Wednesday, 11 April 2012, 07:31 - Starcat

Homebrewed thoughts

It’s been a while since I actually had time for game development.
I mean since I REALLY serious worked on something. In a way I miss it. I especially miss the creativity and the light-heartedness of how I once got to work on something.
It’s not just a question of spare time and priorities, but motivation, too. The right combination of an exciting idea, the necessary spare time and the motivation to actually make it happen, is something rare for me these days.

Do you know the feeling, when your ready for action and your so eager to do something that your fingers are prickling?
It’s a similar feeling to what an artist must feel when he picks up the pencil again or an author who is excited to enter the world of his stories again and let his words flow onto the blank page.
However it takes a lot of courage to take this first step. It feels like you’re standing right in front of a mountain. You may have found the motivation out of an impulse to get going. Maybe you remembered how it was or imagine how it might be, but after a while you ask yourself what you were thinking and sit down by the side of the road. The beginning the most difficult part.

To me as an old-school homebrew game developer it’s no different.
Don’t take the word “school” the wrong way. Even though I successfully studied game design, my true school was a darkened room with an outdated computer, an old screen, a bunch of games which I examined to the last detail and the dream to one day create my own games. I started with Pong and worked my way up to current games. Sounds exhausting? It was and sometimes quite frustrating, too. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing an idea come to life and looking back at what you did, to realize how much you learned from it. Those are the moments that are worth all the hard work.
Back in the day it was my hobby and my passion.
Today it is again.
Call it homebrew, call it indie. Both words represent the dream that once made me spend each minute of my spare time, developing my own games.

My activities include writing and graphics, but they alone don’t make a game. Programming is the necessary technical foundation for all interactivity, but even if you add it to the rest, the result is not a full game. In the best case it’s a proof-of-concept. Not only the technology has to be developed, but the content has to be created and it should follow a red thread through the entire project, which is dictated by a consistent game design document. Game Design however means writing at first, even if it’s more conceptual than narrative.
A simple game like the arcade classic of the 70s and 80s may not require an extensive design document. For a more complex idea, it’s inevitable not to loose sight of what’s relevant.

As you can see, there are many factors that matter in game development. We haven’t even talked about sound or music yet and depending on what kind of an idea you’re pursuing, this list can be extended as needed.
The development of a game is interdisciplinary and versatile work.
It’s the meeting of many different creative and technical aspects and that’s why I love it.
Videogames can be so much: culture, art, past-time, even educational if I think about how much my English skills improved by playing graphic adventure games as a child.
On one side, I rarely find games anymore that really draw me in or pick up the topics that videogames are all about to me.
I want to relax after an exhausting day and enter a different world, where I can take the role of a protagonist to do things that are impossible in our own world.
I want to go on an adventure and explore foreign places.
Most of all I want something that is separate from reality.
To me this clear separation is lost due to the development towards more and more realistic 3d graphics and the usual concepts of today.
Maybe that’s the reason why I prefer 2D games in most cases.
On the other side, there is no point to get mad about the direction of the industry. What I can do however is make my own small contribution and develop games just the way I imagine them to be and the way I like them.
Which brings us back to the indie thought.
Many a players miss the gameplay feeling of 2D titles, that they grew up with on home computers, DOS PCs and game consoles.
Maybe somebody even remembers arcades.
Compared to the mass-market target group these players are rare, but they exist. A very pacifying thought, I believe.
This thought, that there are people who love the same kind of games that I do, is the driving force for me and many other homebrew or indie developers.
We spend years getting to know a beloved system inside out to develop new games for it, that sometimes set whole new standards.
In 2010 the long awaited Mega Drive (Genesis) game Pier Solar was released. Hopefully Sturmwind will be available for the Dreamcast soon and thanks to Reboot and Jagware the Atari Jaguar has seen more homebrew releases in recent years than ever before.

Not homebrew, but to me, the definition of indie at this time is Double Fine with their classic graphic adventure project, that is entire funded by the community. Over 87000 fans supported the project and made it possible in the first place. Of course this is an exceptional case, because the team includes Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert, the creative brains of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. Still, funding could be a true chance for other promising indie projects. Recently Sierra developer legends Jane Jensen and Al Lowe stepped into the public, hoping to make their dreams of developing traditional adventure games a reality again.
Jane Jensen created a new studio around her Community Served Gaming idea and Al Lowe is working on remakes of his Leisure Suit Larry games.
To me, the most fascinating and exciting aspect of homebrew or indie games are the ideals of the developers and their passion for their projects.
You can really feel, that it’s all about the pursuit of a dream and making a vision come true. The main focus is quality and the thought of creating something unique. Play one of their games and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Monday, 20 February 2012, 21:57 - Starcat

About writing and indie game development

Winter is here, the temperatures leave no doubt about that. In the last weeks it was as low as -15 °C here in Munich. It’s already mid February and still, this is my first blog entry of the year.
The next months will be a very exhausting and stressful time for me. By the end of February I have to write the mid exam of my apprenticeship as application developer. School is slowly ending as well. There is another two week block in April and then that’s it.
The remaining time I’ll have to study. Until May I have to create my final project and write the final exam. Wish me luck!
The work-part of my apprenticeship continues until March 2013.

