I’m Making My First Video Game, and It’s Both Terrifying and Truly Lovely
My code keeps breaking. Errors flash up on my screen, tiny red exclamation marks freaking me out. What did I do, and how do I fix it?
Many games journalists end up leaving the profession for one reason or another, most of them a variation on, "Oh god, when will I ever have enough money to live again." But sometimes they're tied to things like dissatisfaction, a yearning for something more adventurous, or a desire to express our creativity in a way that doesn't always end with a number between six and ten.
Many games journalists become games developers. Some of them even earn both money and respect doing so. We hate those ones. We pretend to like them when we see them at parties and go to their houses for dinners, but when they're not looking we kick over their bins.
Anyway. I'm Kate, and I'm a games journalist. I'm currently attempting to learn how to make games and, please, leave my bins alone. I'm not rich yet.
Related, on Waypoint: Why It's So Hard to Make a Video Game
Learning how to make games is a very difficult thing, and you have a bunch of tools open to you. Here are some of the ones I'm dabbling in:
Twine, which is a simple program that is used to make text adventures (but which can do more fancy things, if you know how to code).
GameMaker, which is a program that simplifies coding for non-coders and is the system behind some pretty fantastic games, including Spelunky, Hotline Miami and Undertale (as long as you're a creative genius in the first place).
Unity, which is what many indie games are made in, which requires some knowledge of code.
I probably wouldn't be learning Unity just yet if it wasn't for Code Liberation – an incredible non-profit organisation that teaches women, non-binary, femme and girl-identifying people how to code. It's an initiative driven by the founder, Phoenix Perry, a lecturer and game developer who has taught hundreds of women already, mostly in New York, and is now bringing the foundation to the UK. They opened applications recently, and tens of people applied. That list was eventually whittled down to just 18 – and I was amongst the lucky ones.
And that was kinda terrifying. Suddenly, I'd gone from "Ah, let's try this, I have nothing to lose," to sitting in front of a laptop and trying to learn what brackets and semicolons meant in C#.
Phoenix comes over and does magical game wizard things and I'm not at a level to understand what she's doing yet. Maybe I never will be.
We've had two sessions so far, and it's still terrifying. My code keeps breaking. Errors flash up on my screen, with tiny red exclamation marks that freak me out. What did I do, oh god, how do I fix it? Phoenix comes over and does magical game wizard things and I'm not at a level to understand what she's doing yet. Maybe I never will be.
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Watch our short film on the fraught making of 'Hyper Light Drifter'
I only know two of the ladies in our class, and everyone else seems very wise and academic – probably because at least two-thirds of our group is students, and they're all doing Masters and PhDs in very cool-sounding things like Visual Arts and Textile Drama and okay maybe I'm making those up, but it's things like that, and I'm impressed. Also intimidated. Have I mentioned that? Everyone's very intimidating.
In our first session, we all have to choose a favourite game, and then place them on a graph. On the X axis is single player > multiplayer; on the Y axis is digital > analogue. People choose games like Minecraft (halfway between single player and multiplayer, but definitely digital) and, surprisingly, things like hide-and-seek, marbles, hopscotch and chess. I feel like my game has to be cool, so I don't write down "Zelda" or "Paper Mario" like I want to – I choose "Collaborative Storytelling" and feel like an utter wank. It's not a lie, it's just… I'm a video game journalist. I like video games.
I'm making weird things and feeling proud and protective of my creations. My ball pulses in response.
We then make a game where a ball rolls across the screen. I understand things like animation and key frames, so I'm in my element here, finally. I refuse to animate my ball rolling, and instead I make it pulse threateningly, like a heartbeat gone rogue. This is game development, I tell myself. I'm making weird things and feeling proud and protective of my creations. My ball pulses in response.
I have an idea for a game. I'm not sure how difficult it is. I've tried to take the advice of all my game dev friends – start small, then simplify. Then simplify again. The main thing, they tell me, the most important thing is to finish your first game. Never mind if it's terrible, never mind if you hate working on it, just finish it. Then, you've proved to yourself that you can do that one thing. The talent and skills come later.
Related, on Motherboard: The People Who've Waited Half Their Lives to Play 'Final Fantasy XV'
I do not work that way.
I get frustrated if I can't be great at something. I used to play the flute – for seven years – and I once got so mad that I couldn't do it well that I may have used the flute as a stick to hit the music stand over and over again. My teacher asked me where the dents in my instrument came from. I pretended not to know.
My point is this: learning code is a huge uphill struggle, because every time you think you understand something, you find out that there is so much more to go. It's hard, and frustrating, and progress is slow and unsteady. But I'm really, really glad to be taking my first steps, because I know that I'm not alone. I have a bunch of talented, driven and smart women alongside me, and we're going to share our progress and problems, and encourage each other to achieve greatness. And that's truly lovely.