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A tall high-five to the employees at Double Fine. That cool indie game company out of San Francisco headed up by the legendary Tim Schafer. Why? do you ask. Well let me tell you.
My eldest son just finished the sixth grade where he was in the gifted program. This year his teacher decided to try the Genius Hour program in her classroom. Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. The teacher planed to have a few Genius Hours throughout the year. The first two Genius hours the students may pick any subject that they don’t already know about. The third Genius hour the students needed to pick a future career. After the students learn about their subject they put together a report and short presentation to explain what they learned, etc. to the rest of the class.
For his first Genius Hour he chose ink as a subject to learn about. He never really said why, “just because I was interested in it”, he would say. Okay, cool. He sure has brought up some interesting ink facts over the last few months I must admit. I never did see his presentation, but I believe he received a perfect score.
His second Genius Hour was on building games in Unity3d. He went through one of their tutorials to build a top-down space shooter game. This was followed by a presentation of what he did and what he learned. One conclusion of his project he discovered he prefers is creating content and story-lines over hacking on code.
It’s his third Genius hour, future career, that I am writing about here. The teacher had the students research the chosen career and interview someone in that field. My son chose, “Senior Developer at an Indie Game Company.” As a programmer myself, this sounded interesting. And who wouldn’t want to create games for a living? I know I would love to! It seems natural that he would pick game development of some type. Since he was very young, at least three, he would make up games all the time to play with people. His Grandmother Debbie played these games with him the most. She would say they are really creative, though, of course, skewed for him to win. 😉 He has continued to create games with parents, friends, neighborhood kids, etc. and they are much more fair now (so we think… j/k).
As time went on an his deadline came closer I kept asking him how things are going. He usually responded that he was researching about the job but had not found anyone to interview. I thought he may be able to interview me, though honestly I am, at best, an aspiring game developer. I thought of a few friends at work, but they didn’t fit well either. Until one day I thought of Double Fine. Oh that would be perfect!
I first heard of Double Fine through their Kickstarter, “Double Fine Adventure“. I have always loved Tim Schafer’s games and the fact he wanted to raise money to build one without the bureaucracy and bullshit of production companies. I’m all for it, sign me up! On top of that they planned on filming the making of the game and provide that movie to backers. When I saw this, I had to have a copy of the movie. Mostly because I hoped it could give an inside view for my son on what goes in to these computer games he loves to play and design.
So my next question was, how to contact them? I started with the basics, the about/contact page on their website. I found a general email address and started crafting an email. It was a horribly written email, I have no idea what I was smoking at the time. My wife still loves to rib me about my appalling use of the English language. Though this didn’t matter. I sent the email on Friday, April 25th at 17:32 Central Time. I didn’t expect to here back from anyone until the following week. By 18:02 that same day I received a response which started out with:
“I’ve forwarded your e-mail to the whole company and there are already a few that are more than happy to oblige. You should be getting a separate e-mail from one soon.”
What!? Are you kidding me? That is freak’n awesome! I really didn’t think anyone would really be interested. I was flat out wrong. A few seconds later I received an email From Ben Burbank, a senior developer at Double Fine. Him and another showed interest and agreed to an interview. After a while there where a few more who were interested as well. At this point I was kind of hoping to hear form Tim himself, though I knew that was a pretty tall order. The overall response from the company’s employees was so warm. They expressed so much interest in helping. It was refreshing very appreciated.
I had my son plan out the time and interview with Ben and others. He needs to learn these things, I got him the contact, he can run with it. Which he did pretty well.
The day of the interview Ben and others spent close to one and one-half hours on Skype with my son. That was so completely awesome. I am so happy I reached out to Double Fine, the results turned out better than I had hoped.
My son finished his interview, wrote up his paper and completed his presentation all on time. He “winged” the presentation, which I wasn’t too happy about. Though he needs to learn in his own way. His score reflected his input.
It is now a couple of weeks into Summer break and he has not stopped creating. He put together a mod pack for Minecraft to design some mini games around. And just today, designed some floor game using dice and army men which he said he really liked the outcome of and plans on writing up rules/instructions.
Needless to say, but I will anyway, I am so proud of my son.
I have real simple advice for him, “Never stop being awesome.” Everything else will fall in to place.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your day, your life, to give a little of yourself for the benefit of my son. I really appreciate you. And hey, you never know, maybe one day he may be the Senior Developer in an Indie Game Company at your company. 🙂
If you are every in the Chicago area, give me a call, I’ll buy you a drink.
I love computer games. I have been playing them since I was able to use a computer. I can’t say I am an avid gamer, I really don’t have the time for that, but I sure enjoy playing them.
One game I play often, and usually with my sons, is Minecraft. A sandbox adventure game which we have found very fun. We have spent countless hours building different things, going on adventures and PvP fighting.
I really enjoyed manipulating the game play. I found it very satisfying to interact with items we added to the game. Play with rules we developed. It was just cool.
Acting on the bug which bit me writing the Minecraft mods I downloaded Unity3d and started playing around. Quickly I figured out this stuff is pretty complex, there is simply a lot to it. Off to the tutorials!
The first tutorial I found was a top-down shooter game called, Space Shooter. You fly a simple spaceship and shoot asteroids flying toward you. It’s a basic 3d game which covers many of the very basics of building a game in Unity3d. My version can be found here.
Of course I couldn’t leave the tutorial as is. Once built I added a high score, increasing difficulty with more asteroids and faster asteroids. The overall experience was good and I want more!
Since I can’t draw for shit, and am not very creative with design tools, I plan to stick to the 2d world of gaming. Modeling 3d objects just scares me. So you may ask, where do you plan to get content? Well, two main sources, first, is my son who is a better artist than he realizes and second I will end up buying available content. I have found some decent stuff already (links needed) and I assume I can find someone to create some stuff form me.
Next on the list is to build a tower defense game. I found at least one tutorial to build one. It’s not 2d but I am hoping it will provide more depth into maintaining more cloned prefabs, controlling their paths and player’s placing items. Hey, who doesn’t like tower defense games?
See one of my ultimate goals is to build a SimTower type game. A game I really enjoyed in the past, which doesn’t work on most new hardware (though I do still run it in an XP VM on my Win8.1 box!). Can I improve on the game? I have no idea, but I am going to build my version and see how it goes. I don’t plan to get caught up in cloning the old game, I just want to take it a step (feature) at a time and see where it goes. I think it will be a lot of really-frustrating fun to build. The whole reason I build things in the first place. What fun would it be if it was simple? It would be boring and be lame.
I’ll update progress as I continue tutorials and build new stuff. I plan to keep all of it available in GitHub so others may use it for examples or whatever.