Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Story Time

Well over a decade ago, I had just graduated from college. I went straight from college into a job. Which is great in some respects, but my college buddies and I had always talked about going into business for ourselves. Even before graduation we'd all had some experience working as human resources in our chosen majors. Without getting into specifics, let's just say our experiences gave us the impetus to pursue the idea of starting our own business.

We used to brainstorm all sorts of ideas. Some of these ideas were actually a little ahead of their time (meaning they didn't exist at the time, but do now), and I'm sure there were some that would have made money, but some of these same ideas also were not... savory... (I take the blame for most of those.) But these were brainstorming sessions. So, we tried not to rule anything out to start with. Just throw stuff out there and see what sticks. One of the ideas we had was to develop an advanced 2D side-scroller game for the PC.

Keep in mind, that this was before 3D games were the norm. This was before hardware 3D accelerators were readily available. 320x200x256 with an 80486 or Pentium processor ruled the PC gaming universe, and Sound Blaster compatibility was a requirement of all sound cards.

In short, a side-scroller game still stood a chance of some success, but this wasn't going to be just any simple side-scroller. Being ambitious, technically minded geeks, we cooked up all sorts of specs for the game engine. It was going to have arbitrary number of layers with parallax scrolling. It was going to have an arbitrary number of sprites. It was going to have advanced physics models to allow us to create ice levels or sand levels or sticky theater floor levels!

And if you just understood those past two paragraphs, I weep for your misspent youth.

Actually, I have to admit that although I would have been capable of helping, I provided very little input into the engine creation or planning. It was all I could do to find time to graduate between all the hackey sack sessions. This was my senior year. The best I could muster was moral support. Additionally, my college buddies happened to be a year behind me in school, and one of them was even two years behind (I've always been immature for my age). When I graduated and went to work, I had to leave my friends behind.

However, my friends decided to spend the summer working on this game engine. They allowed me to participate. I already had a full time job writing software and documentation and designing logic for CPLDs and FPGAs and being our company's IT guy (I have a modicum amount of useful skills), and I found it difficult to gather my energies to work on technical things in the evening after work. (I'm not as big of a nerd as I would have liked. I get picked on a lot by the other nerds. *sigh*)

Considering these issues, we decided I should work on implementing a sound library. The stuff that allows games to play music and sound effects. I did manage to get something going during that summer. As I recall, I mainly managed to get somebody else's example code to compile using our compiler of choice and have it play sound files. In summary, what I accomplished was pretty much nothing.

Truthfully, I spent more time dreaming up story lines and back stories for the game than I did working on the sound library (sorry guys!). I wanted a compelling reason to use all the features that my friends were cramming into their game engine. I actually came up with two stories I thought might work, but I only remember one of them now, and I'm not going to detail that story at the moment. This post is already too long.

Along with the story lines, I tried my hand at some character designs. I came up with a character that was going to be a sort of guide but also an integral part of the story. I had in mind a comic character capable of exaggerated (if alien) expressions. He also needed to be a character that was literally out of his element. He needed to be ineffectual for the predicament he found himself in the game. That's where the hero character (player) would come in.

Anyway, I was remembering all this stuff the other night while I was doodling in a sketchbook, and I doodled a version of this character. This made me want to track down my original design so I could compare it. I was surprised that I was actually able to find the original. I'm sure there were other versions, but I think the original captured a little energy and fun that were probably lost in any others I may have attempted. The first is the original doodle, and the second is the one I drew the other night.

Sometimes I think all these side activities should tell me something, but I have no idea what that would be. Doodling is a waste of time? Fear is the mind killer? New Coke sucked?

My friends did actually finish a lot of work on the game engine. As far as I can remember, it worked quite well, and they accomplished many of their objectives. Of course, a game engine is only a part of the work that goes into a game. At that point, what they really needed was some content. Unfortunately, going to an engineering college isn't conducive to meeting many artists.

The game, unfortunately, was never completed. They had to start school again, and I still had my job. I still think the game was a good idea, but we just couldn't pull it off (not that I helped much anyway). Some time later, I ended up working for a game development company, but you guys already know how that turned out...

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