Teaching myself game design from the ground up.


took apart chunks of the arcade machine with the help of a friend’s dad who knows how to actually use powertools.  We straightened some things out and added a little more foundational structure.  Sending it to my friend for a paint job tomorrow.  Just gotta work on the game itself, but this whole 9-5 job + my other job +  having a life makes it pretty hard.  Doin’ what I can.  I got til august 2nd.



Working on reviving motivation.  I have two months to fix up my game and cabinet for gaymercon (gay game convention) and I have a lot of work and little will to do it.  The way I try to force myself to work on a project is to tell folks about it, which is helping.  I’m going to bring the cabinet to get checked out by someone who knows about fixing/construction stuff (cause I do not, and this event will probably be higher traffic than the last event the cabinet lived through).  Been talking to an artistic friend about paying for some quality art on the panels, and I’m starting a new job so I’ll be able to invest the money which is a relief.  Other than that I’ve been playing casual games and feeling stuck.  Baby steps.

To School or Not To School

Before I realized that I wanted to make video games, I had a pretty rough time in the world of academia.  I was an English major, with aspirations to “get paid and travel” but no aspirations to write travel guides.  Or really, to write anything for the public eye.  Or to publish.  But I was raised to believe in academia, either for a career or for an education or for some fulfillment, so after my degree I moved to NYC for graduate school for writing.  I hated it.  Everything was basic, obvious, and dumb and as a result my writing suffered.  I’d spent my whole life studying writing, and it came down to: read a lot, write a lot.  I dropped out after the first term.  

I owe 80k in loans for my BA, term in grad school, and a semester I spent at NYU for shits ‘n giggles.  I didn’t know anything about loans, my parents took them out in my name and said it was fine.  I really wish I had been more involved and less delusional and I really wished I had taken my time instead of rushing into more school.  But I can’t change the past.

Now I’ve been accepted to a really expensive graduate program for game design.  I’ve been offered a little money (under 1/10th of the cost) and the over all program will double my debt.  Owing more money than I’ve ever seen is terrifying.  But also, I’ve been learning a lot on my own.  I’ve been excited about what I learn, and I’m taking on great projects.  Do I need grad school?  The average game design job is a) scarce and b) pays less than the tuition of the program.  

My pro’s and con’s lists are all over the place.  If I go to this school I accept that it will be my life for the next two years, I will probably couch surf to avoid rent, it will leave me in insane debt and might lead to a job or friends or community or mentors or projects or something.  If I stay put, I already have a great community, friends, projects, and insane debt.  There are so many ways to learn without a degree, MIT is offering more and more online game classes.  The information is out there, and I’ve been good about going out and exploring this dream.  I left NYC originally to come back and learn all I could about gaming so I could move back to NYC with a plan, and it’s all coming together but I can’t tell if that’s what I want anymore.

Mission Accomplished


Tada!  Sorry I need a real post where I upload the process and things, but here’s the catch: I didn’t really measure anything, I don’t really know how to work with power tools, I used a turbo mouse instead of a joystick so I can’t give wiring advice, and I made the game using Construct 2 so I can’t offer great coding knowledge.  


Regardless!  Here are my experiences:

1. Supplies/Cost.  I got a bunch of used wood for cheap (7$ total for all of the wood used).  I got tools for free at the local Tool Library.  I got plexiglass from a friend.  The turbo mouse from Free Geek (5$).  The biggest expense was Construct 2 (they have a free version but my game needed more lines of code so I had to bust out 120$ for a license.  I better use this program a lot more.  It is way nicer than game maker so I’m ok with that.)  The rubber around the edges is an old bike tube (free from a bike store’s recycle pile).  Paint was roughly 15$ from a recycled paint store and a recycled art supply store (Metro Paint and SCRAP).  The computer I got for free was full of malware and wouldn’t work in the time limit I had so I ran it off of my mac.  My biggest cost was on things I didn’t use or misc hardware stuff (brackets, screws, duct tape, joysticks that didn’t work, buttons that didn’t work, wrong wires, etc).

2. The game itself is available to play here It is still sooo buggy but playable and the collisions are handled so much better than the version I made in gamemaker.  When I play I just see everything I want to work on/add so it’s hard to talk about the process of getting this far.  I see it as a really solid draft.  I want to learn more about user interface because watching people use the instructions/etc was really… educational.  In the future I want to spend more attention to music, faster learning curve, UI, and I want to add more elements like wingmen.

