Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Game Dev’s Story, Part VI: Indie Before Indie Was Even Uncool

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 27, 2012

My dad had an overdeveloped sense of my skills as a game programmer when I was whipping out adventure games and simple arcade-style clones. He owned a tiny holding company – which are sometimes derogatorily referred to as “shell companies.” Mainly it was there to be a “parent” company to for the entrepreneurial idea of the week, so he wouldn’t have to go through the time, expense, and paperwork burden every time he decided to launch a new venture. Most of the time it didn’t do too much – Dad was never super-entrepreneur or anything – but I guess he got the bright idea we could get my games out on the market. Great idea, especially with college looming on the not-too-distant-horizon. I’m going to break it to you now, though… it never panned out.

Around this time the industry was still emerging from infancy to toddler-hood, trying to learn how to walk.  What was it going to be like? Was it going to be like the consumer electronics market, selling games (and other software) at Radio Shack next to the stereo speakers and tape decks? Was it going to be like the print publishing industry, with more-or-less solo game authors working with agents and submitting their works to the publishers? Was it going to be like the record industry, signing on “hot talent” for multi-game contracts? Or maybe even like Hollywood? Nah, let’s be serious – the games biz could NEVER even be in the same league as Hollywood, right? 🙂

Anyway, my dad was clueless, I was only slightly less clueless, but we tried the “print publisher” approach. It was something my dad was familiar with, and he already knew a guy who was billing himself as an agent looking to expand into this brave new world of computer entertainment. We took him on, and he pushed my games, and we were actually considered by a couple of publishers (including one book publisher who was flirting with the idea of going into publishing games, but then backed off the idea).

But really, the problem was (in part) that we were about four years too late. The days where Scott Adams could make little text-adventure games and sell ’em on tape by the buttload, or where Richard Garriott or Daniel Lawrence or Freeman/Connelly/Johnson could bash out an RPG in BASIC (or mostly BASIC) and sell 20,000+ copies was largely over *. In 1979, 1980, maybe even 1981 it would have been possible. But a couple years later, as a junior high school student still learning to program, this just wasn’t going to fly on any real scale. Especially with the glut of games on the market, on the cusp of becoming “The Great North American Video Game Crash of 1983.”

But I knew none of these things. It was going to be another decade before I started making games commercially. It’s kind of amusing (and a little embarrassing) to look back on it all.  But hey, I was kinda-sorta an indie way, way, way back!

Anyway, a year or two before I graduated from high school, the computer-programming thing (and computer use thing) began to die down. My brothers demanded (rightfully) time on the “home” computer, the C-64, and I was fairly busy with several other hobbies (some things never change), active participation in a medievalist group, and dating girls (the latter two may sound like mutually exclusive activities, but in practice this wasn’t really the case.)

I was “computerless” when I went off to college. I started out with an Electrical Engineering major, which had zero programming requirements. I still played arcade games and mooched off of friends’ computers for entertainment, but aside from a couple of “elective” programming courses I took and didn’t put too much effort into, I was not keeping up on any coding skills. I took a break from school to serve a mission for my church, which again kept me (mostly) away from computers. We occasionally found ourselves playing some Nintendo at family’s homes after dinner. One church member in Ogden, UT, upon discovering that I was an RPG fan, introduced me to Dungeon Master on his Amiga. We couldn’t stay long, but I was awestruck by what little I saw and played.

I still loved gaming, and the itch to create – which had never completely subsided – returned to the surface.

Upon my return to school, I tried to switch my major to computer science so I could get back into programming. I’d discovered – during a particularly boring E.E. lecture – that I really didn’t want to do that for a living. I didn’t want to make the machines, I wanted to make the machines do something COOL. Like simulations. Or games. All that had to wait pending certain military commitments related to an ROTC scholarship, but the discovery of a particular defect of my knees that had been causing me pain resulted in a medical discharge which changed a lot of my life plans.  In retrospect, I’m pleased with how things turned out, though at the time it was something of a shock. And all my life, I’d thought everybody’s kneecaps were angled diagonally like mine. I’d never really noticed…

So I went back into programming (ahem, “Software Development,” or “Computer Science,” whatever … it was programming), which I loved. While I expected I’d probably end up with some kind of job writing accounting software or something boring like that, deep down inside a part of me really wanted to make games for a living. But how likely was that to actually happen, really?


 * The games were, of course, Akilabeth: World of Doom & the Ultima series, Telengard, and Temple of Apshai respectively. In case you were wondering what that video of Apshai was supposed to be about.

Filed Under: A Game Dev's Story, Geek Life, Retro - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • GhanBuriGhan said,

    Cool of your dad that he gave it a try, at least! My own potential career in computer science ended when a career counsellor at school told me that there was no future in informatics, that Hype was over. That was in 1990… Unfortuantely,I believed him. Not that I dislike the career I had instead, but sometimes, when I read blogs like yours, I feel a bit of regret…

  • A Game Dev’s Story, Part VII: Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…? said,

    […] Last time, I’d just come back to school following religious service, and switched my major to computer science. I wasn’t home too long before my best friend asked me if I was going to ask her to marry me. Yeah, you can re-read that to parse it better if you want, but that’s how it went down. We were officially engaged a couple of months later (much to the surprise of my mother, who wasn’t expecting it, and to the non-surprise for her parents, who totally WERE).  We were married that summer, and lived on grants and student loans for a semester until she graduated, worked as a substitute teacher and later a second-grade teacher, until I was able to graduate. […]