The Games That Made Me
Part One: Formula One (ZX Spectrum)

So I’m a child of the 80s. To me, DVDs still feel recent and I still occasionally wonder why Monster Munch are so small these days. Back in the days when TV ads heavily featured hair gel and venetian blinds and Jimmy Saville was clearly a paedophile (seriously, how did nobody notice?), I was the proud owner of that rubber-keyed wonder, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k (and later the 128k +2, but now’s not the time to swell off about how cool I was). The good thing about Speccys was that the games were cheap and because I was too young to be discerning, even the most bobbins platformer sufficed as at least a day’s worth of entertainment (mostly waiting for the thing to load, in fairness). Codemasters and The Hit Squad were providers of my gaming diet for the most part, with their 4-games-on-one-cassette bargains. But the game I think was played the most was a pastel-coloured cassette with no case called… Grand Prix.

Yeah, that’s not what I called it at the top, is it? Well, that’s what the label said, but the loading screen begged to differ, insisting on the title Formula One.

Anyway, it was a motor racing management sim which came at a time when I was neither interested in motor racing nor management. And yet here we are. Honestly, it’s hard to pin down what was so great about it. Watching the video above hardly gets the pulse racing, but my seven-year-old circulatory system had never felt such surges as when my team came in first and I suddenly had money to upgrade my tyres and pit crew.

The game consisted largely of two parts: buying parts and keeping your car (or cars) in fighting condition and the occasional pit stop. This second bit was where you’d find the action, as you controlled your ONE MOBILE PIT CREW MEMBER as he changed four tyres then fixed the gearbox, all the while seething at the four other guys just standing around enjoying their day. You upgrade your pit crew to give one guy fleet feet, it turns out.

Other than that, you basically sit back and watch the race unfold, listening to the accurate engine sounds (accurate to the sound of robot wasps having a disagreement in a dustbin) and hoping the weather doesn’t turn because you just put on super slicks.

Look, it’s a Spectrum game. There’s only so much you can wax lyrical about it, but the reason it makes this list is that it was so much fun to play with your friends. More often than not, I’d be playing it with my brother and my mate Pete, and we’d laugh at the sponsor name ‘Gitanes’ then sit down for hours and make a season of it.

In my quest to make a game, I’m pulling inspiration from the simple games of my youth (without being blindly nostalgic) and this is as simple as they come, but I’d still play it over Battlefield 4 so there you have it. Make of it what you will.

Further reading:

I don’t know if I’ll be using pixel art necessarily, but I thought I’d test the technique using one of the designs I sketched up yesterday. It was actually a hell of a lot of fun.

I don’t know if I’ll be using pixel art necessarily, but I thought I’d test the technique using one of the designs I sketched up yesterday. It was actually a hell of a lot of fun.

More sketches of the main character. At this point, it’s fair to say I’ve chosen the profession of said character.

More sketches of the main character. At this point, it’s fair to say I’ve chosen the profession of said character.

Another design for a possible lead character. Clearly, I haven’t chosen a species yet.

Another design for a possible lead character. Clearly, I haven’t chosen a species yet.

Early concept sketch for my lead character.

Early concept sketch for my lead character.

I skipped ahead

Well, kind of.

I purchased GameMaker for Mac, which is probably unwise since the Mac version is now essentially archived on the YoYo Games site. But I use my Mac far more than my 7-year old Windows laptop.

Anyway, after watching a tonne of tutorials, I decided that I could follow a basic one in GameMaker and create a very simple platformer using squares and stuff. Now, it’s early days (I’ve only been using it for about 45 minutes) but already it’s not behaving as expected, despite me following the video tutorial to the letter. Sigh.

Well, that’s something I can iron out as I learn.

There is good news, in that I have actually come up with a concept for my game!

It’s small in scope, as I know the work will be hard and in any case, anybody’s debut project should be small scale in most creative endeavours. Bolsters the confidence, what what? So scrapping (or, more accurately, temporarily shelving) my previous idea, I’m opting for a simple management/puzzle game. The genre is something I have yet to pin down by finding a similar game, but I very much doubt it’s unique as a concept.

Keywords: animals, food, rage, supply-and-demand.

Can’t wait to get designing the characters and elements. Best of all, I can understand how to make the mechanics work, so this is entirely plausible as a project that might actually get done! Woo!

