A Brief History Of The Coder

So I guess it’s my turn to introduce myself? Well then, please stand by while I do just that.

Hey folks, I’m Marius, and I’m the coder here.

For my ninth birthday I got a Lego Mindstorms robotics kit. When I read the age label on the box (“Ages 12+”), I believed this to be a regulation and asked if I had to wait three years until I could do something with it. Fortunately my parents resolved the misunderstanding and I immediately went to work building and programming all manners of robots with the included visual programming toolkit.

Eventually I started wondering how computers themselves worked and how the programs are made, so my dad basically sat me down at a computer, handed me a Perl beginner’s guide, and showed me how to write and run a Hello World, and I was hooked. By the age of 11 I had written dozens of teeny tiny mathsy gizmos, problem solvers and ASCII art games in the little time I was allowed at the computer, and by the age of 14 they were measured in hundreds. Unfortunately they were all lost to time and at least four deceased computers.

During that time, I also wrote my first actual nontrivial graphical video game, it was a platformer I cobbled together in Perl/Tk. Everything about it was horrible, but at least it worked great. A bit later I managed to write up a pretty decent Enigma clone, followed by lots of puzzle games.

A few years passed, and I started to have bigger plans for games I wanted to write. Paradoxically, this resulted in me coding less and less, because in the process of finding the utilities and knowledge I needed to write better games, I accidentally found the entire Internet in all its glory, and while I still read up on programming languages, game libraries, and algorithms, I never actually used them, because I didn’t trust my knowledge for lack of experience (and not trying stuff obviously didn’t help to gain experience), and because the Internet kept me from getting bored enough to do it anyway. It turns out that I still had an internal urge to code, because when I finished school, my entire graphical calculator was filled up with more of these small programs and pixel games. In total I had coded about 200 of them, but many were lost on various occasions, including a memorable occasion which resulted in me managing to find out the minimal number of keypresses needed to glitch the calculator out so much that a complete wipe-and-reset was necessary (for those interested, it was 14).

Then I enrolled in university and suddenly I had much too much free time, because a) semester breaks are three months apiece and b) I had already attended most of the first-semester courses while I was in school. So I finally grabbed myself a decent game library (I went wih LWJGL) and started coding some more complex games, and while they were fun to play, they never got past the beta stage: Game mechanics were fully implemented, the game was fully playable, the bugs were all gone, yet there was no content at all. The platformer had exactly two levels (both were test levels), the racing game had three tracks and three items, and the multiplayer FPS had neither levels nor models.
Because who needs assets if the game is playable already? (Also I suck at assets).

Turns out I do need assets. Recently I played Starbound, Fez and FTL because of Steam sales, and I found out that immersion is absolutely crucial to make me think that a game is exceptionally awesome. And a crucial part of the immersion is that you actually need there to be something immersable in, which actually requires lots of assets. Content, story, graphics and audio, those are things that provide immersion, and those are all things that I suck at, which means that I can’t make any exceptionally awesome games by myself. So I thought to myself: “I should join a game company”.

And now here I am. Let’s do stuff.

The First Tale

Welcome, wanderer!  I’m El, the writer.

When I was a young sprout, I was too shy to tell anyone stories but I read a great deal–in school, after school, even while crossing streets (to my parents’ great chagrin).  I absorbed the adventures of King Arthur and the Monkey King, was blown away by Joan of Arc and every fairy tale I could get my hands on, and wrote a lot of plotless Animorphs fanfiction that has now joined the great recycling bin in the sky forever and ever amen.

In fifth grade, I wrote my first novella–half Pokemon, half swords and sorcery, and 100% embarrassing–and by the end of middle school I had a 273-page martial arts story I worked on for 7 hours a day to the sweet sounds of Gundam Wing.  I distributed it among my more flattering friends and managed to convince myself I was a genius.

I was a nerd.

But I was a nerd with purpose, so I made adventure games in Hypercard and RPGs in Powerpoint, took courses in creative writing, and slowly added entries to ever-growing databases of characters and plot ideas.  I studied language and culture religiously and would sometimes startle awake out of bed to blearily jot down some poem or another I’d come up with in my sleep.  Despite all this work, I kept my literary aspirations mostly to myself.  I had learned the wrong lessons from my dreadful martial arts novel and my abortive attempt at a childhood career in fantasy fiction, and their lukewarm reception from anyone above the age of twelve.  I had assumed that no one would ever care at all about anything I cared to say.

