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Tuesday, 9 April 2013, 18:42 - Starcat

Time for a change

Almost a year has passed.
Lately all you saw when you visited the site was a note that I’m working on something. Well, as you may know, I’m always working on something. Sometimes I can put more time into it, sometimes less. But there is always something going on in the creative part of my mind.
I had some time on my hands recently. Some of that time went into the site you see in front of you now. (Most time went into other projects, though.)
A lot will probably seem familiar, but slightly different.
I rewrote the page, changed the style of it a bit, cut away some chunks here and there. The code is much cleaner now, it’s based on CSS3 and HTML5 and is less of a pain to maintain.

What else is new? I have completed my apprenticeship in late February. So I’m now officially a “Fachinformatiker fΓΌr Anwendungsentwicklung”. A whatthefuck?! That’s German for what’s best translated as “IT specialist for application development”. πŸ˜‰ Yup, I’m a software developer now. Though I’ve been doing that for years, I now have the paper to prove it. πŸ˜‰
After two years of working as a web developer, writing database driven Ruby on Rails 2 applications, I’m looking for a new job in the Ruhrgebiet area. I moved away from Munich with my girlfriend and we just found a new home.
I’m also working on a little tool to help me organize my ideas for writing and game projects. It already proved to be useful and is a great excuse to look into Ruby on Rails 3.2 after I heard so much good about it. It’s really a great improvement over the 2 version in about every way. πŸ™‚

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.