Why game development
My passion for game development started quite early on. I was 5 when my father brougth an Atari 800 XL from one of his trips and I played forever after. The answer to the question “Why game development” does not lie in games that I could play however. I like making games, because I did not have the games I wanted.
My parents sold our first computer, the Atari 800 XL, when I was six years old. Now, that I have my own kids, I think I understand their decision. Kids that fall in love with computers and games tend to focus 100% of their attention on this pursuit. While today unplugging kids from technology is almost impossible, in the late 1980’s it was as easy as selling the bugger’s hardware.
What was left for me then was thinking about games. I created drawings of those games and made my own simplistic board games. This way I was able to recreate the on-screen magic unavailable to me.
The next computer I got was the Commodore 64. It was the early 1990’s and by the time I got it I could already see (even though I did not quite understand what was going on) that the 8-bit era was ending. Amiga and PC games were already quite more fun. And some of the most groundbreaking games in history were just around the corner. I am talking about games of the caliber of Wolfenstein, Doom, Heroes of Might and Magic, Warcraft. These would define gaming in the decades to come.
Straight to 32-bits
One of my most vivid memories of that glorious mid-1990’s period is of the day when I visited my friend Peter who just installed the game called Warcraft. It blew us away. That day I came home with my mind full of Warcraft and no real way to satisfy my hunger for gaming. My rusty ol’ C64 could not provide me with any meaningful gaming experience at that point. I remember that my parents held a party that day with their neighbors. So I stacked up on food, closed myself in my room and did the one thing I knew could quench my thirst. I made my own Warcraft out of a hexagonal strategy board game. All those grunts, wolfriders, footmen and mages I assigned to different tokens from the board game. Then I wrote simple turn-based rules for expanding villages and played all evening by myself.
That evening I remember as a kind of a turning point for my interests. I consciously took the effort to model certain behaviors and outcomes as a set of rules. When before drawing board games was always a kind of play, not unlike playing with soldiers, dinosaurs and Lego blocks, this was the first instance of me trying to create world which acts on rules that have been defined and do not change during the course of play.
Pen and Paper all the way
But by the late 1990’s new gaming opportunities arrived, as a friend of a friend brought some new hot stuff to our home town – card games (Doomtrooper), roleplaying games (Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay) and tabletop miniature wargames (Warhammer Fantasy Battle). With time we embraced all these games, however I always drifted towards the rulebooks. I would constantly nag our gamemaster for the Warhammer rulebook. Finally he agreed to lend it to me and I spent inordinate amounts of time reading through it. I even copied the character sheet dozens of times to create fake characters and simulate their advancement.
First steps in the Wasteland
The next milestone for my game development hobby came with my exposure to Fallout 2. Initially, when my friends told me about the game, I was not that interested, but after installing the game a lifelong relationship was born. The atmosphere of postapocalyptic wasteland got me hooked to such a degree that I started to wonder why we are not playing any such games. A thought has blossomed in my mind of buying a new RPG system for my group. With no luck finding such a system, I decided to make my own.
It was my 2nd year of high school and I worked tirelessly for six months. Day after day I sat writing systems, loot tables, lore and designing the character sheet. Then I took to writing it all down in a Word document (I didn’t have my own computer at the time, so I had to re-write everything in digital format for print at my aunt’s office).
Then I presented the game to my closest friend and we played a few games. He seemed to like it, so we invited a few more friends. I was thrilled. My creation was finally alive and shared with others. When my friend asked me if I would allow him to be a gamemaster for 1 game I was very happy. Right then I knew I made my first real game. We played the game for a few more months. Then I bought Cyperpunk 2020, as I had no time to develop my own game further. We did play Cyberpunk ever since, with some modifications. However, my own RPG world stuck in my mind ever since.
Lost in gaming
My university years and early adulthood were marked by a sort of hiatus from thinking about game development. I bought my very first PC for money I saved during my 1st year at the university. And I had lots of gaming to catch up with. Apart from my interest in 3D graphics and scripting some stuff in the Warcraft 3 editor, I basically gamed away until I hit my late 20s.
A major breakthrough came with the birth of my first son. In that period my free time shrunk by a large margin. I had to manage the remaining time with much care. Also, two of my closest friends got back to playing Warhammer 40k tabletop wargame. It was a hobby we left behind a decade earlier when we started university. We played for a few months, but I quickly became disillusioned with the game’s mechanics.
When observing one match between my friends I started to question all the mechanics and inconsistencies that have been bugging me previously. An idea for a project was born in my head. A project that would ultimately fail, but at the same time show me the value of hard work, persistence and consistency. In short, I started designing my own tabletop system. And boy, did it have grandiose aims too… In fact, I might one day write a bit about it, because the system turned out very good in my opinion. It still has lots of potential, however I did overestimate my capabilities at the time. It took me too long. I worked alone without any community to back me up and had no idea how to thoroughly test it with my limited assets.
The new beginning
Six whole years passed on this effort and an offer came from an unexpected angle. My friend Peter approached me and asked if I wanted to cooperate on a simple computer game. I was thrilled and we quickly started working on some drafts. However, a month later he changed jobs and didn’t have the time to continue. Yet I was already hooked. I knew I would not let this one slip away. I packed my wargame project in a large box. Then I stuffed it deep into a closet (with much regret and a sense of relief at the same time).
It took me a few days to browse through different educational offerings on the web, but finally I settled on one of the top selling Udemy courses (I bet you heard that one on YouTube, right?) and a new chapter in my life started. How I progressed from zero (well, not exactly, but quite close) to being able to write my own game from scratch in a year is a topic for another post.