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.

All Games, All the Time

Working on AAA game titles by day, and my own little indie game by night. For a few months now, this has been my life. It’s fun, it’s everything 12-year old me could have ever dreamed of, and it’s a lot of hard work. Though I’m currently working overtime and out of the house 14 hours a day, I do not miss trying to eke out a living as a photographer, which is kind of awesome.

Bound by NDAs, I can’t talk about the AAA title I am attached to, but it involves Microsoft and some cutting edge gaming technology. And I can safely reveal that it’s exciting to be part of a huge production. My role, as an assistant LQA test lead, has me talking to testers, other leads and producers, and I get to see what goes on at different levels. These are multi-million dollar titles, and pretty much a completely different world, compared to the one I live in on the weekends.

My own game – Salvage Trader – has a four person team: an artist, a composer, a PR/marketing person, and me for everything else. I started a company, Tagunda, but there are no actual employees – everyone is a freelancer, except me. There is no office except the one in my apartment, and project management is all done online, using the excellent tool, Podio. Communication flows easily on such a small team, and everyone is genuinely excited to finish it and see the result. My only complaints are, that I’d love to have more time and a bigger budget. But when is that not a concern?

On the day job, there are many more people involved. In fact, I don’t even know how large the production is. I’ve never met the actual developers, nor seen a line of code. Assets come from multiple locations, depending on their nature, and just managing all these is a major task involving lots of people. With such a large production, communication can be a challenge. There are many links in the chain, and thus many places it can potentially break. Like I said, a different world.

So, while life isn’t all fun, all the time, it is all games. Somehow, though not often at the day job, I still find time to play. I do think playing is a necessary part of making games. It’s not enough to just do your own thing – you have to see what else is out there. Not because I see other games as competition, but because it’s both fun, eye opening and inspiring to play.

For more on the projects mentioned, check the sites linked to in this post. You can also find both Salvage Trader and Tagunda on both Twitter and Facebook, so feel free to follow/like, and you can follow the process and development.

Full Time in Gaming

What follows is a personal story, likely too long for many to read, so if you’re looking for some sort of point, let’s go with this one: In Life you will experience ups and downs, but if you look for opportunities to get inspired and better yourself, you’ll find ways to get through all the crap.

Over the last couple of years, my life has changed in many ways. Some good, some not so much. Tomorrow I start a new chapter, taking on my first full time job in several years. During the time I was “off the market”, I was trying to build a business of my own, and having a go at a photography career, blogging and being artsy on the side. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. Basically I sacrificed security and stability for freedom and the pursuit of creative urges, and for about a decade it was how I lived my life.

In 2011 my wife got diagnosed with a couple of hardcore medical issues, and not only were there medical bills to pay, but one of the household members was also unable to work for several months. Suddenly “security and stability” became more important than “freedom and creativity”. After a few months of not finding the work I was hoping for, I took a part time job in retail to make ends meet. This allowed me to still do a bit of freelance work, and take on a personal quest of sorts.

During Kelly’s slow recovery, we played a lot of Minecraft. When she was incapable of doing anything in the real world, she could still build castles in the virtual one. It was a great way for her to stay active, or not go completely stir crazy, and for us to do something fun together. For me, playing Minecraft also rekindled a deep love of mine – creating games. Since grade school, I have been telling stories through games in one way or another. From the text adventures I would code on my old C=64, to elaborate Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. And so, I started learning about video game design theory and touching up on ye olde coding skills.

The first game I finished was Nebula Rescue for iOS. It’s not what you would call a conventionally handsome game, but I like to think that the gameplay makes up for that. I’m particularly proud of the game balance I achieved, and the way the difficulty progresses. The day someone set a high score that was more than double that of my own, I squeed. You can find it in the App Store.

My second game – Salvage Trader – is currently on Kickstarter (go back it, I’ll be here when you’re done). It’s inspired by some of my favorite types of games, space trading, exploration and little mini games to break things up. A much more complex and ambitious project, but equally more rewarding to work on.

The greatest reward however, was realizing that I really do love making games, and that I want to have a go at doing it for a living. I’ve worked with many types of storytelling in the past, from novels and song lyrics to photography and video, but there is an added thrill of the Player, and his or hers part in how that story unfolds. I hope to be able to work on games more, for many years to come.

Which is why the next big change is an awesome one. Tomorrow I start my new job, going full time, as an “LQA Tester”. If you don’t know what that means, it’s short for Language Quality Assurance. In short, I help translate and test new video games before they hit the market. It’s also a perfect opportunity to study the game design process from inside the industry – and on a much grander scale than making games on my own.

This particular change is exciting and welcome for more reasons than one. I’m happy to be back working on storytelling things, and excited that it is even in the industry I wanted to work in. I won’t miss doing photography for a living (taking pictures for fun is way more, well, fun), and I definitely won’t miss retail. Side note: I have great respect for anyone who has the stamina to work retail for years on end – having to deal with the General Public on that level is soul crunching.

I share these things in the hope of inspiring others who might feel stuck or overwhelmed by the adversities of Life. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, much of the above will already be familiar to you, which leads me to thank all those who have been supportive and encouraging through the last couple of years. Thank you!