Hi, my name is Matthew VanDevander. I live in the middle of freaking nowhere and I make video games. I go by garlandobloom or garland online typically, after the final fantasy character. The -obloom part is an IRC joke that stuck.
My first introduction to video games was Super Mario Brothers, at my cousins house on the NES.
However I only visited their house once or twice a year, so I didn’t get to play the game that much. But it was still a fun experience (from what I remember).
My first video game system that I owned was a Game Boy, the original bulky grey blocks of plastic with the screen that was so dim that you couldn’t even see it.
Yeah that one. And my first game was a little puzzle game called Yoshi. My brother got Kirby’s Dream Land, I was jealous…
So maybe Kirby was where I first fell in love with the platformer, but what really solidified my adoration for the genre, and Nintendo games, was Yoshi’s Island.
Love at first sight..
The attention to detail in the world of that game was unlike anything I’d ever seen. And I still haven’t seen it’s match to this day. The depth of the gameplay is just amazing, the interaction between all the elements in the game is seamless, and there’s just so much fun to be had and things to discover. This is what I feel should be expected of all video games. This game was probably the first that made me really want to make video games, and Yoshi’s Island still remains my all-time favorite game to this day.
Skipping ahead, my second favorite game, and my favorite 3D game is Half-Life 2.
Not much needs to be said about that one. But the exploratory design style that Valve employs in their game design has inspired me greatly.
So that brings me to indie games. Why do I like indie games? Why do I play them?
Because mainstream games suck!
Well, not all of them do, but certainly a larger proportion of AAA games are terrible than the equivalent in the film industry, not to imply that I think it’s fair to compare video games to movies. But I feel most video games have lost the playful design that they had when I was growing up with my Super Nintendo, so I’ve turned first to playing those old games again, and second to free downloadable games. And the best free games I’ve found are made by indies.
However, my favorite indie game is not free. It’s price initially being some controversy.
I had never seen such depth of design in a video game before. The game instantly became one of my favorites, and is as big an influence on my game design as any of the games I played as a child.
So how did I become an indie?
The first game I remember making was a Trading Card Game featuring Yoshi’s Island characters. It was designed in part with my brother. The rules were sort of a blend of Poke’mon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Natural since I was about 9 years old, and those were popular at the time. The game was abandoned in favor of a new TCG with original designs, but that ended up abandoned as well.
I started “programming” when I was around 10 or 11 years old in a scripting language used by the RPGToolkit called RPGCode. It was almost a full-fledged programming language, in the way that Game Maker Language is like a real programming language. The first game that I created was an Earthbound rip-off called Kayla’s Quest. The eponymous main character living on a farm upon which she discovers a crashed spaceship. It was never finished, like many of my projects. My brother and myself designed several RPGs together, including a Dragon Quest rip-off called Dream Story, also created using the RPGToolkit. I was concerned about stretching the limits of the RPGToolkit, so I delved into RPGCode as deeply as I could. The editor allowed you to test your programs without having them as part of the rest of the game engine, so I used the language to create games that just ran using the Test button. My programming was pretty laughable though. I remember writing an rpg-type game that actually had copy-pasted code to handle each individual pixel that you could be at the screen. (Since RPGToolkit was tile-based at the time, with no way to get around it, I seemed obsessed with that idea of pixel-based walking.)
I then moved on to other game engines, starting with RPGMaker 2000. Me and my brother worked on a RPG parody game about two monsters from hell, named Bob and Steve. Bob being a slime, and Steve a demon. They had random battles with the hero, who was a weakling. As usual, the game was abandoned, and eventually it was deleted out of my remorse for pirating RPGMaker. My previous games were also lost in a hard drive crash around that time, if I remember correctly, although it’s possible that they are still alive somewhere.
Somewhere around that time, I started attempting real programming. And I learned from an outdated C programming book that programming from scratch required a compiler, something I had never heard of before. (Thank you, unfortunate birthdate of 1989, just after all computers stopped essentially being compilers) Unfortunately the used C book didn’t have a compiler disc with it, so I was left in the dark. Eventually I discovered that Windows 98 had a QBasic compiler on the disc, so I started dabbling around in that language. I primarily learned that the version of QBasic on the disc was crap, so I downloaded a later version. I played a ton of QBasic games at the time, to see what types of things could be done with the language. Those were probably the first indie games that I ever played. I created a lot of experiments, including an (almost) Sonic game engine, but I couldn’t figure out how to get around the 4MB memory limit of QBasic. So I put down the language and picked up another game maker, OpenZelda.
OpenZelda (now known as OpenLegends) was a game maker specifically for making Zelda 3 style games, however you could technically create anything you wanted with it. It was really easy to use, and fortunately–unlike RPGMaker, QBasic, or RPGToolkit–it was very fast! So I could really experiment with game programming without having to worry about whether I was doing things the right way. So I fiddled around with that engine until I just got tired of how centered the engine was around Zelda-types. I began my search for another game-maker once again, eventually settling on Sphere.
Around that time, I had just played Final Fantasy IX. It totally blew my mind, so naturally, me and my brother began an unfortunate rip-off of Final Fantasy. Dream Story 2, made in Sphere of course. Sphere was even faster than OpenZelda, and had an off-screen image buffer, so I could fool around with all sorts of wierd effects, and they ran quickly under OpenGL rendering. We created the entire story for the game in Notepad, but we never got around to implementing a complete game in Sphere. So, yet another abandoned project.
RPGToolkit had advanced a lot over the years, so in order to test it out, me and my brother made a final fantasy 1 clone, which was abandoned…
So due to my frustration with all my incomplete projects, I created a very short game in RPGToolkit which amazingly enough, had an ENDING! Oh my gosh, what a relief! My first completed game. It was terrible.
Apparently my fear of pirating RPGMaker went away, because I worked on a game in RPGMaker XP, which was abandoned.
Finally I was ready to move onto a real programming language. I chose to use C++, because I felt that nobody would laugh at me for programming a game in C++. So I made a Tic-Tac-Toe implementation, by recommendation of a Article of how to learn to write games. Then I created another Pong Clone, this time much more well programmed, and with a much smarter artificial intelligence. (Meaning I had to handicap the intelligence to make the game possible to win.)
Both of those games were programmed with SDL for the graphics, and I started dreaming up a project which would require much more speed than anything else I had created. So I worked on a game which I tentatively titled Fij, a game about squirreliness, in which you could climb swaying trees. So I learned OpenGL programming, created an editor, and created a game engine for the game. I essentially had a walkaround demo. Then I put it on hold..
And this is where I am now, working on a new project in Game Maker. The technical programming required for Fij has bogged me down, so I’m focusing on the gameplay in my new project, with Game Maker doing the heavy lifting for me. I’ve finally moved past my fear of being judged by my inability to program. It isn’t shameful to make a game in Game Maker. It is only shameful to make a bad game.