"The best place to find a helping hand is at
the end of your arm."
- Swedish proverb
Technically, my career as a game developer
began long before anybody saw my work - before I even had a computer in fact.
As a kid I would regularly make my own entertainment - ranging from board,
card, and dice games to ball games and toys.
Sometimes it was because existing products didn't cut it; other times it was
simply because what I wanted to play didn't exist. Strangely enough, he same things that
motivate me to this day! Of course I didn't appreciate it at the time, but all that
creativity was laying the foundations for what was to come...
The Pinball Visor
Sitting in the back of my parents' humble
newspaper store while they worked could be tiresome, so I would often have to
keep myself entertained. With plenty of cardboard boxes lying around I was spoilt
for choice though, and I would soon be creating what can only be described as
a "visor game". I would hack a cardboard box into a slimmer, binocular sized
shape - complete with eye holes to peer through. Some hand-drawn scenery would
then be slotted into the back - whether it be a selection of bad guys or
something sporty like a soccer net. Finally, a suitable ball was thrown in and
the game would be to jerk it against the scenery - either aiming at
bad guys or a goal, etc.. All the while holding the device tight to your eyes
so that you can see the action. Very strange indeed. You needed a lot of
imagination to be entertained by that one...
One of my
creations was a one-on-one fighting game that
took place via the roll of a dice. I would write out a small move list that
corresponded to the numbers on the dice, such as 2=Punch, 3=Kick, 4=Throw,
etc.. The player would then execute whatever move they rolled and it would do
a certain amount of damage. One of the listings would be something like "Lose
Control", at which point the other player would take charge and unleash some
attacks of their own. Exchanges like that happened until, naturally, one
fighter lost all of their health. It sounds lame, but the fights always panned
out really well and were surprisingly entertaining. Not least because they
were always acted out by two brave action figures for added effect! The game
stayed with me for a good couple of years, and it would eventually become more
sophisticated - featuring characters that had different move lists, etc.. It even extended to a wrestling spin-off, which included things like
"Pin" amongst the possibilities...
When the wrestling phenomenon swept our household back in the
early 90's, my brother and I were inspired to make a great little card game.
We tore our magazines to shreds and pasted wrestler portraits onto playing
cards, complete with 6 basic statistics: Strength, Agility, Endurance,
Intelligence, Popularity, and Special Move - each rated out of 100. Sound
familiar? All in all
there must have been damn near 100 cards, featuring wrestlers from all over
the world. What you then did with the cards was pretty flexible. I believe
dice were added to the proceedings, as you rolled to see which statistics were
compared and then rolled again to see who could boost their skill the most (Mr
Perfect's 88+6 Endurance beats Bret Hart's 92+1). Pinning was also
worked in somehow; although it escapes me after so many years. In fact, there
were all kinds of match types - from tag teams to Royal Rumbles. However you
played it, this was a great piece of work. With a professional makeover it
probably wouldn't have looked out of place in the stores! It's success lied in
the simple-but-effective stats, which were frighteningly accurate thanks to
our obsession with the sport...
Having played every possible variation of the cards
themselves, we decided to take them into a new environment - the world of
board games! We mapped out
a Monopoly-style wrestling world that consisted of arenas and gyms, and
my brother then did an excellent job of drawing it up on an old game board. We
brought in counters and money from other games and eventually created some
sort of wrestling management game, where you acquired wrestlers and signed
them up for matches. They would all have various salaries, but it was their skills
that brought in the big money - as they collected match winnings and hunted
for the World championship. Like
Monopoly, the game would take you all around the country as you visited
each city and conducted your business. All in all, it was a charming homemade
piece of fun that successfully combined the world of wrestling with a classic
As my passion for
wrestling died down, my creativity spilled over into other areas. The most
notable example was my curious habit of drawing "stick man" comics. It was
basically doodling taken to the extreme - complete with stories and
characters! However, the effortless nature of stick men meant that I could
produce thousands of these things without giving it a second thought. It was a
classic case of content over graphics - which is a quality that lives on in my
gaming work. In fact, I was tempted to make a stick man game (in those dark
days when graphics of any kind were beyond me!). As it turned out, the little
guys were only ever resurrected when Federation Booker's moves
were being designed...
I may not have had a PC
until the end of the 90's, but I did have the poor man's equivalent: the
Commodore Amiga! While most people were using theirs for games, I was much
more interested in the creative possibilities. This often led to disappointment,
since I was too young and inexperienced to make sense of the more sophisticated
programs. However, I did manage to enjoy the legendary art package "Deluxe
Paint". This thing was not unlike the "Paint" program that comes with Windows
as standard, but at the time it was a spectacular treat. I occasionally toyed
with it over the years, and soon had a nice little collection of characters,
props, and scenery. The real breakthrough came with Deluxe Paint IV,
which introduced animation to the proceedings! The chance to bring my graphics
to life was irresistible, so I spent months trying to master the feature. I
never really succeeded, but my efforts were an invaluable introduction to the
world of 2D graphics...
