There are several articles about the path you must follow in order to become a game designer. Some articles focus on the “material success” end, while others focus on the “journey” part. I want to focus on the “journey path” because this is where most of us are located at. I truly believe that success is measured at a deeply personal level, where money is just a tiny part in that equation. As Steve Jobs notoriously stated to his colleagues when developing the first Mac, “the journey is the reward”. Sometimes, it is very hard to distinguish the location of that reward. Enjoying the reward is difficult; especially, when you are at the beginning of that journey.
I crearly remember a conversation when I was 6. It happened in elementary school. My friends and I were talking about what we wanted to do when we grew up. There were 5 of us. I was the only one who said—I want to make videogames. I even confirmed my wish to work at Capcom USA. Back in 1990-1992 Capcom was producing great NES titles based on Disney properties-- Chip n' Dale, TaleSpin, Ducktales and Darwing Duck. I wanted to make those type of games. For the next 20 years that conversation remained at an unconscious level. Always there, gathering dust.
I eventually felt attracted to Computer Science and Industrial Design. I coursed a year in Computer Science, and then I changed to a B.S. In Industrial Design because I wanted to draw and design entertainment facilities for theme parks. However, during my early 20s, almost out of thin air, I desperately yearned to become a teacher. So, by the time I finished my Industrial Design studies, I was invited to teach Science courses. At that time, I couldn't image myself doing anything else but teaching. I actually didn't (and still don't) like the term “teaching”. I prefer “sharing” because truly dedicated teachers share and don't lecture. I invested 4 years of my life in the craft of sharing my knowledge with others. I facilated courses in Chemistry, Physics, Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I gained valuable experiences from interacting with High School students. I facilitated for a summer in Shanghai, studied a Master's Degree at an American University, and I even became Coordinator of a whole Science department. However, this experience eventually turned into a corporate job where 90% of my time was spent telling teachers what to do, and reading productivity evaluations than actually teaching. During the last year at that position, the conversation I had back in elementary school came back to me. I wanted to give myself the chance to make games instead of becoming another corporate asset. Thankfully, overnight, I got fired.
That happened 5 months ago.
So, I decided to become an indie game designer. I know that there is a growing debate about what “indie” means. To me, it's just spending my days thinking about new games and implementing those ideas. It is about a constant desire to learn. It's about sharing your feelings with a community, while expecting to entertain those invididuals who are kind enough to play your game. Being indie is about being constantly inspired while frenetically trying to inspire others.
Since my first day without a job, I began to evaluate game engines; devoured books related to game design; joined game development communities; sharpened my pencils to draw; bought small notebooks to pour my ideas; invested money in different games, from AAA to “obscure” indie titles; took a diploma in graphic design... I even taught myself how to code by using the incredible codecademy. I had to get rid of all the insecurities. You know, the insecurities of beginning anew. The insecurities that come because you tell yourself that you are old enough, that some others have done this since they were 15, and because you are in your late 20's you should be already climbing the corporate ladder. I simply didn't care about all that. I just wanted to create an interactive experience. And so I did!
I started a game from zero. While I was exploring the mechanics of the amazing Construct 2 by Scirra, the idea of what eventually would become Gadabout began to take shape.
What started as a black dot in front of a purple tiled-background, evolved into a character who becomes an outcast by trying to help his community. The first person to whom I ever asked to play a game was my sister. Once she pressed “r” to try finishing the first level, I knew that I had to continue.
The first chapter of the game took me around 3 months to develop. The hardest part was telling the engine what is a Tutorial, what is Level 1, and what is Level 2. The whole process was fantastic for everytime I reached a bump, a solution always occured to me. I've heard that trying to maintain motivation during a project is tremendously difficult. However, I did not experience it with Gadabout. Sure, you have to read manuals and references, ask for help, and develop the logic of a programmer. You will eventually do so, if you cut your project into tiny and easy pieces that give you a sense of achievement.
So far, releasing Gadabout has been a tremendous satisfaction. My first game ever has been played all over the world, and although there is a lot of room for improvement, I've accomplished another personal goal. In the process, I have met wonderful game developers of whom I'm quite proud they are part of this incredible community. Sure, there is the “game industry”, but I like to consider it as “the game universe”. There are no words to describe what being part of it means. I think there is no other “industry” where coming in contact with its leaders is so easy and inspiring. In what other “industry” are you able to read a truly humane piece about what it took to develop a project? In what other “industry” are you able to directly communicate with those who are shaping it everyday? By this I mean the Jon Blows, the Ed McMillens, the Derek Yus, and the Notchs who you know are there to inspire you, help you, and listen to you.
This is where my advice comes in to those who want to become game designers or are right at the beginning of the journey: just keep going. Learn everything there is to learn. Be flexible for the path may take you to unknown territory, and try to maintain a general objective. It is very easy to go astray; however, I encourage you to get lost for a couple of days, weeks, and even months. Your experience will drive you to make better and more inspiring games. Suddenly, you will eventually realize that time, the time you have for personal projects, is far more valuable than money.
Please, finish those games.
I previously said that maintaining motivation while developing Gadabout was not a particularly difficult task. As of right now, it appears to be. I feel like the more I “progress”, the less I know. I still have to build a website, I still need to learn a little bit of PHP, and I still need to keep developing new games. However, as I write these words and I look back, it has been all worth it. As of this moment, I am doing what I only dreamed of doing—sharing my experience of becoming a game developer. I'm fulfilling that dream that originated in a conversation 21 years ago.
If you are a young student who wants to create games. Do it. Start now. Don't even wait to get enrolled in a game design school. There is a whole community of indie developers who is willing to help you and who wants to know about what you are doing. It is easier than ever to start creating, sharing, and even monetizing games. So do it!
If you are planning to quit your job or change your whole career because of your passion to develop videogames. Do it! Don't be afraid. There are many articles that will try to warn you, and keep you off this track. Just plunge yourself into uncharted waters.
I want to thank you all gamers and game developers because you have created the best universe to be part of in this world. Continue creating the impossible.