Mat@MDickie.com
The Beginning














 


"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
~ Late 1980's 
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...


Dice Fighting ~ Late 1980's 
One of my most enduring
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...


Wrestling Cards
~
Early 1990's 
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...

Wrestling Board Game ~ Early 1990's 
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 trading game...


Stick Men Comics ~ Mid 1990's 
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... 


Deluxe Paint
~
Mid 1990's 
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...


Stories
~ Mid 1990's 
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... 

Pokemon Tetris ~ 1997
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 ~ Early 1998 
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!

Medi8tor ~ 1998 
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...


PASCAL Text Games ~ 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 Wrestling MPire! 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...
A collection 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!

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