Indie game development is more accessible now than ever before, and it inspires me to see the enthusiastic come out in droves to scream, “I could give that a shot!”. Flick on Steam or Desura any given day, and you’ll see a hundred fresh new worlds at your fingertips – most of them as total labours of love. There’s a nobility in constructing such a pure thing as this, and the enormity of its presence makes me think of something that I can barely fathom the scope of.
It’s almost too simple of a realisation to explain, but it is important to know, and it is the truth: Every video game, without question, has a story to it.
I must differentiate between a story for the game and the story of the game. Some of the world’s most wildy successful games don’t come with a synopsis – just look at the Tetris series (unless you’re counting Tetris Worlds, which I absolutely don’t recommend under any context ever). The stories I refer to are about you, making and playing the game. If you pour your time and energy into something, then the process becomes a part of your life; There isn’t a way that it can’t.
It may seem strange given my shoddy programming history that I would feel so certainly about this. You could even argue that I wouldn’t be qualified to make such a statement. I believe, however, that skill isn’t what is necessary to understand this so much as recognising the drive to make video games – or, indeed, anything. It’s not what you do, but why you do what you do. There are many aspiring artistic geniuses out there, and I had the earnest innocence of a toddler carving masterpieces from Play-Doh, but we can both feel the passion of creative expression. I successfully managed to change the colour of Wonder Boy’s pants to blue, and that’s what mattered in the end to me. It was a simple goal, but it took time. It took effort and investment. If you’ve ever written, drawn, built, sewn or worked towards something, you can understand the pain and pleasure that the quest brings.
Sometimes, something so immense can be created that it becomes greater than yourself. It defines you. If we may go back a subject, the now-confusingly-titled The New Tetris on Nintendo 64 was a huge part of my childhood. I would learn years later about the antics of lead programmer David Pridie, who had such a frustrating time during its development that he and several other programmers hid a rant (hilariously) berating the incompetence that they’d worked with into the final coding of the game. He assumed that it would not be discovered for years. It was discovered within three days of release, landing himself and H20 “into a bit of hot water” – but in the end, it all made for an amusing twist to the tale. David Pridie sadly passed away in 2001, but his legacy and the story of the game he had worked upon has lived on. The game becomes alive in that way, and to deny the journey of it’s progress from idea to completion is to deny the concept of life itself – the greatest story.
Developing a video game is a patient art, and like any project, you cannot spend that long on something and not become attatched to it in some way. Joseph “Joe” Mirabello, creator of the awesome indie-hit Tower Of Guns, wrote an impressively-if-not-disturbingly-well-detailed article last year describing the painstaking process of getting the game off the ground. To briefly summarise the amount of time taken: It’s a lot. As in, a “3850 hours over 600 days with additional unaccounted-for factors” lot. He persevered, however, and the game holds a solid critical success – the cliched-but-classic underdog story. It’s true that hard work can pay off and leave you with that incomparable glow of achievement, but it requires sacrifice to earn it. Call me over-enthusiastic, but that sounds like the making of a legend to me.
What does this all mean, though? I could babble on for days about infamously-tortured developments or unfathomable success, but how does it all relate to us and why does it matter outside of curious amusement?
The stories that I didn’t mention about The New Tetris before are the ones that are most precious to me. They never had anything to do with H20, or the vented vitriol of a former employee. They’re silly tales about a small child in the country getting a life-changing Christmas present. They’re about his wonderful, slightly-technophobic father getting sucked into his world and the jaunty laughter that comes with a light trash-talking from your family. Through the agonising trials and tribulations of that game’s creation – and I strongly recommend that you read those acidic paragraphs to get a good feel for the people and circumstance that shaped it – David Pridie and his team blessed me with fond childhood memories. It became a part of not only who I am today, but the countless others who played it. It’s that symbiosis to art and literature that fascinates me and connects us all.
From inception to distribution…
From the makers to the players…
From the godly to the catastrophic…
We all share part of that story on an unimaginable scale.
In conclusion, I say to all those that wish to try:
Don’t you want to go on a journey?
On behalf of gamers everywhere, I urge you – please do. Go for it. You can do it.
You are about to undertake a fantastic adventure, and I’ll totally sit here on the couch and eagerly await it.