Code and game dev tutorials - useful links

So, I thought I’d be making this game using idiotproof software. I had a list of free game dev tools - at least free initially - and marked them as positive or negative based on my understanding of the world thus far (ie: maths and science and coding are things I have actively avoided). Down near the bottom of the list was Unity 3D. The clue as to why it ranked so low is in the name. I don’t need 3D just yet, and according to PC Gamer magazine, Unity is not a program you pick up with no prior knowledge and just bust out a game. But then I started watching YouTube tutorials.

I dunno about you, but I could read a how-to book front from cover to cover and still not have a fraction of the knowledge I’d get from observing experts and repeating their actions myself. This is where TornadoTwins come in. I had made a playlist of dozens of video tutorials, knowing that presentation style, clarity of voice and level of expertise assumed can make a massive difference to how well I (and likely, most people) learn. TornadoTwins have a YouTube channel with in-depth tutorials and I happened to watch a 27-parter wherein they create a simple 3D shooter in Unity.

What happened was that they presented so well that I found myself having a vague understanding of the logic behind JavaScript. I KNOW! RIGHT?!

All credit to those YouTube fellows. They got me excited about learning how to code. Now, it might turn out that Unity 3D isn’t my best option, although there are 2D tools built in, as demonstrated in this series of videos by quill18creates (which I watched last night and which further convinced me to follow this path), but it can’t hurt to learn the advanced stuff.

So yesterday I searched for JavaScript courses nearby, but my cousin who is very good at all this stuff informed me of CodeAcademy and as of 30 minutes ago I was 23% through the beginner’s course. (I will admit to not quite understanding how I’ve completed some tasks though and I’m currently flummoxed by a Rock, Paper, Scissors game).

This is basically a roundabout way to say that I found a bunch of links and so I thought I’d share them with you. And that this stuff is hard, yo.

My video game - mission statement

Surprisingly, it’s still too early for me to have a finished game to show here. You know, since I only decided to do this last week. Instead, here’s a bunch of rules I’ve imposed on myself prior to doing any creative work, which I’ve hilariously called a mission statement (if you know me, you know that those words are far too grown-up for me to be using):

No guns and death - family-friendly
Recently, I realised just how ubiquitous guns are in entertainment. I mean, it’s obvious really but you tend to think of extreme examples like Reservoir Dogs, GTA, Call of Duty etc. The truth is, firearms are a normal part of even cutesy games like Sonic the Hedgehog and any movie with a cop in it. I won’t be a part of that. It’s not even me taking a stand, I just don’t think entertainment is representative of real life in this way - I’m 35 and I’ve only seen maybe a dozen guns in my life, most of those in airports or museums.

Have NOTHING to do with typical gamer culture, including PAX
Yeah, call me a snob. No, really. I am a snob in many ways - I have a low tolerance when it comes to the vast majority of music, I hate TV and movies, comedians and newspapers who pander to the lowest common denominator… and most of all, I hate what’s become of gamers (at least those who ruin it for others). The venom in their attacks on other enthusiasts, the sexism and homophobia which very rarely gets countered by tolerance. I’m not making a game for those people, who call people “faggot” on YouTube and actually tell people to kill themselves because they prefer one game to another. And that reference to PAX? I’d never be invited anyway, for SO many reasons, but they are facilitators of this culture when they have the power to combat it, so balls to them.

Graphically different - should be recognisable on sight
In my last post, I confessed to my absence from gaming for nigh on 15 years (with periodic lapses). In that time, I’ve seen games (d)evolve into a kind of visual mush. Very pretty, very realistic mush, but mush all the same. When the only way for a ‘n00b’ to distinguish between five games is to see which uniform the bad guy whose head he/she just blew off was wearing… let’s say that I think the big studios have been travelling one particular road for too long. Now, indie games have really stolen a march in this respect. Fez, Ilamentia, Guacamelee, Lumino City… the point is that I could easily design a game which would visually stand out against mainstream PS and XBox fare, but indies are another matter. I’ve got my work cut out, but I’m an artist so if I can’t do this, I might as well pack up and sod off.

Make it crazy and clever
We all love a good puzzle, don’t we? From crosswords to Tetris to Magicland Dizzy to Brain Training to The Room. It’s a basic human need to challenge ourselves, mentally. I think my game will be more sedate than frantic, with no running to beat the clock or else impending doom will cause you to start again. That’s not to say it’ll be the equivalent of sitting quietly on the couch in your gran’s house with only Murray Mints to talk about. My brain is a strange place, as any of my Twitter followers could attest, and there’s no way this game will be anything less than the product of a fractured mind. It’ll be mental.

Include humour - lots of it
If all else fails, at least you had a laugh, eh?

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