Today Midlife Gamer is pleased to bring you part two in our series of interviews with games writers who went on to make games. In case you missed it, check out part one here
CY Reid began writing about video games during his university days, his work being featured on sites like The Escapist and IGN. earlier this year he joined in a month long “game-jam” with some friends which resulted in his first game Hug Marine, a browser based pixel platformer, made using Stencyl which you can play here.
Hi CY, thanks for taking the time to speak to us.What made you decide you wanted to try your hand at making games?
So, I’m not a game developer. I wanted to make games, when I was a kid, but I ended up on the writing side of it. However. I was on Twitter, one day, and I saw Scott Nichols (of Digital Spy and other places) and Ashton Raze (of The Telegraph and other places) discussing a game jam, specifically aimed at games journalists.
The idea was, us dev newbies would take an entire month, rather than the traditional 48/72-hour period to make a game, using whatever software we wanted. I already knew my way around Stencyl, a little bit – drag-and-drop design-focused software for Flash games – so I joined in. I then volunteered to write a series of weekly articles about the process for Gamers with Jobs, and the potential humiliation of having to write an article saying “I did naff all this week, sorry” kept me working hard. Once the whole thing was done, I had Hug Marine. I knew during and after the process that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I’d known for some time before, but I guess seeing myself successfully release something that actually did pretty well was the pivotal moment, for me.
Do you feel that your experience in working in games media has helped you when it came to developing your game(s)?
In a huge way. The thing about writing about games is that you’ll often have a better knowledge of what critics don’t like, because you’re actually one of the overly pedantic masses. It’s a big advantage, and it meant that I also had a network of games journalists I sent builds of Hug Marine to, and they helped the game come into its own through their feedback. It’s like my own private batch of little previews, and it’s priceless. I owe them a lot.
Did you approach any contacts in the industry about your game beforehand, or even discuss it with colleagues in the media?
Like I said above, I’ll fire my games ideas and test builds at Twitter, but there’s a small group of games writers whose opinions I specifically seek out. I think of it like this – I’m essentially sending my essay draft to my course professor before handing in the final piece. I mean, a professor’s going to mark it anyway, right, so why not send it in early and have them mark out the bits that would let you down otherwise?
What challenges did you face developing your first game?
I realised quite quickly that the development process is vastly different to the writing process. When writing an article, you’ll draft it, and then refine it into something wonderful. With development, you’ll create the game at a very slow pace past the initial prototype, and spend 99% of your time fixing the things that went wrong. It’s quite scary, really – if I typo in this sentence, it won’t break the rest of the paragraph. In a game, a small issue can cripple the entire thing. Development is problem-solving, but I like scratching that itch.
How nervous were you about letting your colleagues get hands on with your game?
Absolutely horrified. Hug Marine wasn’t an amazing game, technically – it’s a very basic platformer without any real enemies bar the odd bit of lava or spikes. But after initial feedback concerning the controls, or bugs, this weird thing happened where they all started being really positive and asking for merchandise. The fear went, then, but it returned when I recently showed my games at Indie Game: The Meetup during the EGX weekend. That worry of “they’re critics, but it’s the game their friend made.” They’ve all been awesome though – honest, helpful, and very encouraging.
How strange have you found it having people write reviews/previews about a game that you developed/wrote?
Surreal, and very exciting. I remember not long ago I was browsing through YouTube, and stumbled across about seven Let’s Plays of Hug Marine, in addition to the reviews and other articles created in response to what I’d made. I finally understood why game developers are so nervous and pushy all the time – having someone publicly decry your game, or encourage it, is a lot of personal pressure. While it is scary, it’s also incredible to see games writers give your stuff the time of day. Especially ones you’ve never even known about before, like the little blogs that gave Hug Marine a once-over without so much as a press release.
Has your experience developing/writing games had any effect on how you now approach writing about other games? And do you feel there are advantages to trying both sides of the coin?
I said this to someone recently – I will never, ever write about games from the same perspective again, and I strongly recommend that every single games journalist make a game themselves. It’s easy to talk trash about a bug you found in Skyrim, like I did – to rant about its mistakes. But when you realise just how much can go wrong in an 8-bit platformer, you begin to realise just how monolithic a task it was to run QA on a game like that.
Small things, too – I find myself appreciating good collision detection quite a lot. I’m sure I sound completely deranged, but it’s true. Collision is actually something I’ve found pretty tricky, so to see the interesting and skilful ways it’s been managed in any game, big or small, has become very interesting to me.
Would you recommend other writers try their hand at developing games?
As I said above – yes, yes and yes. You know that phrase “those who can’t do, teach”? Those who write about games should be able to actually back up their criticism with first-hand knowledge of some of the problems they face. I’m not saying everyone in the games media needs to know C++ – I sure don’t. But I do think that they’re going to benefit a lot from seeing that development process from the inside. It’s so easy to moan about something you don’t fully understand.
Are there any other games you’d like to work on in the future? – Can you talk about anything?
Yes, I can! I’m working currently on a game called COOLO FORVER. It’s an odd title, but it’s based around typos of “cool” and “forever”, made by a games journalist friend of mine, Sayem Ahmed, and the game is me making a game to celebrate the friendship that we have. The basic principle is that it’s a locally-played puzzle platformer. You both sit at the same keyboard, and you jump around solving puzzles and generally hang out with the person you’re playing with in person, rather than online. It’s a neat concept and it went down very well at Indie Game: the Meetup, so I’m aiming to try and get it out the door before the new year.
Future projects, boy oh boy. I’ve got future ideas coming out of my ears. But if there’s a couple I’d say will be a lock for January, should I be done by then, I’d say an adventure game, a classic point-’n’-click. It’s about pirates, and dealing with middle age, and going after your dream job. Little vague, but I’m trying to keep the overall story and concept under wraps until it launches, this time.
And finally, tradition here at Midlife Gamer dictates I must ask, what’s your favourite biscuit and beverage? (Jaffa Cakes are not a biscuit!!)
That is the best goddamn question I’ve ever been asked, in any interview, ever. Christ, this is a hard one, mainly because I’m a huge Oreos fan. But really, my favourite has to be the chocolate Bourbon. No special technique, no dunking (I don’t drink tea or coffee, please don’t shoot me). I just wolf ‘em down a packet at a time. They are a glorious culinary creation, and I swear by them.
As for beverages, I find water balances out chocolate pretty well, but Irn Bru is a lifelong favourite. Me and Irn Bru are good friends, to an extremely unhealthy degree. I don’t know what I’d do if they stopped making it
If you’d like to read more about the development of Hug Marine, CY kept a diary during development which you can read here, and you can follow CY on twitter at @Failnaut or check out his blog Failnaut.com
Stay tuned for parts three and four coming soon, and don’t forget to use the Twitter button below for a chance to win a copy of Squeaks Dreams as featured in Part One