3. OMSI After Dark.  This arcade was made in 3 weeks for this event, I was an hour late (finding a mouse that would work with the control system, working to the last minute!), and I was still reprogramming on the show floor the game to work with a mouse (the gamejolt link uses keyboards).  Once the game was functioning enough, I got to finally step back and watch people play.  THIS WAS THE HARDEST PART.  It is so hard to watch people play my buggy game! I wanted to apologize or explain every bug that occurred or explain that you don’t need to click the mouse to get a drink, just roll the wheel, etc.  It was also sooo rewarding.  Everyone smiled and laughed and the humor that started the game resurfaced.  I was so nervous I had to stop watching people play closely and went around to enjoy the rest of the gaming OMSI After Dark (which had amazing, way more professional games).  So inspiring!


Next Step:  Sometime in August is the Gaymer Con, gay gaming convention.  I contacted them and asked if I could bring Queertas for folks to play and they said yes!  Now I just need to do a hundred things (fix bugs, stabilize game, get malware off that computer, paint it better, etcetcetc) but I have months to plan instead of three weeks 😀 😀


I’ll throw more photos up soon!


accessibility and arcade machines, and drinking with power tools


This is my progress so far!  I’ve cut some other wood, got more supplies, etc.  Tried to drill hinges on the door while I was drunk which I’m now trying to fix.  Showed the cabinet to a friend who gave me suggestions on how to make it more accessible (slanted button panel, rubber around the edges of the button panel).  I totally forgot about accessibility until he brought it up.  The machine is inherently more wheel-chair/short-folk friendly because I made it like 4ft tall because that’s the wood I had to work with.  I got caught up in the project I forgot to step out of my own playing lens, luckily I keep bragging and showing the cabinet off so I can get feedback!  Starting to approach the paint problem, going to a recycle paint store today to see my options.  Time is running out and I still have the game to work on!  But this is one of the most invigorating projects I’ve worked on.  I stare at a screen all day so it’s great to break away from that and build something with my own (occasionally intoxicated) hands.

Arcade cabinet commence!

So after reading a million blogs about building an arcade machine and sort of planning, I dragged a friend to go shopping for parts!  We went to the Rebuilding Center where I got a bunch of wood for five dollars (and two hinges).  I have no idea the name or type of wood, just kind of grabbed wide pieces of thin stuff.  My friend had some beam of stronger wood for the frame/support in his garage so we picked those up, went to the local tool library where I picked up a lot of tools I know very little about.  My friend knows a little more about construction, like the names of tools and tool safety.  We got a saw, a circular saw, some horse saw table things, clamps, sand paper, and probably some other stuff.  Our last stop was Free Geek who was having a vintage sale.  I picked up a joystick and an old trackball mouse because I’m still unsure which to use (would a joystick be more fun for game play?  A trackball would be easier to install).  Spent 10 dollars at the sale, so far I’m at 15 total on this project.  I’m sure I’ll need more supplies, especially when decorating, but since I ended up with a free old pc to use I don’t expect this project to cost more than 100 (aiming for 50).  Started to cut some of the wood in my living room (I live in a studio, so really it’s my everything room).  I’ll post pictures soon!


Also started remaking the game in Construct, which is a little intimidating to start learning but sooo easy after a few youtube tutorials.  Trying to get the main game mechanics back in before I set up the arcade-flow, but I think I’m on track!

arcade machines

So I was offered the amazing opportunity to show off something game related at OMSI After Dark (drinking at a museum with a gaming themed night).  I have one month to put together something, anything.  I decided to take on building an arcade machine for my queer dancing game.  This means a lot of work for the month, but a do-able deadline and I have the help of friends and good weather.  Here’s the basics of what I need to do (each paragraph I’m sure will get its own post over time):


– Game wise I need to revise the play to make it more endless and the level progression longer.  Instead of starting with a full dance floor, each level will slowly add folks to the dance floor each round until it gets too hard to beat.  I also need to add high scores and music.  Might add a button because it’s movement only so far and button mashing makes for a more frantic arcade.

– Software wise I need to research programs to boot the game on start up and do various other things.  It’ll be free to play so I don’t care about a credit system.  Gotta make it unable to exit.

