Here to begin.

The following was posted to the Google+ Blog on Dec. 13, 2017.

Here to begin.

I'm the program coordinator for the Game Design & Development Lab at HOFT Institute, based in Austin, Texas. It's a new vocational training program at an institution that's provided tutoring, ESL and mentoring services to students throughout Central Texas from their offices west of the University of Texas at Austin, since the 1980s.

Video games are still a new thing, as art and entertainment media go. Fascinating almost since the beginning, which depending on what calendar you believe, was stretched out over most of the 1970s, with the "first generation" of arcade and consoles for the home market becoming available for consumers throughout America and much of the rest of the consumer-ready world. Generations of electronics run much shorter than generations of human beings who get to live longer than their toys, and we're well into the second generation of children of those who were children when video games were new.

There's a trick, though, that anyone who plays games will tell you. As an interactive medium, games require the player to make decisions based on the choices afforded by the creators. Make enough of them in succession, and a player might suspend all care for the "real world." It's sometimes called "immersion," when the made-up reality seems more important than the one we're born into. You don't need to be playing a video game to experience it, but some things peculiar to games often happen:

1. A player might wonder, "How was this game made?"
2. Further, a player might wonder, "Could I make something like this?"
3. Independently, a player might think, "I'm creating something now!"

The third isn't quite true. Playing a game is rarely a creative process by itself, as much as it's an escapist form of entertainment. The immersion comes from being able to make choices, and those choices need to matter for the player to want to continue -- so making a player feel creative becomes a great strategy.

In 1982, Atari was king of the video game market, at least in America. The 2600, its home console, was dominant, though after 5 years it was a bit long in the tooth. Its parent company, Warner Communications, released a 2-minute television commercial in part to advertise the release of the game "Yar's Revenge." Often called "The Fly," it features a curious man in an office chair reacting to a housefly buzzing around his office. (You can watch this commercial on Youtube, linked below.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0Mvwh_Jjhc

"A fly. I'll have ... a mutant fly." And as if reacting to his words, the background scene changes, with large versions of the blocky, fuzzy-edged graphics typical of the Atari 2600. The man in the chair becomes far less interesting than the visuals and audio above him, but he continues narrating his own imagination, and waving his arms, manipulating the reality of the TV commercial at a whim.

This was the start of a new phenomenon in how games were being presented, and marketed to people. This was the point where a man -- a real human being -- was being presented to a wide audience as a video game creator. Someone able to fathom ideas and realize them within seconds. In his office chair, waving his arms around and talking to the air.

This is what people were being led to think video game development was all about. People who loved playing games, were being sold the notion that creating them was just as easy, and just as fun.

Decades later, "The Fly" is still pervasive. Playing games often seems very close to creating them, even to people who have never managed to create one of their own. It's often difficult to find someone who can argue, for or against, that one has much at all to do with the other.

This isn't all bad. It's not bad to dress up a message, if your business is selling dreams and escapism. It just means that anyone who loves games needs to take their own initiative, to first realize that playing someone else's creation is not the same as creating a game of their own, then to seek a balance between the two, and learn real things about what game development really is about.

There weren't that many places to do that in 1982. Now, there are books galore, software tools to make the process easier, an Internet full of information, and public and private schools where students can spend two years, four years or longer to learn the craft.

I should point out that before the end of 1983, Atari would suffer a sharp decline that led to the entire American video game industry suffering for the next two years. It's not the major industry player it used to be, though its brand remains one of the most recognizable of any company that ever existed. It's hard to imagine the landscape of video games without it, all these years later.

So what about everyone who wants to make video games into their full-time craft? How about a way to make games that sell, or be hired by someone who needs their skills?

How does that all work?

Thanks for reading this. I've got other things to say. You might want to visit gamedevelopmentlab.com. If you like what you find, check out the online form for students. Our first class starts Jan. 22, 2018. Not that far away.

Coming next: Portfolio Posse. We did one! It went really well.

 

John Henderson