My Game Dev Journey – Part 1 [Podcast E07]

Some of you might not know, if you only know me from my videos, but the main thing that I always wanted to do in life was make games, and I have made quite a lot of games over the years. I have talked about them on my channel in the past, but I’ve never really talked about my full journey through the game development process that’s led me up to where I am today.

And also kind of why I fell out of wanting to make games a bit later on in life, because for the past say three or four years now I’ve not really released anything playable. I’ve got a lot of prototypes, which I’ll cover a bit later on, but in terms of actually focusing on one project, I’ve not really been able to do that for a while.

So I kind of want to touch on that as well, but first of all let’s go right back to the start and let’s talk about some of my first ventures into game development.

So I have actually done a video on my very beginnings of game development. Give the video below a watch to see some of these awful games in action!

And that basically explains where I got my start with making games – that was through Microsoft PowerPoint back in the late 90s when I was still in primary school. I used to love doing it so much that I would sometimes even spend my lunch break or even stay over a little bit after school to go to the computer lab and design these really intricate PowerPoint games.

They were basically nothing more than a few hyperlinks on a slide that linked up with other slides and you could go back and forth and I kind of somehow managed to turn that into a sort of point-and-click adventure game.

After listening to this podcast, I would definitely recommend you go and check out that video. So you can get an idea of what I’m trying to describe in this podcast, because they are really really weird and I’m so glad that I actually still had them in order to go back and look at them for that video and to be able to talk about them on this as well.

And I have actually uploaded some of them to my page as well, so have a look in the description for this podcast or video, and that will take you over to my page where I’ve got a description going through my history of making games, as well as all of the different projects that I will talk about in this podcast as well.

So definitely go and check that out after you’ve listened to this, and definitely check out some of those early PowerPoint games as well, even if it’s just for a laugh and nothing much else. Don’t really expect anything worthwhile looking at, but it does give you a good understanding of where I was at at the time.

And you can see that I was really obsessed with this even from such a young age.

The Lost PowerPoint Epic – Hiarkin

But before we move on to the next section, there is one other PowerPoint game that I have to talk about. And if you saw my video you’ll know how upset I am that I don’t actually have the files for this anymore.

Well I have some of the files, but unfortunately they’ve all been corrupted over time and I can’t actually open them. But that was for a game called Hayarkin, which I put an insane amount of time into back in school, in primary school and in secondary school actually.

I had it all on loads of floppy disks and I had it on my school computer system and I would stay after school for a bit. I would always work on it during break or anything like that.

I would take it home and work on it after school. I would be writing notes in my school diary and in any sort of textbooks I had. I would always flip to the back and come up with more and more game ideas for Hayarkin.

And it was this huge sprawling sort of Zelda slash Pokemon slash Dragon Quest – all of these things that I really loved – all put into one huge game.

And I remember it got to the point where it was at least over 2000 slides long within PowerPoint.

And then one day when I was at home and we’d upgraded our computer, there was no way of me actually getting the file off my old computer onto the new one.

This was in the days before you could have things like USB sticks, so I put what I could onto floppy disks, but unfortunately I think I’ve lost most of them these days.

I do still have one, but the file on there is corrupted and I tried to recover it and it just didn’t work.

And I also found a few files that I’d sort of tried to email to myself to try and keep some of this when I swapped over to my new computer, but unfortunately that didn’t work either.

And I found a MSN text log chat log with one of my friends to see whether I could send it over to him for him to look after on his computer until I got my new one. And unfortunately when I asked him about it, about three months before I’d asked him, and this was only last year by the way, he’d actually deactivated his old Hotmail account completely and he didn’t have any of the emails or any of the attachments anymore.

So I think unfortunately it’s lost to time now, but thankfully it lives on in my memories and it was such a huge undertaking for me at the time. And it also really cemented the fact that I wanted to make games as a career going forward.

College & University

So at the end of school, I had to decide what college I wanted to go to, or whether I just wanted to go into work. But of course I wanted to go and study game design, so I decided to go to Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology here in the UK, which actually had a game design course.

And it’s not that far away from where it lived either – I used to get the bus there every day and it used to take maybe an hour each way. So quite a long time, but it gave me a lot of time on the bus to play on the DS or the GBA at the time, and I had a blast playing through loads of games during that commute.

But while I was there I kind of half learnt a lot, and half of it was kind of pointless, but I’ll save that for another episode.

But the games that I ended up making there – the first one was when we were learning about 3D Max, which is a 3D sort of 3D modelling program for Windows.

And with this 3D modelling program we didn’t actually make anything interactive, we just made a little flyby 3D video sort of thing. And you had to come up with a game design document and you wanted to come up with all the rules for the games and sort of make mock-up screenshots using your 3D creation and put your own sort of UI over it and stuff.

So it was really interesting and the game and the idea that I came up with for that was a game called Help I’ve Been Shrunk. And if you’re watching this on the YouTube video not on the audio podcast, I’ve actually got a few bits and pieces that I can show you.

Help I’ve Been Shrunk was one of them. There was another one that I came up with called TerrorDactyl, which I thought was genius at the time but obviously it was really bad.