– The physical construction of the machine.  I’m dreaming of a standup machine but those are heavy and a big challenge.  I want to paint it rainbows.  I live next to a rebuilding center so my friend suggested using doors from there are the base.  Looking into the cost of decals.

– Cost of everything 😦  I have a free computer I can use which is a life saver.  However I need to get speakers, construction things, etc.  My aim is to make this for under 100 using recycled everything.

Let the fun begin!  Today I’m reconstructing the game to give it a better flow and fix bugs.  Working in game maker but if I get mad at it I might switch while I have time to.

coding is hard

I keep watching these inspirational videos lately about how learning coding is the best thing ever and there are all these jobs and it is so amazing.  I’ve hit a wall with c++.  Maybe I need a new code, because it is so hard to learn a code while trying to do anything else with my life. It’s the only chance I feel like I have at paying back my student loans before I die.


Exploring a program called Visionaire Studio for making the point n click of my dreams.  It’s an intimidating program, but making more sense as I go along.

Game Design Document

Okay, so the first step to really really making a game other than thinking of a cool idea, is making a Game Design Document.  I’ve been really good at skipping this step, but for the sake of my current project (which, like everything in my head, doesn’t have a name yet), I’m going to really research what a game design document is all about and whether there is a good universal one to use or specific ones for particular platforms/genres.

First, off, Gamasutra has a great article about the purpose and structure of a game design doc.  One of the biggest points is about how it is a guide for everyone on the team.  However, I’m doing this project solo for the time being, so the purpose of a game design doc for me is to really plan out what the heck I’m doing in a way that I can present to others.  Right now all my game notes are in fifty different places, half story boarded on paper or on my computer in text and image files, scribbled on my whiteboard or in one of my three notebooks.  I’m all over the place, and a game design document will put the bones in one place so everything else has something to connect back to.  It also makes scheduling/making deadlines easier to manage and see.  On one of my random scraps of papers, I think it’s the back of a receipt, I wrote down:

Storyboard – 1 week
Script – 1 week
Art first draft – a month?
Coding – ???
Script – 1 week

This is terrible and hard to follow and non specific.  I’ve been reading wayyy too much about how to be productive in an attempt to distract myself from working.  One of the things I’ve read over and over again is to split up bigger tasks into smaller ones.  So Storyboard becomes cut down by storyboarding each day in the game or each event.  Script gets broken down by how many scripts I need.  Art I need to look at character design, animations, items, cut scenes, a bazillion other things each unique to the event in game.  Divide and conquer.

However, Gamasutra has another interesting article about how some game design documents suck and who knows what you’re gonna get.  I think it’s good practice to make a thorough document, mainly because that’s the opposite of what I do (I mean, I have all the info in my head, but that isn’t a reliable place to keep things).

I also have a deck of game design cards that I’m going to use to apply to my game design document as I go along.

Okay, enough blogging, I’m going to go flesh out my game design document and post my feelings about it after I’m done.

Games I’ve Been Playing and Misc Thoughts

Playing games is vital to learning how to make games!  But it’s different when you want to make games, you can’t play Call of Duty a million hours a day and expect to know how to make a balanced game.  My current project is a point and click adventure game, so this blog’s focus is going to be on the development of one of those.  To research, I’ve been replaying The Longest Journey and taking notes.  Taking notes while playing games is invaluable.  I’m trying to organize how I want to handle inventory and using a mouse int he game.  My initial reaction was to do old-school style like Kings Quest where you scroll over the top/bottom of the screen and you get a couple of icons to pick from:

But with Longest Journey, you click on an object and you can either look, talk, or touch (the available options will be highlighted).  It also shows when a combo of items works because they selected item will glow.  I can’t decide if I’m into that or if it makes things too easy.  My other problem is I’m sooo ADD when it comes to anything on a computer (I do eight things at once) and it’s hard to play an adventure game with no attention span for story unless the story is super captivating (sometimes Longest Journey talks too much for me, but I was totally into Walking Dead so I think dialoge driven games are possible for short attention spans).  Anyways, I’ll upload my sketches for inventory plans next post I think and start focusing on the journey to making a single game rather than all this research that leads to more research.

I have a few other games lined up next, Grim Fandango and one of the Leisure Suit Larrys.

What I was playing before I took up Longest Journey (my main games for the past 4 months):

Beat Dishonored in three days.

Walking Dead Game. (I ❤ Telltale Games, they did Monkey Island and Sam and Max).

Civilization IV? I lost count.