supposedly would make the software harder to crack. In reality, though, it did what most DRM does, and prevented legitimate users from getting into their software while allowing pirates to run free. I was at the receiving end of this, and it took me nearly a week to get my copy of GM7 working after purchasing a licence key.
Thing is, just before version 7’s release, a Scottish company called YoYoGames had bought the software out. The community was deeply mistrustful of them at first, and the Softwrap saga did nothing to help their reputation. They actually did great things with Game Maker, and continue to develop it to this day; but their early controversies were an embarrassment at best. (There was also the whole Game Maker 8 logo debacle…hoo boy!)
Anyway, while I did eventually get version 7 working on my computer, it didn’t last forever. The Softwrap DRM died a death, and I couldn’t licence my software any more. I couldn’t even use version 8.0, since that used the same DRM. In desperation, I emailed YoYoGames, and a nice chap called James Foreman furnished me with a brand new licence key to version 8.1…which I proceeded to do basically nothing with. Again. Sorry, James.
On the bright side, I believe my new 8.1 key entitled me to a licence for the brand new GameMaker Studio. And this is what I used to make my game, which I called Road to Discovery.
It was very, very hacky, totally inefficiently coded, and I took all the shortcuts because I didn’t really know what I was doing. And yet, it all somehow came together. And in the process, I kind of proved to myself that it was possible for me to make a game from scratch.
Around the same time, I made another game called The Kuiper Run (which, guess what, you can play here). I had designs on improving the game, which was essentially an enhanced version of Asteroids, with new ship designs and an upgrade system; but everything got in the way, and once again, there was a roadblock. I couldn’t focus on the game, and eventually ended up losing the source files anyway. It was a bit of a shambles, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t really in a great place at the time. Let’s maybe not get too deep into that, though…
Anyway! Fast-forward to 2023. My dreams of making a game never really died out; the embers continued to burn softly throughout this whole saga. And over the past few years, I’ve rediscovered my love of video games; of the craft, the history, the community, and a little of the collecting, too. I also have a relatively successful twice-weekly stream. One day, a couple of months ago, I decided I’d use one of my Monday slots for a “Crappy Game Dev” stream, in which I’d download a bunch of the old software I used to fool around with, and attempt to make some sort of product with no regard to its quality.
And I loved it. That stream was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. Later on, I did a second one of these streams, focussing on an old program called Klik & Play. The process of making something, no matter how rubbish it ended up being, was a delightful one. It made me realise that I actually enjoyed this game development thing. I’m not sure what exactly has changed, but I now find that I’ve learnt how to learn.
Off the back of that, I dived into GameMaker Studio again. After years of attempting, this time, I was going to make something. My goal was to make something short and sweet, something that I could turn around quickly; to this end, I used a lot of free assets and just focussed on the gameplay.
And I did it. And it’s mine. And I couldn’t be happier with the result. (I mean…maybe I could. But the fact that it’s a complete product is the main thing.)
What’s more, in doing this, I’ve once again proven to myself that I can make a game! And it’s been a regular set of bellows for that little ember of a dream, which has now become a roaring flame. I want to keep going. I want to expand Soup into a proper (but still short and sweet) sequel. I want to remake The Kuiper Run, and do all the things I wanted to do with it originally. I don’t think I’ve properly mentioned Phantom Theory, a story I’ve been developing over the past few years; but while that was originally going to be a comic, I now want it to be a game.
It feels right. It took some time, but it finally feels right.
Why not give my Itch page a follow? Maybe I can prove it to you, too.