So far this year brought some great things for me.
Job-wise things are going fine and what’s even more important to me, on a private level, things are going great again. My better half is by my side again and we’re very much looking forward to the time that lies ahead of us. 🙂

What’s probably most interesting to you, as visitors of this site, are my creative hobbies. Writing and my indie game projects.
Well, I have some news about that, too, even though I hardly find the time to blog about it.
Since working life started, time is short and I prefer to use the spare time that I have effectively, rather than just blogging about what I plan to do or what I could do.
A lot has changed the last year and I got a new perspective on the things, that are important in my life.
I really enjoy my work as application developer and I believe it’s the perfect compromise between hobby and profession.

Retrospective 2010: Eerievale
I dedicated the year 2010 mostly to my dream of working on my indie game projects. Especially Eerievale. I hoped to build a future based on my own game projects. However I had to realize, that some things which may sound great in theory, only rarely work in daily life.
What worked and how it would work, I had to find out first.
On one hand it’s of course a dream coming true, to do something you love for a living and to be able to work by your own schedule.
But it’s very different to enjoying it as a hobby.
When you do something as a hobby, you can jump into it and put as much time and energy into it as you like and it can be very fulfilling. It’s great fun!
When such a hobby turns into a profession, it’s not just fun anymore. It’s serious and there are difficult and frustrating times, when something just doesn’t work. It’s tough and sometimes the daily-life was full of worries. How should I earn my living or pay my invoices? I didn’t need much, but even if I could live of my savings in a tiny place for a little while, I always knew, it would only work for a limited time.
Soon I realized that the time I had wouldn’t be nearly enough to get something finished. Especially not at the level of quality I had in mind.
In fact, I saw that from the necessity of earning a living sometime in the near future, the progress on the project seemed rushed and actually was slowing down. It just couldn’t go on like that. It was bad for me and bad for the project.
So what went wrong? I had quite some experience from previous projects, a great idea and a tiny, but great team (in fact the core consisted of me and my better half) and a dream we shared. There even was, judging by the website, a community looking forward to Eerievale.
I realized, most indie developers who actually released something, had something I didn’t have. They had a daily job to earn their living and they worked on their projects with an energy and ease I just didn’t have anymore, after working a whole year without break on my projects.
When something is really important to me, I pour my whole heart into it. I’m a perfectionist and I fight for my dreams. That’s my blessing and my curse. But I’m not a moron, I know when enough is enough. It’s good to know your weaknesses.

The year 2011 meant a lot of changes for me and I had to reset my priorities entirely. I decided to look for a new profession after my painful experiences in the game industry. As creative person I had just been exploited and I couldn’t earn a living with my own projects either. I had to find a new profession.
There are many things that interest me and many things I’m good at. As I basically grew up with computers, it was self-evident to stay close to it. 😉
I started an apprenticeship as application developer and moved to Munich.
I also dared an experiment. I put all my previous homebrew games as free downloads on my website. Whoever appreciated them was welcome to donate something to support my projects. The result was something like 5300:1.
It was great to see that somebody appreciated my work enough to donate, afterall it was voluntarily. It was the exception that proved the rule. However I had hoped for a little more support from the community to cover at least hosting costs or something.
Well, that proved what I had only assumed before. Indie game development can only work for me as a pure hobby. And that’s exactly how I’ll handle it in the future.
As projects created entirely out of passion, created in my spare time and maybe they will be completed at some point, so I can put them on my website for others to enjoy.

I especially love the 2D games of the early 90ies, because they have a certain charm, a passion and attention to detail, that the developers put into it and that I can feel as I play those games.

Video games are not a consumer good to me. They are art and craft and nothing that is improved by industrial manufacturing processes. It’s a creative medium, possibly the most promising creative medium there is, even if most developers and players of today have long forgotten about that.
I just remembered this and it’s exactly this thought that I will keep alive as I continue to follow my indie game development path in my spare time from now on.
I already have some ideas what I want to try. I want to experiment more and do more for the fun of it.
As soon as there is something to see, I’ll post it on the website. 🙂

Also as a writer this year began great so far. My resolution was to write regularly from now on.
Every day I get up early, to get my quota done. This way each day begins with a sense of achievement, even before I leave for work, which is just great. There also is the pleasant side effect of my story growing and progressing each day without having to invest that much time into it.
In November I started a new novel project by the working title of Lilar Canea. It’s a fantasy story with retro-futuristic elements about two orphan kids, who grow up in a remorseless industrial world. Together they discover a terrible secret. The orphanage, the only home they knew, will never be the same to them.
So far I’ve written about 80.000 words, the story is about half done and my preview readers really enjoyed it so far. They said, I really made great progress since the last year. 🙂

For me personally, writing is really a great way to find creative fulfillment, it’s good for my well-being and as a nice side effect I create something exciting.
I would especially like to combine my storytelling with my indie projects a little more. Maybe I’ll find a way to do just that.
Well, that’s it for now. Until the next blog entry! 🙂