December 20, 2012I Want to Make Games (and why I was the only 8th grader that believed in Santa)by Ben

I've wanted to make games forever.

One Christmas, about 25 years ago, we stayed at my cousins' house in Texas. We awoke to hearing sleigh bells in the middle of the night, and we all saw Santa delivering presents. And yes, that led me to believe in Santa far longer than my peers. But, the real magic for me was on Christmas Day, when my cousins received a Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember watching for hours as they played Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt and 3-D WorldRunner.

After that, I was hooked.

My Dad later told me that for the next year, that's all I would talk about. When we'd visit my grandma, the highlight of the trip (for me) was watching my uncle play through Zelda, Metroid and Golgo-13. I'm sure it wasn't my teenage uncle's favorite thing, to be forced to let your nephew hang out with you, but that's where my love of gaming really took hold.

My parents heard my incessant pleading, and the next Christmas, we received our very own NES. We had a rental shop near us that offered a free rental if you brought your movie or game back the next day, so we took full advantage of that and played through almost every game they had. I have no idea why they went out of business…

Side note: The only game I ever remember my Dad playing was Dragon Warrior, which he completed to the end. The random encounter sound still freaks me out to this day. However, what's really odd is that my first roommate in college said the only game his dad ever played was Dragon Warrior as well, which he completed to the end. Weird, right?

So, fast forward a few years, and my mom starts managing a Christian bookstore, where I start playing with the new-to-me computers. I read the entire MS-DOS 5.0 manual in one night and began messing with batch files and QBasic. I made a text adventure game for my brother one year. I also made a game called "Faith Invaders." Can you guess what that was like? Yeah, space invaders, but the enemies were sins or something, and the ship had a cross on it. Awesome, right?

With people sharing games on AOL, I wanted to create something there, but QBasic didn't make .EXE files, so it wasn't as easy to distribute. I wouldn't get a copy of QuickBasic 4.5 (which does create .EXE files) until many years later. One day, I found Klik & Play, a goofy game creator from Maxis. I made a ton of random, ridiculous games that weren't worth sharing. I think there was one involving a bee that traveled through a bunch of different flower-based levels that was pretty sweet. I'm sure it's on a floppy disk somewhere.

I'd like to believe that if it hadn't been for our school newspaper that I would have pursued a degree in computer science and ended up at some game company. You see, I had taken two semesters of Computer Science in high school (which I loved), and they were going to switch from Pascal to C, which is actually a language I wanted to learn at the time. However, my writing skillz war apparently good, and I was invited to write for the school newspaper. The problem? They met at the same time. Why did I choose the newspaper over programming? I was promised that girls would be throwing themselves at me, because it was a 90% female class. I would later make the same mistake when it came to selecting a college.

My wife Delayne, whom I am crazy in love with, came from neither of those situations. :)

Instead of pursuing something ridiculous like game design, I went a far safer route – music composition at a Bible college. How have I made a living since college? Self-taught web design & development. College is totally not a waste of time.

However, if I had pursued computer science, I would have realized far too late that I am unemployable, and might have ended up working in a company I only slightly like, and probably would have been laid off several times (considering how there's a layoff at a major game company every other day).

It's crazy when you look back at the path your life has taken and you realize that the things you thought you would absolutely love are not even remotely what you should be doing. At one point, I wanted to be a studio engineer. I've had a ton of training in that area, and quite a bit of experience. Ask me if I want to do that now? Absolutely not. Producing music appeals more to me, because I've found that I am a creative, producing person. I'm not an engineer. I can be, but that's not my core desire. I want to create.

For a time, I thought I wanted to create music, and later, film. I wrote, produced & directed a film for my senior recital in college, and I enjoyed it. I'm sure I'll work on more music and film, but you know what I want to do even more?

I want to make games.

People unfamiliar with gaming think that's stupid. Why would you want to create something so juvenile and small when you could be producing a hit song or feature film? That's because they don't realize what gaming has become. Gaming is all of these things put together. I've been watching a ton of Indie Game: The Movie (and you should, too). In it, Phil Fish says it perfectly:

"To me, video games are the ultimate art form. It’s just the ultimate media. I mean, it’s the sum total of every expressive medium of all time, made interactive. Like, how is that not…it's awesome!"

Books and film and music can be incredible. They tell stories and provide depth and help us relate and understand complex emotions. However, a game has the capability to make you feel like you're a part of its world.

I only finished playing a few games this year (in my defense, one of them was Skyrim, and I have 3 children). Another one was Mass Effect 3. Say what you will about the ending, but there is no other medium that can provide the kind of connection to the characters and decisions that you make throughout those 3 games. If you tried to fit the story into film, you'd need a trilogy of trilogies to do it justice, and because of the variety of choices, you'd still only experience one linear path.

That's why I'm choosing games. And while I want to create the epic worlds someday, I need some experience first. And so, I've put my musical expertise into a simple, first game: Beat Brite. It took 2 months, 12 viewings of Indie Game: The Movie and 83 hours of Skyrim to develop, and I'm quite proud of it.

Please play it. I love you.

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