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Name: John P.
Status: Student
Age: 14
Location: N/A
Date: 8/4/2004


Question:
My cousin and I are rabid video gamers. We want to be video game designers when we grow up, or do something along the lines of that. We want to start making game snow to start to get experience for when we grow up. Now we do not want to make 3-D or anything like that at our age now, what we want to do is make video games about the equivalent of stuff made on the Apple II and Atari, even the NES would be a good example of the games we want to make. I was watching a show on TV and the person was saying how many of today's greats were just teenagers programming stuff on a Apple II. I figure since they started there at my age I should try to start there too. I wanted to know if there was any programs available to make these types of games, because if they could do it 20 years ago on with the limited technology they had, then I should be able to do it faster, easier, and better then they did with today's technological advances.



Replies:
"Game designer" is a great, and very vague, term. Some guys are writers (the story development behind Halo, for example, was fantastic) and I am guessing that video game plots are not the only thing they have ever written. They probably wrote stories and poems and got a degree in English or something. Some guys are artists and I am guessing they are just as good with paint and charcoal as they are with video graphics. When people with these sorts of skills are interested in a particular industry, like video games, they usually study their skill and stay in touch with their interest. There is a magazine called GameDeveloper at (http://www.gdmag.com/homepage.htm) you might want to look in to. It will probably have articles about conventions and stuff. These can be a lot more fun than you're probably thinking, like E3 (http://www.e3expo.com/e3expo/), where attendees were allowed to play Halo 2 a few months ago, when it is not due out for a few more months. (You can tell I do not play many games; I am a programmer and so I work a lot. But I play Halo whenever I can.)

There are, in fact, many programs that can help you make games. Some of them are Microsoft Visual Basic, Microsoft Visual C++, GNU's gcc (also C++), or the Java SDK (C and C++ are hard, scary, languages and I use them for a living. Be thankful that languages have advanced to the point that you can use VB or Java). These programs are called compilers and modern compilers allow you to put pre-built pieces of program together and get them to do what you want. But you'll still need to learn the languages. They usually come with sample code and you can find a lot of sample code on the Internet (when in doubt, try www.google.com). The creative part comes in trying to get these programs, which can do anything, to do "game things" like graphics. I guarantee, this is going to be a frustrating process, but no matter what part of game design you go in to, it will help a lot to have some programming experience.

The most frustrating part of learning to program in a "real" language instead of a program that will let you plug your pieces into someone else's game is that the things you can build on your own will not be as big as you want them to be unless you really work at it. A lot. That is the real difference between liking something and loving something: if you love games, you will work on building games until you do not have time to play them anymore. :) It is like that with a lot of things; some friends of mine who went to music school sometimes practice so much they forget how much they like to listen to music.

Anyway, I would bet you could make Minesweeper pretty easily in something like Microsoft Visual Basic and that is not so far away, from a certain point of view, from other games, like The Adventures of Zelda for Nintendo.

I would definitely recommend doing something like this, but then I make my living doing that now. :) Best of luck (and I am sorry this is such a novel).

Jon Card



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