Today’s guest post comes from KlickTock founder Matthew Hall, creator of Doodle Find and Little Things.
I can identify with Matt’s feeling that he came to the industry too late — that the “golden age of the bedroom coder” had passed him by. That’s exactly how I felt in 1982, when I’d had my Apple II for four years — since age 14 — and still hadn’t managed to get a game published. While other programmers produced hits like Space Eggs and Alien Rain, I could feel the window of opportunity closing, and kicked myself for having taken so long to get my act together.
As Matt and I can both attest, the brass ring comes around more than once.
I met Jordan at GDC earlier this year. I’d recently attended his postmortem of Prince of Persia and ran into him in the halls. We talked about developing games at that time and our own game development histories. However, given Jordan is quite famous and you probably have never heard of me before — what went wrong?
I am only a few years younger than Jordan. Just like he received his first computer, an Apple II in 1978, I received my Commodore 64 in 1983. I programmed games throughout my childhood, but by the time I was able to produce a professional quality game — the golden age of the bedroom coder was over. My 8-bit heroes had moved onto 16-bit and found themselves struggling. The industry had passed to the hands of those with big cheques and bigger teams.
Instead of producing a hit title in my bedroom — as I was always hoping to — I developed homebrew titles for the newly released Game Boy Advance. Nintendo would never allow garage developers like myself access to their development kits, so I used one of the many “flash-kit” solutions available on the black market. As an unlicensed developer I had to release all my titles for free; hardly untold riches! Regardless, I am proud of my titles even if only a handful of people were ever able to enjoy them.
My portfolio of titles and expertise in new hardware allowed me to get a professional game development job. But after 8 years of doing thankless work-for-hire, I eventually came to the conclusion that I had to leave my paid jobs and strike out on my own if I ever wanted to make a game I was truly proud of. I left my job just as the App Store was launching, though I had no idea it was going to change my life.
Little Things was released a year later. Though it was initially a failure on PC, it was featured by Apple as the iPad App of the Week and I’ve had similar chart-topping success with my other iOS games.
Finally the games industry had come full circle, once again empowering a lone developer with a stable platform, low cost of entry, excellent engines and tools available on the market, and a direct line to customers hungry for more games.
So I have a few pieces of advice for those with a passion for games and a notebook full of game ideas:
1. Head out to the store and pick yourself up a Macbook and an iPod. You’ve now got the top of the line development system used by every iOS developer in the world! No need to call a console manufacturer and beg them to allow you to drop thousands of dollars on a single dev kit.
2. Now, for the game engine! From popular open-source solutions like Cocos2D to powerful 3D engines like Unity 3D the choice is yours. If learning to code is too much at first, there’s even Stencyl, which allows you to develop games with a visual interface.
3. When I was a kid, if I got stuck on a problem, I got STUCK. I was a 14 year old kid programming games from a farm in rural Australia. Who was I going to call? Jordan Mechner? I may as well just call Steven Spielberg for film-making advice. The Internet has completely changed programming and if you find yourself with a problem you can’t seem to solve, most likely someone has already solved it for you. With Google around, programming is much less scary.
The most amazing part of this new golden age is that you don’t have to be #1 to be successful. Everyone knows that Angry Birds has had over 200,000,000 downloads. You may not have ever heard of my games, but Doodle Find has had over 2,000,000 downloads and Little Things has sold over 125,000 units. I’m ecstatic with the success I’ve had so far and I hope the best is yet to come. Most importantly, I only need to support myself — not a large company renting an expensive office in a central business district.
I’m beyond grateful to have found myself in the right place at the right time… finally.