Saturday, November 11, 2023

Dave Does Dev: Introduction

 Welcome welcome welcome, thank you for coming to my humble blog. My name is David Earle and for the past few years this place has been... kind of deserted!

sounds of wind rushing past, a screen door flapping

But prior to that this was a place I talked about my creative endeavors, sometimes politics, media, etc. I'd like to revive that and, for right now, the plan is to focus on my next big project:

Developing A Video Game

Well, specifically:

Developing Three Video Games

Or, to be more exact:

Developing Two Small Video Games And A Proof Of Concept For What Could Be A Full Video Game Sometime Far In The Future

If this sounds ambitious to you: you're right! Any software development project you care to name is a months-long effort, and video games are more involved than most. You've got to create features, develop scripts for any plot or dialogue, create or buy game assets like art, sounds, fonts, etc., and then playtest, tune and revise whatever you end up making to ensure that it's actually, you know, fun!

If you'll permit me the comparison, trying to create a game has a lot in common with trying to write a novel. You have to plan out a structure for the final product, you have to show amazing scenes and lovable/hateable characters, and you have to make sure the person taking it all in enjoys themselves to the very end. Also, there's a lot of revision and trying to figure out why things don't work!

The main difference is that creating a game is a multidisciplinary effort (programming/art/sound) right from the get-go, whereas a novel is mostly a solo act - at least until you get to trying to publish the thing and have to deal with editors, marketing, cover art, etc. and remember that books require a team of people with different skills just as much as video games. So it's not really a difference so much as a shift in weight.

But just like Amazon and other sites have opened up the world of self-publishing, indie game development is more accessible than it ever has been. Storefronts like Steam reward big commercial products, but indies still have a leg in, and even smaller less commercial projects can find a place on Which also happens to be one of several great resources for free or low-cost art assets to help an indie game dev create their dream project.

Maybe even a hobbyist like me.

Some background: I went to college at Washington College in Chestertown, MD to take part in their Creative Writing program, which was and remains great. But I did consider that I'd need a way to make a living wage if writing didn't work out, so I took a wide selection of classes my freshman year. One of those classes was an introductory Java class, which included an assignment to draw a snowman using Java's built in graphics functionality.

From that moment I was hooked. I'd always loved video games; the idea of creating one was irresistible. I ended up majoring in Computer Science, pushed my teachers for a 3D graphics class, and did my thesis on matrix math, submitting a little First Person Shooter demo as my final project.

And then... I didn't do much. Which is to say I published a short story, and a non-fiction article under a pen name. Tried some self-publishing under a different pen name. I got a job in IT and stuck with it. I got married, got a dog and a house, had two great kids, even went to Disney World a few times.

And for game development? I'd read a book on the subject, try the exercises. Then I'd pick up a different book, try those exercises out. And so on, until I had a very heavy stack of books and the realization that I was just going through exercises without trying to create anything on my own.

It was that multidisciplinary weighting, in part. I had no idea how to create my own graphics, or get my own sounds together. And at the time game engines weren't as well-developed as they are now, so I kept trying to roll my own and falling into a trap of writing code for hours without anything to show for it. And most of that code was copied out of a book. So I set aside my ambition for nearly two decades.

But recently, something - random chance, fate, the little butterflies of time and space - started dropping breadcrumbs in my path.

I think it started with this video by Super Eyepatch Wolf, on a game called Fear & Hunger. It's very NSFW (think Berserk but grosser), but it piqued my interest.

Around the same time RPG Maker, a game engine I've poked at and left alone repeatedly over the years, had another sale on Steam. And somehow the fact that Fear & Hunger was made in that engine entered my consciousness.

If you've seen an RPG Maker game you'll know the engine trends to very Japanese RPG stock art and gameplay, but somehow it had been used to make this chaotic hellscape of a game. I had to know how. So I got a copy of the game, found a decompiler for it, and opened it up in RPG Maker to see what made it tick.

After that I started going through the tutorials for RPG Maker. I learned about tile maps, events, characters. Picked it all up in a week. And then I wanted to do something for myself. Just a small project, nothing ambitious - but as I said at the start, even a small project is pretty ambitious.

So here and now, I write my goals, and sign them with my name:

1. I will make a 2D RPG retelling the story of Hansel and Gretel - a project that could very easily be done with the stock assets and features of RPG Maker.

2. I will make a Pokemon clone proof of concept - mostly for something my son can enjoy. This has also been done in RPG Maker but is substantially more involved as a project, and would require implementing features the base engine doesn't have.

3. I will create a 2D turn-based strategy game in the style of the Shining Force Sega Genesis series. To start with, just two battles, but with an eye to something more - maybe.

David Earle, 11 November 2023

And so it will be done. But whether it will be done in RPG Maker... that's a whole different question, and one for another post.


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