So… where to begin? I’ll start near the end and work backwards like a badly-written episode of Lost. Like an episode of Lost.
Once upon a time… no, wait. Spelunky. Yes, I’ll start with Spelunky. If you know what this is then feel free to stop reading and get back to playing Spelunky, but for everyone else, Spelunky is a platform game by Derek Yu that sees you traverse a randomly-generated set of levels starting only with a whip, ropes and some bombs, and lets you get on with it.
You’re essentially Indiana Jones but with bombs. What’s not to like?
It’s immediately frustrating and hilarious, and quickly the idea of being able to make your own choices about how to get through the levels becomes highly addictive. It feels like real exploring; your personality dictates the choices you make and these are usually the difference between life and death.
There’s so much depth to the game I just wanted to play it over and over again until my hands were bloody stumps and I could hear the Mines level music in my dreams at night. For a relatively unknown, free PC game it blew everything else out of the water.
Reading more about it, I realised Derek Yu had created the whole thing in Game Maker. Digging a little deeper I found tutorials written by Derek on how to make simple games without the need for excessive knowledge of programming, and things just sort of clicked.
I played around until I thought I understood the basics and then set about making a game I’d been thinking about for a while. Then I set about re-evaluating what I thought I understood as it all turned out to be little or no use. Programming is like that.
I worked on “What’s In The Box?” over the course of a year, and once I felt I had achieved my aim of making something challenging, fun and original, I published it for free download on the Yoyo Games website. I sent the link to Terry Cavanagh (creator of VVVVVV, another of my favourite games) and to my surprise, he loved it, posting it on his freeindiegames blog. Shortly after that things went crazy. Derek Yu picked it up on TIGSource, it got reviewed on Jayisgames and someone actually wrote an entire walkthrough for it!
“No, seriously, what is in the box?” I can’t say.
Things got even more bizarre when, flicking through PC Gamer magazine in February 2013 I found my game with a full review in the Top Downloads section. My little free PC download game had become something other people talked about. People were enjoying, discussing, suggesting improvements. I was bowled over.
Encouraged by the positive reception, I wasted no time at all in forgetting all about programming and instead moved house, changed jobs, had a second child and fixed the new house because it turned out to be broken. Programming got filed under “Things I’d Like To Do When I Get A Moment”.
I’m now working on a new idea that I’m very excited about; in subsequent posts I’ll discuss it in more depth. Although I still don’t really feel like I’ve got a moment, I’m now making a conscious effort to create moments where previously I was eating, staring vacantly at the sky or playing Spelunky.