It’s an early winter morning at Weir Hall. Several students are seated in the building’s lounge, passing around a small foam football. Time passes as they wait for a member of their group currently held hostage by a professor.
Before long, she and Lee Easson, the group’s unofficial leader file in. To start the meeting, Easson pulls out his labor of the past week – a couple of video game prototypes.
Easson, a junior computer science student, has had a passion for making video games since middle school.
“I went to a programming camp in sixth grade,” Easson said. “I was so fascinated by programming and animation that I was like ‘I wanna keep doing this,’ and that eventually became: ‘I wanna make video games.’”
Since then, Easson has taught himself how to make games with multiple online engines or game creation systems, including GameMaker and Unity.
“I love GameMaker because you can prototype a game extremely quickly,” Easson said. “It has a drag and drop interface, so you can just test the programming logic without typing extensive amounts of code. Once you do have a prototype down though, it has a really good scripting language behind it.”
After making several games as a hobby, including submitting a couple of entries to Game Jams, Easson caught wind of the Indie Game Festival, or IGF for short. The contest challenges independent game developers from around the country to submit their own games, have them judged, and potentially win a cash prize.
“I thought it would be cool if I just got a bunch of people together here at the university’s computer science program, made a game to submit to IGF, and just see what happens,” Easson said.
A few weeks later, Easson had gathered a team to create an IGF entry. Junior Kaylin Brassfield, who recently hosted a game development talk hoping to draw more people, helped.
“I just wanted to meet other developers on campus,” Brassfield said. “It was a good way to introduce people to how to get into game development, while also bringing in more experienced people who might want to make something.”
Brassfield has game development experience. Her gamography includes mostly role playing games and story-driven adventure games. She has developed on engines, such as RPGMaker. She said she likes to make games that let her write interesting stories.
“I’ve entered Ludum Dare,” Brassfield said. “It’s the longest running Game Jam in the world. I enter it every three or four months.”
Now that the group is ready to start the development process, they have moved onto the first part of the job – brainstorming and prototyping. Several different members assembled and presented prototypes of their game ideas. Ideas ranged from a cyberpunk-style stealth game to a Cuphead and Metal Slug-inspired boss rush. Cuphead and Metal Head are both described as “run and gun” video games.
The main gameplay concept of “Blade of Fallen,” one of the prototypes showcased by Easson, was borne from a bug he discovered while working on another project. The game involves solving puzzles by redirecting a shuriken (weapon) as it’s flying through the air.
“I was building the mechanics for a top-down shooter,” Easson said, “and as I fired my projectile, it would shoot out from the player character. But when I shot out from a different place, the projectile that was already there would redirect to where I clicked. I thought that would be an interesting idea for a puzzle game.”
Right now, the team doesn’t have any finalized idea about their final project. For now, they plan to let the ideas of each prototype marinate and host a vote soon.
This will be Easson’s first collaborative project, but not Brassfield’s. She said working on game development with a team is different than working as an individual.
“When you work with a team,” Brassfield said, “you’re relying on both the other people you’re working with, but mainly also the directors. If something goes wrong, say the writer doesn’t finish his one part, now it’s really on the director to find someone to fill in that spot. It’s relying on other people to do their stuff, while if it’s just yourself if your screw up, it’s all your fault.”
For those who want to try game development, Easson shared pointers.
“Many beginning video game developers want to make the games that they play and enjoy,” Easson said. “I strongly advise against that, because the games you play are made by hundreds, or maybe even thousands of people.
“Instead, think of the simplest game and make that. Then you make another and take what you learned from the previous one and apply it to that. Just keep making games and making things better, and eventually you’ll hit the skill level to make that FPS or that RPG you always wanted to make. In short, just start small and keep building up to bigger projects.”