Connect Videogame Development to What You Are Passionate About

Sep 30, 2012

This may sound obvious, but somewhere between simply learning technical skills as a beginning developer and having those skills harnessed by employers/clients/customers as an advanced developer, it seems as though many videogame creators forget that (1.) we also get excited about all sorts of fascinating things in the world (and 2.) we’re free to make videogames about or informed by those. But everyone wins when this happens. It can provide an additional boost of intrinsic motivation. For the outside world it helps let in some new ideas, approaches, and contexts to help disrupt the development community’s echo chamber.

In the most simple of cases, this just means making a racing game if you have an interest in racing, or a space game if you’re interested in space. No one probably needs any outside suggestion or reminder to do that. But why stop there? Make it about someone close to you. When I was in high school I made a few videogame love notes, and I recently learned of a classmate in grad school doing the same, so whatever your age, it’s appropriate (and charmingly nerdy).

Push yourself to make something about an idea that you’re excited about, even if – maybe especially if – it’s entirely unclear how that’s going to translate into a videogame. That sort of self-imposed development struggle was largely what drove most of my InteractionArtist experimental gameplay projects, and for as absurd as much of it was that opened doors to my first contract work and then my first independent commercial game development partnerships. For Media Diet I wandered even further into that abyss, making something even less of a game, but it helped me get several ideas out of my system that I had been excited about yet stuck on for years. I was finally free to redirect that passion toward other pending interests.

If there’s a style of music you like, you can make a game about it.

If there’s a place in the world that you’re obsessed with, you can make a game about it.

Among the many things that videogames can accomplish, they’re a terrific way to share your passion for or about something with others.

Maybe if it’s deeply personal or inaccessible, most other people won’t care. No matter. That’s the freedom and beauty of it being a hobby. I still like Transcend and Relativity Runner. Transcend came from my passion for Walden, and Relativity Runner from M. C. Escher being my favorite artist since I was a middle school kid.

Or maybe it will go viral, speaking to some deep interest that no one really bothered to address the right way before. I’ve tried to take the iPad versions of Tumult and feelforit down, to reduce my overhead from updating the apps with each change of iOS, figuring the Flash versions (Tumult, feelforit) would suffice, but my short-lived attempts at that have been pushed back every time by strangers e-mailing me to find out where they can get those two applications. Tumult arose out of my strange obsession in 2008 with controllable particle effects while I was going crazy from the InteractionArtist tearing up my personal life for half a year by that point.

Speaking of personal life, most of my writing about feelforit has been either obfuscated or focused on mechanics, because what I didn’t want to say up front for the longest time was that for me feelforit was about why I asked a girl to marry me. Being engaged went well for a while, though let it suffice to say that I’m back to leading a life of 1’ing until I 2.

But, of course, if you don’t find yourself feeling passionate about something traditional, abstract, or aren’t comfortable making something especially personal, it’s also an ok start to make a videogame about your passion for videogames. Most recently for me that was Zylatov Sisters, about the mercilessly hard arcade-era, and Freezing Solid, about the 90’s PC games that took practice just to play (both of those were student projects I led with classmates in our videogame development club, VGDev). Companies stopped making those types of games long ago because they don’t work in the modern marketplace or with the largest demographics. Thankfully I’m not in a position to care about either of those considerations.

Because if you are going to do the echo chamber thing, then at least go all out. Make it a love song about forgotten videogames.

If you’re a hobbyist, don’t settle for simply being a more experienced beginner, nor a professional minus resources. Embrace the hobbyness, do something strange that beginners can’t and professionals won’t.

Mix whatever you’re passionate about into your videogame development.

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