Storytime – My Game Development Background

In 2005, I was basking in the sudden influx of uninterrupted Internet access at Walters State Community College. DeviantArt was my 2nd go-to place, I was getting a lot more writing done and I could use the Internet without having to bother what my parents would say.

A lot of time would be spent here. Hours beyond than what I usually needed to be at school. All because I didn’t have a proper computer at home, and didn’t have free Internet access.

It was one afternoon in early fall of 2007, I had joined a forum and discovered by the name of Game Maker. The people of the forum had recommended it to me when I have voiced how I wanted to make a game. I figured that I would bomb at computer programming since I had failed Visual Basic a semester before. What harm would it be to fool around with it?

Turns out I was wrong.

Game Maker studio employed a system of dragging blocks to get what you needed done. It literally explained what was going on around you, and it didn’t take long for me to get a handle of one of the demo games, 1945. This was basically a small top-down shooter featuring WW2 planes over a simple, scrolling background.

It took me almost two weeks to create a small mini-campaign with the same setup. I utilized sprites from my Space Empires III shipsets. I created two additional missions and learned the code to create “additional rooms”. I also learned how to use the timeline to make specific things happen, and even created a “torpedo” button that a player could use blow up capital ships.

It wasn’t perfect (it crashed a lot and I had a few bugs), but I remember going around to three peeps I had known at the time, asking them to play it and give me feedback. They thought it worked well, and gave me pointers such as speeding up the torpedoes, adding some story and improving the graphics/fixing the crashes. Suffice to say it almost fell exactly in line to what I would do in class in 2012.

However, it didn’t go anywhere. It was just a hobby. I never did improve the game and implement the changes. In fact, with looming probation of low grades, failing calculus a 2nd time and just starting work study, making a game was the least thing in my mind. With an outdated computer anyway, it didn’t make sense to partially code a game whenever I could use the same time to browse the Internet.

Some things did change in the next few years. I got the last Millenium project computer in the fall of 2007, a computer that could play all my games. I started getting into art once again in the spring of 2010 thanks to a gift of a Wacom Bamboo tablet the previous Christmas (this is what led me to go ETSU for a bachelor’s.) Lastly seeing all the things I could do in the Adobe suite along with my ideas for Dawnstar, made me want to look at developing a game once again.

Once more I turned to GameMaker studio. At this time it looked like it was now becoming a force to be reckoned with. It was one of three software people recommended for more “simpler” games, and those looking to learn how to make games.

I remember the night I had poked my nose back into GMS. My parents had left to go to some funeral in another state, and couldn’t afford to take my brother and I. We got left home in light of that. It was a Saturday night, and Maruchan spicy chicken ramen in-a-cup was on the menu that night. I had tried to load both Solar Winds and Zone 66 with no success, thinking I’d go down memory lane for nostalgia.

The first thing that popped in my head was ‘You know, I’m pretty sure I could create a lookalike.’

And I spent all night trying to make that happened. I used a ship sprite from Zone 66, populating a system with Space Empires IV planets. I was able to create a system to fly around in, and even to the point that I could enter a simple “store” if you pressed a use button when parked on top of a planet. Problem was, I didn’t understand math logic and I kept equipping an unlimited amount of shield generators on the ship.

However, I once again took what I learned from 2006 and was able to create multiple systems for my ship to travel through. That was an accomplishment for me if anything.

I was so excited that I knocked over the ramen all over my PC case. Twice.

Even up to this day that my dad has the chassis, there’s a small portion of the bottom of the case that’s rusted slightly from that ramen spill. My carpet was permanently stained in that corner as well. But I suppose I could call it a trophy mark for the milestone I had hit that night.

It would be two semesters later I would be given software to use in class to create a game and go through the process of what I did in 2006. At the time I chose Stencylworks because of its ease of use. I honestly think it is easier to use than Game Maker Studio, and I had experimented with a visual-novel-esque type of setup between a top-down shooter. I stuck with the latter and was even able to create a boss that took multiple hits to defeat.

While that was just a class project for me, using Stencylworks had cemented in my head that I could make games of some sort. I moved ahead with working on Dawnstar. I felt confident I knew at least the same amount of knowledge if not more of those kids on deviantART who were making Flash games. And now with the background of two computer-science related courses, I had the proper foundation and understanding of computer language and ideology.

Jump to summer of 2017. Unemployment had just ran out and I was floundering on things to do in the freelancing field. I had just started to dip my feet into freelance writing, finding little or nothing to do with web or book design. I got an e-mail from Humble Bundle about a sale that was going on; the entire Game Maker Studio collection 1.4 for $150, including all export plugins for phones and whatever else.

I don’t know why I grabbed it, but I did. I think something in the back of my head thought that I could freelance to make games with it, since I did spend two semesters making stuff in Unreal and Stencylworks. If anything, I would have a full suite of a game engine I could use to pursue my own projects when my money problems died down.

Fate would knock on my door one day, however. I was approached by someone in September 2017, a web design firm attending an expo in the UK. They wanted something that attendees could play when they visited their booth, and had settled on a personally-branded version of retro Pong. I obliged.

It wasn’t a lot of money I earned from the job, on top of spending three all-nighters in reacquainting myself with GMS. But the game worked, liked by the client and was a success. I had hit yet another milestone; creating a game for a client as a freelancer.

One year later, I sit at my desk in the development of a project of yet another GMS project, having done yet another a few months ago. I’ve started development on Dawnstar once again. And I now scour Reddit and other corners of the internet for game dev jobs, looking for work to plod along through life with. I never thought I would’ve been at this point, or even be making games for people. Making games seemed so out of reach, out of touch and impossible if I wasn’t some CSCI nerd with a masters in Computer Science.

And it’s all thanks to the people who made Game Maker Studio all those years ago. It opened up a door for me to do something all this time later. Thanks, YoYo games.

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