And this was the first time I kind of learned how to use Photoshop and I basically photoshopped this pterodactyl and gave it rocket launchers and machine guns on its wings and it was flying around Big Ben and Big Ben had this health bar at the top and there was all these attack helicopters trying to take you down.

And it was kind of going to be like a Star Fox style 3D into the screen shooting game where you play as a pterodactyl – kind of like Panzer Dragoon mixed with Star Fox – except you’d be flying around real world locations. That was my idea at the time.

But once again it wasn’t actually interactive, it was more just a proof of concept demo. But I really enjoyed putting it together.

But by far the thing that I put the most time into with college was my final year project, and that was a Flash game called On The Edge of Time. And that’s kind of dating myself now – yes we had to learn how to make Flash games using ActionScript in college.

It was something that I’d actually done before back at school – I always used to mess around with Flash after school to try and come up with game ideas, but I never really understood it until I actually got taught how to use it properly in college.

And that was also my first proper experience with programming as well, which I kind of thought I was better at than I actually was, because a lot of what we were doing at college was just copying and pasting different scripts in ActionScript that had been taken off the internet or given to us by the tutors at college.

But I really enjoyed it, and what I ended up coming up with was a vertical scrolling shooter called On The Edge of Time. And I was really proud of that title as well – I spent a long time trying to come up with a really cool name for it, and I think On The Edge of Time still sounds really cool today.

And I’d come up with this huge backstory – I’d actually wrote like almost an entire like fantasy novel based around it. You basically had to travel the world and then you ended up in 1999 and Big Ben got hit by a spaceship.

And a part of Big Ben landed in your brain, and then you could travel through all these different dimensions and you were trying to piece together this plot to put this clock back together and you could save humanity by pulling all these different time fragments into one into one thing.

And then taking that back to Big Ben and holding it up to get struck by lightning or something. I have no idea where I was going with it at the time, but I was completely obsessed with coming up with this game and story to go alongside it.

And the game – well it’s very basic and it doesn’t really play that well – but I did put a lot of time and effort into it. And I managed to make a few different sort of time periods that you’d explore.

You’d like go back to the Jurassic period and you’d be fighting dinosaurs, you’d go to the future and fight aliens, you’d go through like ancient Egypt and you’d fight all the Sphinx and stuff.

It didn’t look anywhere near as good as what I’d pictured in my head, but it still quenched my thirst for making games and I really really wanted to do more of that.

I really really wanted to do more of that so when it was coming to the end of college and I had to decide what to do next with my life, of course I wanted to carry on this journey.

The easiest way for me to do that at the time was to try and do well in college obviously to get enough points to be able to go into uni.

I just about managed to scrape by – I think I got two merits and a distinction, which is good enough to move onto the university course that I wanted to do.

Game Design at University

Unfortunately though, the university course that I decided to do, probably looking back in hindsight, was kind of a mistake.

So I signed up for a brand new course that had only just come about that year, and it was called portable game programming.

The reason I wanted to do that was because the DS was quite new at the time and I absolutely loved playing DS games – literally every day in college I was always have the DS with me.

So yeah I would always have my DS with me in class. In fact it got to the point where one day I didn’t use it and my college tutor actually asked whether I’m okay and I asked him why – why am I okay, why am I not okay? Yeah I’m fine.

And he said well you haven’t got your DS with you so something must be wrong. So that gives you kind of an idea of how obsessed I was with playing on the DS at the time.

So when I found out that Staffordshire University was doing this new course just for portable game programming, I jumped at the opportunity.

But little did I know that when I got there, I was actually the only person who had chosen to go on that course.

So rather than to go ahead with the full thing like they were intending to do, what actually happened when I got there was that I got grouped in with all of the computer science and AI students.

I’d never really been that good at maths before, but a lot of the classes that I had to take in first year were really low level programming courses, like how to use C programming language, which I’d never even really understood what it was.

So that was like something that was completely brand new to me at the time. And as well as that I also had to attend all of these A-level maths classes, which again I didn’t really have the background in maths to be able to do that.

So in first year unfortunately by the end of the year I was quite depressed in a way. I kind of avoided doing a lot of the work and I would kind of hide myself away.

You know just I really wasn’t having a good time, let’s put it that way. So at the end of first year I decided I needed to make a change else I was really going to get myself down.

I knew that I couldn’t at the time, at least, I couldn’t understand programming. We’ll get back to how I’ve improved in that in the future. But yeah at the time this was 2010 so YouTube and stuff was still quite new.

You couldn’t really get the sort of programming tutorials that you can get these days. So a lot of it was actually trying to go through textbooks and following examples in the tutorials and classes, and I was just falling behind and further and further behind.

I was getting more and more depressed about the whole thing. It really did affect me quite badly. I used to hide myself away quite a lot.

But then at the end of first year, I decided that I wanted to make a clean start at uni. I actually had the option of either going into the second year of game design or going back to do first year again.

I thought to completely get a fresh start, I didn’t really mind about having to pay back an extra year of student loans. That was something for me to worry about in the future, which of course is affecting me now.

Restarting Uni after a failed first year

But we’ll get back to that. I basically restarted university from scratch, going right back to first year. So I actually ended up doing four years in the end.