So I went to school to study mechanical engineering, because I liked gears and it seemed sensible.  A few hard knocks and tough choices later later I graduated with a degree in pure mathematics, most of the training towards degrees in rhetoric and comparative literature, and a published book of Russian poetry translations.  In the end, it was impossible to deny myself.

Nowadays I crunch numbers and write reports for a consulting firm–but each evening, I crank up the J-Pop, pull out my notebook, and dream for a while.  I look forward to recounting you a great many stories whether minor or grand, miserable or hopeful, with all the gods and monsters and heroes you could possibly desire.  But for now, let’s start with something we can all write together:

Once upon a time, there was a group of friends who wanted to be true to their inner spirits…

That New Blog Smell

Greetings and salutations, and welcome to the new dev blog for Victory Garden Games! Alternatively, in the event that it’s no longer the new dev blog, then I’d like to instead congratulate you on archive-bingeing your way back here, and offer this first post as a humble reward. In either case, thanks for joining us, and feel free to give yourself a pat on the back!

Suppose I may as well take a moment to introduce myself, and talk a bit about what I do here! My name is Dale, and I’m a Game Designer and Graphics Artist by trade, a Not-Entirely-Terrible Cook, and a few other less impressive sounding things besides. I was born alongside Nintendo and Sega, and having grown up with them, I’ve been dreaming up game ideas since as far back as elementary school. In a box somewhere, there’s a stack of yellowed paper covered in bad handwriting and spaceships: my first game design document. It was nothing brilliant, just doodles of hulls, laser and engine stats, and so on for a side-scrolling Space Shmup. I must have spent a year or more drawing sprites in MSPaint, importing them into a game-making engine called Kilk & Play, and making them fly around, animate, shoot projectiles, and explode. It was never finished, and even then I recognized it as a pretty terrible piece of work… but I was hooked just the same.

I spent most of the mid-to-late 90’s playing and studying all the games I could get my hands on. During that time, I also started teaching myself how to program and sprite, starting with a few QBasic text-based adventures, some charmingly terrible cRPGs about elves and robots and cat-people using Enterbrain’s RPGMaker, and even some point-and-click adventures done using a Gameboy Camera and a lot of patience. On into the 2000’s, I did a bit of tooling around with Visual Basic, Blender 3D Modelling, C++, Python, and Gamemaker.

My first publicly released game was “Arena Battle,” an ASCII art RPG, which I’d coded on my TI-86 Graphing Calculator during lunch and after quizzes, and which was actually shared around my high school. I was particularly proud of the final boss of the game; after suffering through intentional “glitches” which cropped up more often as the arena fights progressed, the player eventually fought a battle against the program itself. Losing meant your character’s save file would be deleted permanently, and defeating the boss would delete the entire game from the calculator’s memory. I’d love to have a copy still, but I didn’t think to back it up externally, and the original copy was slain in battle a long time ago.

As college began approaching, however, the people around me spent a great deal of time convincing me that making games for a living would be a terrible risk, and wouldn’t work out in the long run. By the time I was ready to enroll in a college program, I decided to get a more practical job, and studied a few academic fields that had always been interesting to me. Since then, I’ve had a number of very practical jobs, left and returned to school several times (changing my field of study from time to time), and generally trying to fit my square-peg self into a series of very round holes.

In the last few years, I decided that enough was enough; if I didn’t get this whole “I would rather be making games” bug out of my system, it was going to drive me to taking drastic measures… like getting a help desk job at Sony or something. I started picking up freelance Graphics and Game Design work for several mobile app developers, competed in a few game jams, started studying the art of game making, and generally getting back in touch with my roots. As it turned out, making games for a living wasn’t nearly as scary as everyone had made it out to be. In fact, plenty of people were doing it all over the world!

And so, after a decade or two of preparation, I’ve sharpened all my pencils both real and metaphorical, brewed a mug of Earl Grey, and made plans with several of the awesome and talented people I’ve crossed paths with over the years, who share similar dreams. Over the next few weeks, they’ll be introducing themselves, and talking a bit about their plans and aspirations. Before too long, we’ll start unveiling the details of some of the projects we’ve got in the works too, talking shop about our respective disciplines, and all that good stuff.

It’s about time we got this show on the road!