Abstractly speaking, as creators we derive inspiration from all experiences. The more deeply steeped in our craft, the more a once innocuous stimulus or perception can become the seed of a polished creation. However, the two best sources of inspiration are most likely to be other creations within your medium and other creators. Here are a few creators and creations that have inspired me to come into my own as a game developer:
Raph Koster— of EverQuest II, Star Wars Galaxies, Ultima Online, and LegendMUD fame, among others— was the first game developer with whom I connected on a personal level. Before I had read many of the anecdotes of Ultima Online‘s development, the dream of working as a professional game developer seemed lofty and unattainable. Many of these anecdotes have been retold or archived in RaphKoster.com; here are some of my favorites:
- How UO rares were born
- Random UO anecdote #2
- The one about UO’s Christmas trees’ implementation, nowhere to be found
Game development is an exploration of a creative form— itself made up of several interweaving creative forms. You don’t start with all of the answers, the process of building the game is what informs the answers (and often raises many more questions to be themselves answered in sequels or successive projects if you’re disciplined and focused enough to avoid scope creep). Even though I had worked on simple games for a living before running across the Ultima Online development anecdotes, these highlighted the simple fact that sprawling, complex MMORPGs are made by people. Not untouchable superhumans, but regular, creative people like you and me, with more questions than answers.
ADOM and the Roguelike Development Community
Backing up a bit in the timeline and still keeping in line with the theme of feeling empowered to make my own games, I have ADOM (Ancient Domains of Mystery) by Thomas Biskup to thank for being the first game to truly make me feel “I can do this”. Around the time I was playing ADOM, any article you could find on the topic of breaking into the game industry indicated the best way to do so would be to mod an existing game or design a level for a game with an available level editor. Neither modding nor level design appealed to me in the least bit. What interested me about games and why I wanted to make them had nothing to do with superficially tweaking an existing game or creating content: I wanted to design systems.
After months of playing ADOM and inevitably researching guides and walkthroughs, I ended up lurking and consequently participating in the roguelike development scene, mostly at the rec.games.roguelike.development Usenet group (lovingly shortened to r.g.r.d.). This community was— and still is, though now much more widely spread out— filled with folks interested in designing and implementing systems and procedurally generating content. Favoring the quick-and-dirty “programmer art” that ASCII traditionally brought to classic roguelikes sealed the deal for me: this community was serious about no-frills roguelike development.
The Oryx LOFI Fantasy Tileset
Making games is hard. Programming and doing the art for a game? Impossible! Such was my assumption before running across the Oryx LOFI Fantasy Tileset (many of the original images seem to no longer be hosted, unfortunately). Save perhaps for heavily stylized game art such as ASCII or colored circles, for a long time I conceived of commercially-viable art as something only an artist with years of training could achieve. While that holds true most of the time, we are often capable of producing work that is good enough, only we do not know it until we see someone else do it. Oryx’s 8×8 fantasy character sprites inspired me to attempt 16×16 sprites with similar proportions, which then gave me the motivation I needed to dive fully into Crossword Dungeon‘s solo development.
I draw continuous inspiration from other games and game developers, as well as other sources deserving their own post, but these are the three most memorable in empowering me to not only pursue game development professionally, but to release my own commercial games. Part of the reason I maintain this blog, with the usual tutorials and algorithms, is to give back and inspire other folks to have the courage to create.
What have your sources of barrier-removing, empowering inspiration?