I went on to a course called Gameplay Design and Production, which was a lot more up my street. It was a lot more academic focused rather than programming. It was a lot more of writing essays and learning about the psychology behind games and things, which I find absolutely fascinating.

But there were actually a few games that I managed to make through this university course as well. And I really enjoyed my time with them.

In fact, one of them was actually a group project. I had to put my name forward to be the lead game designer on this project. And I really, really loved doing that.

I loved sharing my ideas with the team and getting everyone together and splitting people up into their own little groups to report back to me. I thought that was fantastic.

The game that we came up with as a group was called Plunder Bus. I got on really well with a lot of people there, especially the lead programmer Leon. Him and I worked really well together.

It’s actually thanks to him sitting with me and going through the code that I finally started to understand how programming really worked. We worked really well together on that, along with a lot of other people.

There were some really talented 3D modellers, and the sound designer was amazing as well. That was my first proper look into how you would make a game as a team rather than as an individual.

Have a look at the gameplay trailer here. I really did have a lot of fun putting Plunder Bus together.

The two other games – one of them was my final project for final year. That one was a game that also had to tie into the essay that I was writing for the end of year as well.

The full title of this final year project was so long and convoluted that I actually had to talk about it in my job interview, and I couldn’t even remember the title then either!

Let me just have a look on Google Drive to see if I can find out what it was called. But yeah, when I was doing this interview, they gave me a whiteboard to write on and I actually ran out of space because the title was so long!

I’ve got a folder on my computer now where I’ve scoured all my old hard drives to find everything I’ve worked on since the beginning. I’ll show this on the screen too if you’re watching on YouTube.

Basically there’s a whole load of prototype games that never got finished, and a whole load of playable games that are a bit rubbish.

Okay yeah, I’ve got it! Just for context, I’ve got the full document here and it’s 21,000 words and 106 pages long. My tutor said it was the longest one he’d ever seen from a student.

He couldn’t even print it off because it was too big – he had to split it into two PDFs to read it! So that gives you an idea of how obsessed I was with this project at the time.

I got a first for it as well, and put a hell of a lot of work in. But the title of it was:

“How and to what extent are characters and narrative essential for a player’s emotional engagement in story driven games?”

That’s a really long and convoluted way of saying that it doesn’t matter what games look like, as long as the stories are well written and follow certain formulas, and the characters are well defined, and there’s a good reason for what you’re doing – you can engage the player emotionally in a raw way.

I went into so much detail with this dissertation. As well as that, I also had to create a game to go along with it, and the game was called Quantum Shift.

I have uploaded the entire thing onto my page, so if you do want to play it for yourselves, I think it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to play through. But I did put a lot of effort into it back in the day, so if you want to go and give it a go, definitely give it a try.

I think I also did a let’s play of it at the time, and I was really surprised to actually find someone on YouTube at the time as well who had done a let’s play. Because while I was making this, I’d also made friends with a lot of people on different forums for RPG Maker.

I made it in a game engine called RPG Maker, which was still kind of popular at the time – it was kind of waning in popularity. But I needed something that I could prototype really fast in and focus on the story, and that let me do just that.

And thanks to joining some of those RPG Maker forums, I’ve made friends with some really talented people that I’ve kept in touch with over the years as well.

So definitely go and give Quantum Shift a try after this!

The third game from my uni days, or kind of after uni, I actually went back a few years later and did a game jam. And the other game that I wanted to mention here was one called Spirited, which I made in an engine called Stencil which uses the programming language Scratch.

So while I was at uni, I didn’t…I kind of tried to shy away from programming after how bad my experience was with programming in the beginning. And in some ways I kind of regret trying to steer away from programming at the time, but also on the other hand, it also let me come up with some really good game ideas and find some engines that let me actually put those ideas into practice really easily as well.

And one of those ideas was a game called Spirited, which we only had two full days to make. We would actually go to uni, we would sleep on the floor at uni, and we would have to follow this brief and then try and make a game in a set amount of time.

And I made a game with a few friends called Spirited, and it was basically a platforming game where you’d pick up a feather and then you could transform into an eagle and fly through the desert. And you’d have to pick up these pieces of a totem pole and piece it all together.

But I really enjoyed it, and having two full days just to focus on that really helped me get my head around some programming techniques that I hadn’t really been able to understand before that. So it was definitely a big help in that sense.

And I think this podcast has gone on quite long, so I’m going to end part one here. So definitely stay tuned for next week, where I’ll talk about some of the games that I’ve made after uni, and also some games that I’ve tried to make and kind of why I’m not making games anymore as well.

So I really hope you’re looking forward to that. I really hope you enjoyed this episode, I really hope it was interesting. I know it’s very different to what I usually do, but I’ve wanted to talk about this for a long time, and I’m really glad to be able to share this finally.

So really hope you enjoyed it. Let me know down in the comments on YouTube what you thought of this, and whether you’d like me to go into more detail about any of the things I’ve talked about today.

Definitely like I said, check out my page, and that’s it for now though. Thank you so much for listening, and stay tuned for part two coming next week. Goodbye!

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