A colleague just launched a website that interviews more of the game developers that you don’t often see in the usual game media outlets and it inspired me to write a bit.
When I was a kid, I wanted an NES. That thing entertained me for years, in addition to cartoons on TV. At one point, Samurai Pizza Cats was playing, so when my mom brought back a cart from a trip to Vietnam, I was surprised to see Speedy, Polly, and Guido. I was so excited to play this game, thinking that no one else had, but I couldn’t really share it because I couldn’t read it. It had a game feature I’d never played before: switching characters with different powers to overcome an obstacle. Since I couldn’t read the Japanese, most of the fun was figuring out the UI and HUD elements, and what button activated what, and in what menu or play state. But there were also a lot of cut-scenes with story-telling and dialogue that I couldn’t understand beyond the simple character animations, and the melody of the chiptunes. キャッ党忍伝てやんでえ was one of the discoveries that motivated me to study Japanese.
A few months ago, I sat in Makoto Goto’s lecture at Aizu University. He’s one of the developers of the latter Final Fantasy series, and is currently developing middleware for making particle effects. He recounts his first experience with programming, growing up in the rural mountains of Niigata, and having to travel 3 towns away to the nearest bookstore that carried a book on BASIC. Where he got the computer to practice executing BASIC is a question for another time.
One thing he said that I never really thought about was “Making games is to bring your dreams to reality.” It’s sort of a “duh” thing to say about any art medium, but I was reminded to when I felt limited as a kid, when dreams are still being explored and waiting to be discovered, and connections between what we experience to what we imagine could be true were being made. So things like Mario walking into pipes and Sonic the Hedgehog running through the city become iconic because we were just trying shit out.
But the game industry grows older with us. There will always be a place for experimentation, but individual experiences provide different interpretations. Possibilities and access are more open to those who carry certain privileges, and we soon discover that those who lack those privileges have other ways of achieving goals. And I think that’s where today’s impactful games are going and need. Presenting problems that many people don’t think about with solutions that are challenging to find.
The design structures are already there, now we just need to fill it with content.