So here I am on #AltDevBlogADay, about to press “Publish” while thinking it’s only fitting that my first post is the story of how I got into the game industry.
What’s interesting about that or different? Well, not much really but for starters I live in Argentina and that’s a country you don’t often hear when talking about game development. However, if there’s one thing in common is that everyone has a story to tell, here is mine.
29 years ago. I had to start somewhere…
My foray into computers was kind of odd. My friends would usually tell me how they got into programming with their Talents, Texas Instruments and Commodores while I started using a CompuGraphic EdiWriter 7500, an old computer used for typesetting, since my father was -surprisingly enough- a typesetter. I even didn’t start with programming but by doing all kind of shapes with the characters (ANSI art?). The only thing I can barely remember is the feeling of fascination with that thing.
A few months later, I went into a coffee shop in a vacation town in Argentina. I accidentally stumbled upon a table emitting weird noises, it was Space Invaders and that was the beginning of my journey. At that time (around 1980-1983) Arcade galleries were forbidden in Argentina, except for holiday places. And since Uruguay was also a common stop for vacations, that’s where I finally got hooked. If you ask me today what I do remember most vividly from then, it would be things like Ikari Warriors, Time Pilot or Spy Hunter.
From that moment on, I would grab anything remotely similar to videogames and play for hours. Console games? Yes sure, let’s turn on the ColecoVision and get Donkey Kong/Monetzuma’s Revenge/Smurfs all night long.
Arcade game galleries all over the place? So was I. To this day I fondly remember making an oath to myself, I would try to finish as much games as I could with just a single coin. Of course, you would have to spend a lot of coins in failed attempts first (my parents, not so happy about it).
20 years ago. First steps.
Fortunately, when in High-school, I started learning programming so I could focus all my gaming needs into something more productive. First with Visual Basic, Quick Basic and then commonly taught languages at that time, Dbase/Clipper, Pascal and C. Most programmers I know, started programming at the age of 10-12 so with 15 years I was a late bloomer, trying to grasp how could I build a game that exceeded the likes of Gorilla.bas (An aim and fire game like Worms) and Nibbles (the famous snake).
Not many schools in the country had programming courses so growing up it was weird. Mostly because I would go play soccer with my friends and then get back and try to make as much Pascal code as I could (I Still Remember How Everybody Loved to Capitalize Everything In Turbo Pascal).
One anecdote I’m never ashamed to tell (even If I’m constantly told not to), was the time when I had to do an exam for the Discovery of America in 1492. I remember not studying at all because I was hooked with this game on the PC called Colonization. I don’t know why I bothered going to the exam but I thought, “Maybe I should at least be brave enough to tell the teacher I haven’t studied at all”. Imagine my surprise when the random subject I was assigned to answer was how the conquest of America, specially North America came to be. I hastily started to write everything I knew about the game, how there were all these different factions, how they traded between each other, the conflicts, the missions, I was almost laughing when putting everything in paper. One thing I probably shouldn’t have done is to tell the teacher afterwards how I actually passed but luckily enough he was pleased.
The route for programmers and systems analysis here was really a no brainer, there are mainly two well-respected public universities here (called National Technology University and University of Buenos Aires). I started Computer Science only to realize later that I would start thinking of games I would love to play/make when the teacher was speaking (fortunately I didn’t do that aloud). Two years of failed exams later, I dropped out only swear that I would do whatever I could to make a living out of games or die trying.
13 years ago. Exploring new territory.
Armed with 5 years or so of programming knowledge, a fresh background of gaming (shameful to show off to the general public at the time!) I’ve decided to start creating the building blocks of a game. At the time, D.O.S. was reigning and it was usual for a programmer to have their own set of libraries for different aspects. One for memory handling (EMS/XMS anyone?), one for graphics rendering in C with tidbits of assembler here and there, one for sound, UI, you name it.
