Teenage Indie Game Dev Ninja Turtle

I guess I’ve been involved in games a long time. Doing “amazing” things with “PRINT” on the Commodore 64 at the age of 9, and promoting a cheesy Zelda/Final Fantasy hybrid online at 16. Just to give some perspective, the year was 1996, and the game was called Legends of Tidal, a game the Internet has forgotten. Then there was all that game industry experience, but *pshaw*, nobody cares about that.

Looking back, while most kids were out doing what kids do, I was busy being fascinated with and making video games. Inventing concepts, characters, scenarios, a healthy creative mind at work, with programming and art mixed in for good measure. Sure, they were Final Fantasy clones and 2D plaformers, but *I* thought they were cool.

Before the Internet really took off, the tech savvy of us communicated through BBSes, that is, assuming we communicated at all. Being the computer geek I was, that didn’t really make me all that social. I was never (much) the kid that never talked, but I was certainly not the corner stone of social structure. A topic of the social structure perhaps.

As expected, I made friends in BBS land. Mostly others interested in game development or even the demo scene. And for times, I was part of demo groups and pseudo “game company” alliances with friends. I look back and laugh remembering how much of a nervous dork I was anticipating the first time I attended a gathering of our “demo group”, but hey, I must have been 15, and not part of the social structure.

And a side note, I still get a kick out of every awkward aspect of Real Life and aliases. Referring to real people as Dragon, Narfy, Llama, and Tsu amuses me to no end. Even that pause as you attempt to remember Tsugumo=Jeff, so you don’t look like a complete jackass in front of those not in the loop, priceless. :D

But the point I’m trying to get across was BBSes were personal, in that you’d show your projects to remote friends in much the same way as local friends. Directly. I’m not saying you couldn’t spam people back then, but in my experience back then, you didn’t. It generally felt different. After all, you could be merely be 30 minutes to an hour drive away from everyone in the community. Then came the Internet. While the Internet can be personal, it’s also global, mass market, and when you had a presence, it seemed you were more than an individual. This post, as far as scale is concerned, is addressed to all that trip over the internet and find their way here. It’s structure isn’t how I’d talk to an individual. Again, it’s not that you couldn’t do this before, but finding many like minded individuals on niche topics wasn’t common. When we as game development kids stepped in to this brave new world, everything changed.

Being on the net was huge. We suddenly gained the ability to market our products. Not with money, but net presence, word of mouth, and links. It wasn’t until then we began to think of our products as products. Promotion up until now was merely showing off to friends.

In learning to promote, we were suddenly creating and promoting two products. The first product for many became our brands or “company” identity. We’d design fancy-ass websites with Comic Sans MS, Photoshop Lens Flares, and animated Gif’s. And second (or 3rd, 4th, …), we’d promote our games. We’d hack in screenshot taking code, convert them to Gif’s, place them on our websites. Shortly after, we’d contact people to get us listed and generally get the word out.

Then came the chores. You’d want to update your site regularly, to reassure your fans that you’re making progress. But truth be told, you weren’t a “real” game development operation. It was a hobby. Lack of progress often frustrated you. And this is where many projects died in extravagant “hard drive crashes” or other horrific top secret events.

What started as a mere few good game development weekends produced something cool, then you got all caught up in promotion. There was never any game development structure, we were just having fun. After the game was somewhat playable, promotion was the new fun thing. You’d get a good feeling every time someone linked you, and an even bigger feeling when someone had something good to say. It was the chore tasks of game development that we procrastinated, thus having many games never go beyond the “tile engine demo”.

In retrospect, it never mattered. ’cause hey, you’re a kid, and you should be doing something fun. You’ll do the boring when you grow up and get a job.

Now if only we realized that back then. It could have saved all those months of being annoyed with yourself for doing nothing, in attempts to motivate yourself. That way, we could have focused on whatever random project you wanted to try this week. And after a few years, we’d have had lots more little things. And not to mention, know more about game development.

Beh… kids.