Since my graphical
exploits were less than satisfying, my creativity often resorted back to
stories. I may have favoured stick man comics, but I was also no stranger to
pure writing. A fine English student from day one, I certainly had a way with
words by the time my school life was drawing to a close. In the final years,
my friend and I would regularly waste our English lessons writing bizarre
stories - the funniest of which enjoyed being passed around the classroom! He's
a writer to this day, in fact, so we must have been doing something right...
My first official chance to
shine as a game designer actually came at school, courtesy of the Graphic
Design lesson. By some twist of fate, we had the surprisingly fun assignment
of having to design and build a children's toy! It may not have had anything
to do with "computer" games, but my contribution still managed to sneak in
that direction. I decided to make a tangible version of Tetris, made
out of little wooden blocks - much like a puzzle. In fact, that's exactly what
it was - because the blocks built up a picture of Pokemon's Pikachu!
The simple premise was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that it came in
such a professional form. It had a smooth wooden frame, complete with tidy
pieces that slotted together nicely. We even had to design a box! As my final
year project it certainly delivered the goods, bringing me a firm 'A' grade.
My teacher even claimed that it was the highest scoring project of the year.
Maybe it was a little too good though, because they kept the damn thing
instead of letting me take it home!
Comics & Cartoons
When I finally got a PC, towards the end of my school life, I picked up where I had left off
with the Amiga. Within months I was messing around with graphics - full
colour ones this time! I was copying and pasting any images I could get my
hands on - from Simpsons clip art to scanned photos. My hybrid
creations soon materialized in a new generation of comics and cartoons. Every
so often I'd produce strips about my friends, which were highly amusing at the
time. In hindsight, it was actually my first taste of using my creativity to
entertain an audience. I certainly learnt what does and doesn't work, as some
were a little "close to the bone" and suffered mixed reactions!
Once I had adjusted to life
as a PC owner, I came across an obscure multimedia package called "Medi8tor".
It was actually intended for presentations, but its interactive nature was
begging to be abused by my imagination! You could produce graphics and sound
based on what the mouse was doing, so it was just enough to make some crude
point-and-click games. With my comic strip graphics at the ready, I was
experimenting in no time and soon had characters responding to what the user
did. Over the following 12 months I produced many interactive delights -
ranging from a Friends tribute to an impressive point-and-click
adventure starring South Park characters. There was even a shooting
game at one point! All in all, this was a defining moment in my progress.
Without typing a single line of code, I had created some fun interactive
experiences. Doing so took a lot of resourcefulness, and gave me a vague idea
of what goes into making a game...
1998 - 1999
By late 1998
I was actually studying Computing at college. Here I was taught the basics
of an old language called PASCAL. The initial excitement of learning
to program soon faded for the majority of the class when we realised how
difficult it was - especially on the graphical side of things. For most people the idea of making games was now
lost, but as a last resort I was happy to pay my dues with text.
Acknowledging that my options
were limited, I immediately relied
on humour to provide the entertainment value.
The result was a series of language games that took input from the player and
reproduced out of context. Particular highlights included "Newsround", which
turned your input into a news reading, and "Dial Me Sideways" - which created
a phone conversation. As insignificant as those games sound, the news reports
of Federation Booker and Wrestling MPire are actually based on
the exact same premise! Another key text game was "Jumble Saler", which dared
you to demand as much money as possible for various items. The spirit of that
also lives on in the contract negotiations of Federation Booker and
Evidently, my work with text games was a vital
part of the learning process. Not least because it made the transition to C++
just that little bit easier...
of these text games can be downloaded here!
C++ Text Games
~ Late 1999
Knowing that C++
was the industry-standard, I jumped to it as soon as possible and tried
my best. I spent 1999 slowly teaching myself how to make the text games
that were so easy in PASCAL. For the time being this
was as good as it got with C++, so I continued
to churn out more text games - the best of which was a turn-based wrestling
game called WWF Jakked.
Looking back, it was actually a digital version of the dice fighting I had
invented years earlier! As encouraging as it was, I had rather hoped to have
progressed beyond text by this point. However, once again, mastering the basics
of a language would prove to put me on firm ground for the
future. As soon as I got the more accessible "C++ Builder", I was on the road
to making my best programs yet...
WWF Jakked can be downloaded here!
Copyright © MDickie 2000 - 2008