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First game ever: The good, the bad and the ugly

Posted by Timothy Loew  May 29, 2013 10:17 AM

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By Liz Cormack, Marketing Manager, The Tap Lab

Have you ever heard John Lennon’s first song? It was called “Hello Little Girl,” and it was, well, bad.

What about Steven Spielberg’s first commercial film? It was called Firelight. He made one dollar from it, and that’s about what it was worth.

Riddled with imperfection, those first attempts at greatness still contained the spark that brought us two of the world’s greatest entertainers. Those works were just part of the path Lennon and Spielberg walked to get to their greatest accomplishments – the same path that must be followed for any musician, director, or even video game designer.

Creating that first, awful game is essential. Mistakes will be made, lessons will be learned, and great game developers will be born.

More than ever before, jumping into game design and iterating quickly is possible even for those with little or no experience. Dave Evans, an independent game designer at Hybrid Mind Studios in Cambridge, worked as a programmer in the corporate world for years before opening his own studio in 2009. His career was in large part the result of a childhood filled with copying code from the back pages of borrowed magazines.

“The tools are available now – you can make games without being a high tech programmer,” he said. “It’s a skill like anything else, and the more that you make small games, the better you’ll be getting at game design.”

Any game designer remembers his or her first-ever attempt at creating a game. From copying reams of code line for line from a magazine, to turning your college campus into a mobile battleground, a game designer’s initial experience often teaches lessons he or she will remember for the rest of their career.

For Evans, making a mistake can be a catalyst for something new. “Sometimes a mistake can be a bug that gives you a different idea. It can give you a whole new idea for a game mechanic,” he said.ichiropax.png

The crowd (and fellow panelists) are all laughs as Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games shares his first game ever story.

This past March at PAX East 2013, a massive video game expo in Boston, four local game designers gathered together to share hilarious and insightful stories of their own first games on the "I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours" panel. In a room packed full of aspiring game designers, industry insiders Alex Schwartz of Owlchemy Labs, Seth Sivak of Proletariat Inc., Dave Bisceglia of The Tap Lab, and Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games told their personal tales of 60-hour work weeks, crazy mistakes, and the leap they made into game development.

Three gaming legends have also recounted their own first-game-ever stories on video: Jesse Schell, author of The Art of Game Design; Will Wright, creator of Sim City; and Raph Koster, previously lead designer of Ultima Online.

Raph Koster’s first game ever sold exactly one copy… he considers it a great success.

Will Wright and Lauren Elliot, long-time collaborator and project manager of Wright’s first game ever, reminisce on their early projects.

“Probably about 70 percent of the time I worked on Raid on Bungeling Bay were mistakes that I had to back out of, but those mistakes were valuable,” said Will Wright, talking about his first commercial video game title.

Ultimately, the prevailing bit of advice offered to prospective designers was to just get started. Build games, and get them out there. Prototype, play-test, and have a blast doing it.

“Life is short, and games are really, really fun to make,’ said Sivak.

Besides what you learn in the process, the feeling when you finally build and ship a completed game can be extremely empowering. “There’s something about making something that you can build a community around,” said Bisceglia. “it sends shivers down your spine when you launch a game. People get into it and you’re playing it with them.”

Sivak emphasized the importance of getting your game into the hands of players early on. While making a gesture-based game in college, he told the story of their team's first 8-year-old play tester who couldn’t swing the Wii remote hard enough to make anything happen. “We were a bunch of 20-something year old males, and we turned the Wii remote gyroscope all the way up to 5 Gs,” he said.

The videotaped stories from Wright, Koster and Schell sparked the realization that such videos could be shared with aspiring game designers everywhere. So we figured, why stop at PAX? We’re building a community of a game designers and developers to promote making games – and mistakes! – and we’d love for you to join us.

First Game Ever is a weekly video series to encourage people to jump into game design.

Subscribe to and get in touch at liz[at] to let us know whose story you’d like to hear next. We’ll be posting new interviews every week, featuring all kinds of designers, from our neighbors in the Indie MEGABOOTH to Henry Smith, creator of Spaceteam.

After showing a hilarious video of his first attempt at building an Unreal 2004 Mod at the First Game Ever panel, Alex Schwartz put it best: “Your first games are going to stink – if you keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing, what you’re trying to do…” you’ll eventually have a terrific story to help inspire all those eager, budding designers at PAX and beyond.

The State of Play blog, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors. MassDiGI, based at Becker College, is a statewide center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the local games ecosystem. Follow along @Mass_DiGI.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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MassDiGI 8-24 287w872.jpgThe State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features stories by digital and video game developers and business insiders. Follow along @mass_digi.


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