Back in 2001 I was 14 years old with bleach blonde hair and I had a dream. I was going to design computer games.
I was in love with Zelda and computers, so I downloaded the best program at the time – RPG Maker – and set about making something awesome. It took me a little while, given that we didn’t have the best computer or internet connection (the program took about three days to download if I remember correctly) – but I made a short game.
The main character left his home, went on an adventure to fight a bad guy at the top of the tower (with rain and lightning … of course) with his friends and, for some reason, that’s as far as it went. I was a Nintendo player and the Gamecube came out that year, breaking amazing new ground with games like Metroid Prime and I felt like 2D games were a thing of the past.
For some reason getting into 3D games design just seemed such an impenetrable barrier for a young kid, and so I became a gamer – happily I should add – enjoying the amazing adventures which people had worked together to create. When it came time to decide what career to choose I suppose in some sense I fell into Marketing naturally – having a passion for writing it just became my thing and computer games were just a hobby.
Once I left University a few years later I remember I tried applying for writing positions at games companies, however this was a tough sell, given that I had no real background in computer games design. I started working in software Marketing instead, letting my dream of designing stories for computer games fade away.
Then, I wrote some novels, turned 30, got married and lockdown happened. I think I had always wanted to try again – to see what tools had evolved to help bridge the gap, and eventually downloaded Unreal Engine. I found a fantastic course on Udemy (Unreal Engine 4: How to Develop Your First Two Games) and started making some inroads. To my surprise it was actually very intuitive – lots of progress had been made on the interface and it actually making 3D accessible… and fun! It was really fun!!
There was a huge knowledge gap but Blueprints made life much easier. There was no real need to learn code in order to create things which worked, which was the biggest barrier I had foreseen.
So, a year on, i’m still learning. The biggest thing I have found is that for each horizon you cross there is always a new vista ahead. From single player, to multiplayer, to different devices, VR, AR – and each area has its own skillset.
3D Modelling, Animation, Special Effects, Sound Effects, Level Design, Game Optimisation. These are just the starting points before you can even start to think about integrating a story with cinematography at the level most players expect from a game right now.
I suppose for many people that’s a daunting task, and for me too – but as I learn more I feel more compelled to continue and find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.
After a few courses I felt more confident and set out to create a full game … and pretty quickly hit a giant roadblock in my knowledge. I found that I could do things which I had followed in tutorials but that didn’t have the ability to keep moving ahead in terms of design – things didn’t work the way I wanted, wern’t fun or just became too time consuming.
Undeterred I found a great Youtube channel by Ryan Layely and joined his Patreon to get access to his full library (with no ads). This was a VERY cost effective route for transforming from a beginner to an intermediate designer.
I focused on just learning as much as I could for about four months or so , just creating new projects, trying new things – still primarily following tutorials but adapting the functions to my own style or needs rather than just blindly following. For me, this worked well – it got me thinking a bit more about the process and how to get to solutions, using the steps as best practice. I learned that in game design there are LOTS of ways to achieve your goal and the trick is to find the ways which work well and learn how to apply them correctly.
I then went back to the game I really wanted to make and started again from scratch. I changed alot along the way, introduced my own characters and am really getting towards a complete demo now. This will be my first ‘real’ game demo, ie. a game I have created myself from scratch, though I do have a playable demo of an Arcade Shooter prototype I made on another course (I’ll link to my website at the bottom).
My game has all sorts of systems working together – an ability system, melee combat system, character inventory, puzzles, enemy AI and even boss fights. More than that i’m really happy with the artwork style and the Game Feel (i’ve also read a whole bunch of books which were somewhat helpful … if a bit expensive).
I’m really happy with how far it has come and now I only worry how I will ever be able to find the time to complete it and make the full game while holding down a full-time job, especially now we even have a young baby!
Inevitibly there are two routes forward – to find a job at a games company with practically no experience so i can grow my skills or begin my own company and either try to go self-funded or get a publisher on board. Bearing in mind I now have people depending on my income and no clear path ahead these are not the easiest options.
So, right now i’m trying to get it complete, be present for my family, find time to have fun, learn as much as I can when I find gaps in my knowledge, keep my job and also learn about other options to make following my passion a real possibility. Also I have LOTS of room to grow, from making better AI, better animations, better effects and using tools like the Houdini Unreal Engine to think more about procedural generation.
It sounds alot on paper ( / screen) but it seems the passion I have is a real source of motivation and just the idea of being able to follow it is a pretty groundbreaking one for me.
I suppose I am slowly walking the middle-way and becoming an Indie game developer. It is a hard road but honestly it has been so rewarding. I can suggest to anyone that they try and use their spare time to follow their passion and see where it takes them, and to break down any initial barrier to entry which exists in your mind. I feel happier and like I am heading somewhere, rather than just living through a work cycle – be it a week, a month, a quarter or a year.
I would really appreciate any advice on this. Whether you are also an indie developer, just someone interested in computer games or even just someone know knows about starting a business and getting funding.
Here is a quick trailer for my latest project – Wizi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKoXdHJkhMo
Also here is my website (you can play the demo of the arcade shooter I made for free): https://www.thgaming.net
I’ve also setup a Patreon page but havent really gone much further than that. My dream would be to put people who support me into my games somewhow but I havent really gotten that far yet – still working it all out!