Argentina was somewhat behind in terms of communications so unless you had a modem and BBS access, you would probably not get much information besides books, and there was not many of them that weren’t badly translated or broadly generic. So when I was finally making strides into what it seemed to be the route to make games, bam!, Windows 95 appeared, it came with this new technology called Direct X? What is this? What do you mean everything is done already?
I’m sure this is probably familiar to many people of that epoch, after a while I had to throw my libraries away. All of the sudden D.O.S. was hardcore, old-school, passé. It was a big hit to my morale but after regaining strength I definitely knew I was going to need help starting over. That was when I caught this article in the newspaper (this was 1998), this guy with a friend had made a local platform game similar to Sonic but with a few twists called “Nuku”, “That’s it! More people like me around here!” -I immediately thought.
Turns out, they were already making a game with some friends and needed help. So I joined him. This was 1998 and the (first?) dotcom era was around the corner, all these sites and companies out of nowhere, investments, money flowing. We needed money to fund our company (called Codenix) so we went about and got ourselves several work-for-hire jobs.
9 years ago. Aiming high, falling hurts.
Circa 2001, dotcom bubble burst. For a couple of years we’ve been wanting to make a MMO, first 2D then 3D, then using a dynamic editing pipeline along with an on-demand resource system. At that time it was a different approach, since all games were using an automatic patch at the beginning and not while playing. We even decided to do our own UI toolkit based off GTK. We were young and bold.
Several design meetings later, we decided that if we wanted to make a MMO, we would have to go and get more funding so we set out to meet possible investors. So we got together with a local publisher called Edusoft, which has been publishing games for over a decade. To our surprise, the owner of the company connected us with another two groups that were trying to create a MMO as well!
The next step was logical, we joined the three teams together and created NGD Studios, some of us even bought our home PCs to work at the office and with a really humble investment we set out to create a 3D Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing game with our own server and client technology, and to top it all, self-published (Did I mention we were bold? Make that, borderline naive).
Who knew? Against all odds and after 5 years of comings and goings, we were ready to launch the first commercial version of Regnum Online. Hopefully I will be posting a postmortem about it, in the near future.
Worth mentioning is the fact that while there were a few attempts at creating game companies in Argentina since the 1990′s, but there wasn’t really any major studios and only scattered
groups trying to make games on their spare time. One thing that really pushed it forward was a group of people, first starting out as a mailing list and then gathering at meetings, and later on creating a non-profit organization for game development (Argentina Videogames Development Association or ADVA for short). I was one of these, say 15-20 crazy people who somehow thought it was possible to have a games company on a country with a rampant piracy rate.
Looking back and seeing that we even have our own, albeit humble, yearly game development conference (called EVA) since more than 5 years ago and that there are now more than 60 game companies, makes me think we did some things right.
4 years ago. My first big break is here…
With Regnum Online released, we barely scratched the surface. After 5 years of having an understaffed multi-disciplinary team, we suddenly had to focus on keeping this game alive and like most MMO development studios out there may tell you, it’s no easy task.
So I had all this experience on what to do and what not, surely I could put that to good use on another game right? Boy was I wrong or what. Fortunately, thanks to Regnum’s track record we got ourselves a big work-for-hire job and after 2 years, we were able to break-even. We got from zero funding and full enthusiasm to a professional company sustaining 30 people, doing three projects at once.
Of course, after 8 years at the same company and project, it gets to you. After awhile, I’ve decided that I needed a change of scenery, that my enthusiasm was nowhere to be seen, the old familiar story about a game developer that burned down.
So I left NGD Studios…
2 weeks ago. Conclusion?
Wait, a story of how some random guy got into the game industry ends up with that guy leaving it? What?
Well, the only thing I can say for certain is that if you love games and love making games, there is truly no opt-out. You may pause, meditate, have a sabbatical all you want, but you are coming back sooner or later.
We are bound to have second thoughts all the time, that’s okay, we just need a little inspiration to keep us going.
As for me, I started scribbling on my blog a few months ago, and then all of a sudden two weeks ago I put a comment on an #AltDevBlogADay post by Mike Acton. Next thing I know, I was invited along.
There was my inspiration, so here I am again.