I released a brand new game into the world recently. It’s a short platformer, which (in its current state) takes maybe 15 minutes to play through to completion. It’s a bit buggy – maybe in part because the main character is a bug – and the premise is bizarre at best. It uses free assets from a variety of different places. And those are just a few of its unique selling points!
The key takeaway, though, is that it’s mine. I made it. And you can download it right here, for free:
That might not sound like a massive achievement on the surface. After all, there must be tens of thousands of little games released every day. To give this some context, let me transport you back to around 2003; where you might bear witness to a young lad who really loved video games.
I’m a maker. Seems I’ve always had the urge to just make things. And in 2003, somehow I’d managed to get the game development bug. Maybe I’d seen something on my at-the-time favourite gaming-related TV show, Gamezville; or maybe I’d seen something on the cover of a magazine in the shop. It’s possible, even, that my dad let slip the idea that someone could make a game. Whatever the case, I’d grown up with games, and now I wanted to make one all of my own.
And, to a seven-year-old Lunar, the process of ‘making a game’ – or, indeed, getting one made for you – entailed writing all the details of your game down, then taking it somewhere, whereupon a man behind a desk would take your manuscript and conjure up a first-class piece of entertainment software. Programming clearly hadn’t hit my radar at the time, so the next best thing was to pen a detailed treatise of every level and every character in my game. It was called Armour Age, and it was to be a Final Fight-esque beat-em-up. With guns, and a Crash Bandicoot boulder section, and maybe there were mechs involved, and a skateboarding game borrowed from the five minutes I spent playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater at a friend’s house. Exactly what a seven-year-old kid would dream up. The characters were all versions of me and my friends, in fetching neon jumpsuits (my MS Paint drawing abilities were unparalleled), and the enemies were all blue people called Nutterz. With a Z.
My document got printed immediately after I’d written it, complete with wacky fonts and background colours – and maybe a spot or two of WordArt – and that was The Bible. That was the thing I was going to take to that guy behind the desk, and my game was going to get made. I even had a main theme in mind! In the meantime, my dad took it to work with him and showed all his workmates; and he may have even taken it to the golf club and shown them, too. He was so proud! Proud enough that he said I should send it to a publisher for review: specifically, Empire Interactive, a name I knew from some golf game we had on the computer. Tragically, I don’t think I ever saved a copy of the original Word file; the reason I say that is because my dad later told me he had to painstakingly retype the whole thing in the body of an email.
Empire, unsurprisingly, weren’t all that interested. But for my trouble, I did get a copy of Space Invaders Anniversary for the PlayStation 2, which I still own to this day!
My game development dreams didn’t end there. Maybe a year or two later, I spied an interesting-looking piece of software in a garden centre, of all places. Back in the mid-noughties, they’d sometimes sell software from the likes of Focus Interactive and SoftKey, and it was mostly latter-day edutainment and cross-stitch design programs. But amongst all that, I saw something called The 3D Gamemaker. I grabbed it and asked my grandma if she’d buy it for me, for the princely sum of ten pounds, an offer which she begrudgingly accepted. This was incredible! – I could cut out the middle man-behind-the-desk and just make my game all by myself!
In case you haven’t come across this stellar bit of progamming prowess before: the 3D Gamemaker is a tool which allows you to, essentially, customise a ready-made game. You get a choice of player characters, weapons, enemies, obstacles, and level layouts. A bit like Mad Libs, in a way. For your trouble, you’d get one of three different ‘styles’ of game: a 3D platformer without a great deal of platforming; a flying game that felt like the worst parts of Descent and Star Fox 64; and a racing game, which was basically the platform game with a car…and no racing involved whatsoever. Any “creation” afforded to the user was surface-level at best; you could change the graphics, you could change the sounds, and if you wanted to get a little more technical, you could change the textures, and alter the character models to give them legs, wings, or wheels.
Looking back, the software wasn’t really game development. It was the software equivalent of a plastic shop set; you could simply pretend to make your own game, but in reality, they all played like an ultra-cheap shovelware clone of a game you’d probably much rather be playing instead. It didn’t matter to me, though. I made a lot of games with it, and I had a lot of fun doing so.
As you can probably guess, that wasn’t the conclusion of my game dev story. T3DGM (as it was known) was a fun novelty, but eventually I wanted more. However, this post’s gone on for far longer than I intended already; so I will drop it off here, and continue this tale in another post later on this week. Stay tuned!
EDIT: On Soup and Bugs – Movement 2 is now available for your reading pleasure.