Why I Make Games

Like most creative endeavors, making games is a labor of love. You have to put in many hours, and the results won’t always come out like you had hoped. This is especially true if you work alone, which is one reason, why working with others is a good thing. More on that later. First and foremost, making games is about passion.

Starship Traveller was one of my favorites as a kid.
Starship Traveller was one of my favorites as a kid.
I love to entertain others, and help them entertain themselves. Two other things I love, are stories and story mechanics. This is why I also dabble in writing.

Things started coming together, when I was introduced to the Fighting Fantasy game books. I was raised on books like “The Hobbit”, “The Never Ending Story”, and the Narnia series, but being able to shape a story as I was reading it, making choices for the main character, took things to a whole other level.

Immediately, I wanted to make my own stories in this style. This was some time in 4th or 5th grade, aka the mid 80s.

Fighting Fantasy became a gateway to Dungeons & Dragons, which completely blew my mind. Suddenly it was more than a story with choices, it was building entire worlds and epic adventures within them, all in the company of friends. I played it only a couple of times, before I took to the game master role. As much as I enjoyed playing, writing has always been a favorite activity, and coming up with adventures, characters and settings, and then sharing those with my friends, brought me immense joy as a kid, and continues to do so now.

Fønix nr. 12
Here’s a cover from one the issues of Fønix, featuring a fantasy adventure by yours truly.
I mentioned how working with others is good. As a young gamer, I sought out others with similar interests, found friends, and an interest grew into a lifestyle. We started meeting regularly, and grew in number until we formed a club, organizing events and helping out at conventions.

In the mid 90s, I was writing for a gaming magazine, and working part time as “the game guy” in a couple of after school programs. I was in my late teens the first time, I made real, actual money on anything related to games.

During this time, I played every kind of game, I could find. Board games, PC games, card games, tabletop RPGs and miniature battles, console games – everything short of gambling, really. It widened my horizon, and I started seeing patterns in how games work, in general, across various genres and types.

Skipping forward to present day, about 30 years after first choosing my own adventure, I am mostly focused on video games, however the reasons remain the same: I get to put elements together to form an experience, which the players will (hopefully) enjoy, which in turn makes me a happier person.

Why video games, then? Nowhere is a game mechanic purer, than in video games. A computer doesn’t do well with abstract rules that leave room for much interpretation. Everything needs to be precise, or interpreted within specified parameters. Fiddling with that kind of logic and balance is fun.

In conclusion, I make games because it makes me happy. It sounds almost selfish, and to some extent it is. I do believe we must find our own happiness in life (again, easier to do with friends), and I aim to do so, by creating good experiences for others.

Mobile Game: Balloon Run

Balloon Run (screenshot)
I love simple, fast paced games. They are fun to play, and they are fun to make. I have made a few endless runners in the past, and now I give you “Balloon Run”.

Keep your hot air balloon flying! Stay in the air for as long, as you can. Gravity will pull you down, and using the thruster will make you go up. Birds, planes and more will come at you, and may damage your balloon. Get hit one too many times, and you fall out of the sky. Game over.

While I admit being inspired by the Flappy Bird phenomenon, I wanted Balloon Run to be its own and not just another clone. For one, here you find your own path past the obstacles coming at you, as opposed to trying to stay within a single, narrow path. It’s up to you, to find the safest route. Secondly, since you are controlling a ballon, it made sense that as long as you hold the thrust down, you should keep ascending. It’s also not super fast going up, so thinking ahead is necessary.

I also added a few other favorite game elements, like health (“hearts”) and power-ups. There are three small balloons that occasionally appear on the screen. The blue one gives you a 20 point boost, the red heart-shaped balloon restores health, and the green balloon gives you a protective shield, lasting a few seconds. Each game is different, randomly generated within increasingly tough parameters.

Balloon Run (screenshot)
Birds, hang gliders and air planes are all out to get you!

I wanted a game that took a more than just a few seconds to play. For inspiration, I thought of pinball, in terms of how long each game might take, and the practice-makes-perfect element. Practice will make you better at playing Balloon Run.

The game took about 30 hours to make, including the time I spent looking for royalty free sound effects, doodling graphics in Photoshop, and writing this blog post. It is available for free in the Apple App Store, it does have ads, and an option to get rid of those ads with an in-app purchase. Naturally, global leaderboards are supported. The game will also be available for Android, once I have a setup for ads on that platform.

Balloon Run came about as a side project. I made it fueled largely by surplus (nervous?) energy, coming from being in the final phases of putting together my much larger game, Salvage Trader. I was waiting for some of the last graphics to come in, during which I felt creatively restless, and that sort of made me crank this little gem out. Still, I’m surprised it came together so quickly.

Balloon Run - prototype
Here is a very early iteration of Balloon Run, when it was mostly a test of the concept. Almost everything was redone and tweaked several times.

Grim Games: Plague, Inc.

Plague, Inc.

In the Grim Games series, I recommend titles that are fun and a little darker than your average video game. These somewhat sinister games add another dimension to playing, exposing you to moral conundrums, even straight up evil. This third post focuses on…

Plague, Inc. is probably one of the darkest games, I have ever played. The objective: destroy mankind by infecting it with some deadly disease. It’s all in good fun, of course, but it also shows how weak we really are, us humans. The right combination of factors, and boom! – we’re dead. The trick to destroying humanity, is to sneak in under the radar, becoming highly infectious without causing too much harm. Then, at the last minute, crank up the deadliness and watch humanity crumble.

Plague, Inc.

Each type of threat has its own additional strengths and challenges, but the general rule still applies: the longer you can go undetected, the easier your end game will be. You have to maintain a balance, so you don’t become too deadly, too soon, killing off the infected people before they have a chance to infect others. And if you take too long, humanity will work together to find a cure, and you won’t get to watch everyone die at all.

It’s fun to play around with different combinations of symptoms and transmission combinations, and if you need even more challenge, it also comes with specific scenarios to try out (want to play as the black plague? Here’s your chance!) and experiment with.

Plague, Inc. immediately drew me in with its fast pace and sheer fun. I like destroying the world, it turns out. At least in a video game. It’s the go to game on my tablet, when I have about 20-30 minutes to kill.