"About this 'game' development thing, you're doing"
Seriously, Ron. Video game development? You already have a career. Like, a good one too. Why subject yourself to this?
What sage asked me the profundity above? Truthfully, I did. My inner monologue still asks me every so often. I don't exactly have a great answer, and at this point in time, it's not exactly like I've thrown caution to the wind and am fully committed to the path. I'm still feeling it out. It is, in all honesty, still fun for me and provides the creative release that I desperately need. I'm four (4) years into developing Grey Block in my free time (which means my work days are on average 12 hours long) and I'm maybe more bought in than I've ever been. But why? How did it come to this?
Well, it started during a particularly intersectional period of my life in 2015. I kind of said "screw it" and took an 11 day trip to Japan, by myself. I had never really travelled outside of the country before, certainly not on my own, so I was forcing myself outside of my comfort zone. Aside from Ramen, I'm not really sure what I was looking for out there in Japan. I was in the middle of reading Breakfast of Champions (Vonnegut) and it had awoken an already strong albeit dormant desire to see Japan. Almost immediately after my arrival I began thinking about how cool it would be to create an open-world adventure in a beautifully-rich setting like Japan. I had always thought about ways to improve some of the games I liked playing, but I had NEVER considered making them. The industry was way too competitive and I'm not a good enough coder. Plus the hours are insane. "No way I'm signing on with one of the major developers."
On the last day of that trip, the idea hit me like a two-ton sack of fertilizer - I, me, Ron, need to make this game. I was inspired like I've never been before, and the ideas exploded out of me like water from an uncapped fire-hydrant. I can do this. I'll start my own company, I'll go into business for myself, and all of the annoyances with my current employer will be solved, because I'll be the one in control. I needed to approach this carefully, because 1) I didn't exactly have the capital to start a business, and 2) I didn't want to lose interest in this like I've done in so many other hobbies.
So, how do I ease my way in by making as little of a financial commitment as possible? Well, I see what's out there and then determine if this is even feasible. What skills do I need? What skills do I have? What software, hardware, and everything else needs to be accounted for?
I started with deciding on a game engine. I absolutely did not want to make mobile games. That seemed like a rat-race to me, and I wanted to tell immersive stories. My decision space was narrowed to Unreal Engine 4 and Unity. I chose UE4 simply because I knew that AAA titles had been produced with it. If I try hard enough, 'doggonit, I can make a purdy game too."
First problem, Unreal is a big donkey of a game engine, and my dev-rig was an aging Asus laptop with a built-in Intel 3D accelerator. I don't need to share this part, but yea, it didn't work out. The machine didn't catch fire in my lap, and for that I'm thankful - no hard-feelings to Asus, that laptop held up great for a number of years. So, I clearly needed an actual rig, and if you're keeping up, I didn't exactly have or want to make a huge financial commitment to this without some certainty.
Yet, the allure of all that could be was too much, and a co-worker led me to PC Part Picker (https://pcpartpicker.com/), where I was able to settle on the set of hardware shown below.
Certainly, not a beast by an means, and it did not contain the best, newest, fastest, or sexiest processor and GPU on the market. It was enough to get the job done, and given my background as a computer engineer I was confident in my ability to build it. With the exception of a memory upgrade to 24GB, and an additional 500GB internal SSD, this is the exact hardware that Grey Block has been built on. My justification for making the financial commitment was that if the gamedev thingy didn't work out, I at least now had a pretty capable gaming setup.
I'm going to summarize a few months here by saying I wasted a lot of time trying to learn how to rig and animate humans for use in the game that Sucker Punch would eventually capitalize on with Ghost of Tsushima. I got far enough down the path to see the Everest-like peak towering over the jagged landscape waiting for me. I knew I needed to simplify my approach.
I was not an artist. I couldn't waste time trying to become one. I was a professional software developer, and I was confident in my ability to tell a compelling story. So, I needed to create a much shorter game, with common mechanics and assets that are available for purchase on the Unreal Marketplace. Fortunately, the idea for Grey Block had begun forming in my mind, and I recognized that I needed to swallow my pride, accept that the course correction was necessary and not lose my motivation.
Next post will be about Grey Block's origins and development...
Thanks for reading,