Above: Illustration by Gavin Spence
I am officially a game developer!
I don't know what exactly makes you "officially" a game developer, though. I guess you could say you're a game developer the minute you start tinkering around in Unity. You could call yourself a game developer even if all you've done is download GameMaker, really. I'm not sure what criteria I set myself, but I've gone past a few milestones by accident, and I don't have any left that I can think of, and so:
I am officially a game developer!
Here's what happened last week. I was in a panic about my Code Liberation game—I had done a fair bit of work, but when I tried to download it off the memory stick and open it in Unity, but nope. The file didn't work. Admittedly, that was probably my fault, because I still don't really know what I'm doing, but in a total tizzy, I had a friend call me and talk me through re-making the thing from scratch.
I am assured that this is sometimes a part of game development, though people say that about everything. You haven't eaten in two days? Ah, game development. Your fingernails all fell off from the amount you've been typing? Hashtag game dev life. You haven't seen the sun for a month? Totes me right now, babe.
Anyway. It took five hours, but I had a build together by the end of Tuesday, leaving me with just two days to polish it and test it and force it on other people (er, I mean, "playtesting") before it would be shown off at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London on the coming Friday.
"I felt so, so good on the Tuesday that I finished the game. I made something, and it worked."
People kept telling me they would be there, and that they were looking forward to it. This felt a lot like pressure. More accurately, I felt like Atlas, holding the weight of people's expectations on my shoulders, and all I had to offer was my game. Which, by the way, is called Awkward Dating Simulator (a working title that I can't be bothered to change now), now available to download.
It's a two-player game, played almost entirely without interacting with the game at all. It goes through a set of questions—based somewhat loosely on this idea of there being 36 Questions That Will Make You Fall In Love—and gives you randomly generated tasks to do while answering them, like holding hands or looking into each other's eyes. Hence the "Awkward" part of the title.
And people actually played it. More than that, people actually downloaded it—over 400 people in the five days after I set it live. It might get to 500. Some of those downloaders have even paid for it! These are the milestones I was talking about earlier. I could walk into a room of developers and yell, "I MADE MONEY OFF A GAME I MADE," and they'd all be like, yeah, sure, call us when you can afford your own helicopter. Nobody needs to know that I've only made $60.
I wrote in my diary on the Tuesday that I finished the game:
"I wish I'd known it would feel so fulfilling—to be frustrated and confused for ages and then to sort of… get it, all in a rush."
I felt so, so good that day. I made something, and it worked.
"The hardest part of doing something new is starting. And, usually, the several hours that come after that."
On the Friday, when it was shown off, I felt something more like anxiety and nervousness and abject fear at what people would think of it, so I ran away and hid in the museum café. I have no idea what people thought of my game that night, though people have approached me since to congratulate me but shut up they probably just feel sorry for me.
I'm working on something new, now. Well, I say "working on it", but what I'm actually doing is a bunch of game design documents that mostly consist of doodles and unanswered questions like "yes, but what does it do?" and totally avoiding the part where I have to write code again.
But I know that I can, and that's an incredible/incredibly weird place to be. I sort of, sort of understand code now—in the same way I can look at a language I've never learned and say, "ah, that's a verb!" but not actually tell you what the verb is. Still, that's an important part of language learning! Now I just have to do all the other bits! EASY.
When I realized how fun it could be to code something, after making Awkward Dating Simulator, I decided to do something I'd been wanting to do for a while: a Twitter bot. These also require coding, and a lot of care to make sure they don't mess up. I wrote a bunch of things, tweaked the code here and there, and put it out into the world in secret, to make sure it was working; and then I released it into the wild, and hoped that it wouldn't tweet anything too weird. So far, so good, though it does really like telling people it wants to kiss them, but to be fair, I did put that in there.
I guess, if there's any point to this piece, it's this: the hardest part of doing something new is starting. And, usually, the several hours that come after that. The bits where you stare at a screen (or a piano, or at a book, or whatever) and you have no idea what to do—that's likely to be the biggest hurdle. There will be days when you don't feel like making progress, and days where you want to, but it feels like an uphill struggle—but those days are still miles ahead of where you started.
Also, it never takes as long as you think it will, so start now. Give yourself a head start, and in a year's time, you'll be glad you did.