The Great American Video Game

I originally wrote this over a year ago. There was recently some discussion on the 30 under 30 list among the people I follow on Twitter. I had a vague sense of deja vu indigence. Well, this is why.

My 20 year highschool reunion is coming up. This time its being organized in a Facebook group where all the members are from my former cohort. Its a strange mix of reminiscence and “Ew everyone looks so … old.” I looked for one of my former tormentors, hoping as the 80s convinced me, that I would find pictures of a balding, overweight Al Bundy sort, because those guys never wind up happy. Instead I find pictures of a blonde Adonis with a perfect body and a career in finance, vacation pictures of parasailing and rock climbing.

“Oh, there’s no way I’m going, now,” I tell my wife. She tries to convince me it’s not that bad. I’ve got a good life. Of course, I do. These are first world problems. “Don’t let that stuff bother you,” she says. But, we both know it will. It will because my self-perception, both then and now, was as a creator. A writer who might one day consider himself an author. A coder who might one day consider himself a game developer. Maybe, I think, if I had those credits under my belt, maybe it wouldn’t bother me. But it’s not just that I don’t have them, these artifacts of my creation. It’s this feeling that I never will have them and a general consensus from the industry that agrees.

If you take an article like, http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2015-03-12-is-ageism-the-only-prejudice-the-industry-isnt-discussing, which discusses the industry’s ageism, and even specifically mentions late thirties as being the twilight of a career, then suddenly I’m not just shy a “by line” in the world of game dev, I’m on my way out! Heck, I’ve even embodied the cliché, “If you can’t, teach,” having just started teaching Introduction to Game Development to college students. Apparently, I’m giving up and leaving it to the next generation to fill in with their limitless time and present immortality. Perhaps they won’t repeat the mistakes of my youth. I shall live vicariously!

And yet… I mentioned being a writer as one of my other wishful avenues of creation. That’s my herald of hope for a creative future. Once I finally succumb to the ill-fated temperaments of my aging body, I will return once again to the art of the written word. It is in part this feeling that time is running out that has made me shirk my writing passion in an effort to use all my spare time, burning both ends of the candle, this website a testament, to get that video game credit. Once completed, then I can safely (because I’ll be old and my thoughts of video games long past) return to writing. Older, wiser, maybe a better grasp on grammar, I shall finally finish that book I started writing when I was sixteen.

Yes, for some reason writing a novel has an inverted expectation to the art of making of games. Somehow game making is only for the young, yet we refer to first books with a disdain “Well that was her freshman effort.” Young authors are greeted with skepticism; where the assumption on a first time author in her 40s or 50s is she might actually have something to say. Or, at least, that’s the perception that was passed to me early on and which I’ve carried, perhaps sparked by some smidgen of truth. It is hard to write about the nature of the world, or fate, or humanity if you’re only guessing at it, rather than having experienced loss, upheaval, regret, or enmity without the safety net of a home and parents to catch you. (Again, first world problems.)

As a younger man I rebelled against this notion that I could not write a novel at sixteen year old. I rebelled with the kind of passionate defiance only youthful ignorance can muster. I wrote my book about growing up without the hindsight of having done so. And now I’m paying (rather, delaying) the cost of that ignorance with editing for hindsight more than twenty years on. If only I’d spent that time trying to write a game instead of trying to invert the status quo. If only.

Let me arrive at my point. The video game as an art form is finally starting to mature, along with its audience, http://fortune.com/2015/06/15/video-game-industry-innovation. So should perhaps the expectation also mature.

Video games are not simply for the young.

It seems so obvious when put that way. Of course they aren’t. Many people in their 40s and 50s and older are playing games. I remember sitting on a plane next to a couple strangers. They were talking for a while, but the trip was long and the conversation fizzled. After a brief time, the woman next to me, around my age or older, pulled out her phone and turned on a game. She shrugged at the man next to her with a bit of an apologetic, “what are you going to do?” as she started to play. What she did, I think, was enjoy her flight.

Certainly young people can create good games.  Young people generally have, because the industry has generally been young.  But these young people have grown up and, many, also out, unfortunately.  I want more than games created by this year’s 20 somethings destined to be cast off by next year’s.  I want a game that speaks with the weight of experience. I want a game that ignores fads. That pushes with the inertia of seeing many fads come and go. I want a game that pulls inspiration from across the broad spectrum of experience that grew over the last fifty years games have existed, rather than the influence of games from last year. I want to hear voices of poignancy and elation, not just spectacle.

I want to play the Great American Video Game. I want to meet the J.D. Salinger, the Mark Twain, the Harper Lee of games. Maybe some of this is kindling in the crowdfund resurgence, but its a faint spark, and it is still so awfully dim. It must be stoked into a blaze to blind the eyes of those who see only the young.

This post is written selfishly. I want there to be an industry I can turn to when my obligations are met, when I’ve settled into retirement. I don’t want to have to give up making games because I’ve become too old. Maybe in this we’ll have an industry where my students can expect many years of a career, rather than 15-20 at most. Maybe we can change the perception that its okay to burn and churn the young because there is not an endless font of new talent. That experience can speak as loudly or louder in the creative process, if not also the technical one.

I’ve convinced myself, at least, that I should carry on regardless. As it turns out, I have recently left my cozy, retirement-promising job for the games industry full-time. But that is a post for another time.

As to the highschool reunion, I have no easy answer. This post was written toward defying expectations. Do I defy them by going or by not going?  I’ll find out for certain when I decide.

I didn’t go.

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Level concept for Runner

Since I’ve recently started working on concepts for Runner again, here is a concept for the City level environment.

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Updates

First, we’ve updated the site to organize all the games or prototypes into one category and all the unity extensions into another.  Some of those extensions are likely on permanent back burner, but at least a couple will be updated regularly here on.

Which leads me to the second thing: A new component available on the asset store.

Image showing grass on a sphere, a cylinder and a plane.

Grass on arbitrary surfaces.

We’ve created a new plugin that allows you to paint grass and detail meshes onto any surface, not just terrain.  While it’d be easy to add a quad each through the regular editor, the overhead from draw calls would put the editor into a crawl.  Instead, you can paint as much grass as you’d like at whatever density you’d like and it combines all those triangles into much larger container objects.  These keep the draw calls down, allowing you to paint potentially millions of grass elements into a scene without killing performance.

Finally, we’ve started making progress on a new game, working title, “Runner”.   You can find more information and track the progress of that here: http://www.indiedb.com/games/future-runner

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