A game development studio in my house? And other questions.

A few weeks ago I posted this question to my social media followers: “Hypothetically speaking: if I were to create a games development team, would you or someone you know be interested in joining?

Lots of people said yes– many more than I expected. And they had many talents: artists, designers, writers, voice actors, and programmers. My friend J.S. sent me a link to an agency that pays seed money to gamedev startups. So I began to think: maybe there’s a future in this.

As if I haven’t re-invented myself enough in the last five years. 🙂

My first attempt to create a map for a computer-based RPG, using Unity, around two years ago.

So, in the days that followed, I revisited some of the notes I made over the years about games I’d like to create. Most are tabletop “soft power games” that I invented as teaching tools in my philosophy classes, one of which, “Iron Age”, I published. Another of my games is a big tabletop RPG based on my urban fantasy novels, and the object of two failed Kickstarter campaigns to publish it.* And one is a stack of notes for my “dream game”, a big open-world first-person RPG in the style of Skyrim and Mass Effect, with the look-and-feel of the early modern period— think of The Three Musketeers, or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen– and set in a social-political context resembling China’s Warring States period. I made notes for fictitious religions, corporations, several superpower nations, quasi-magical plants and animals and substances, a timeline of the world’s history going back 2,500 years, and I charted the planets and stars in the night sky. And I really enjoyed the process.

As it turned out, the notes I made for that game were used for my science fiction novel. That story is set in the near future instead of the near past, and it addresses different questions, different problems. But I think it would be a shame to use all those worldbuilding notes for only one (as yet unpublished) project.

While I decide whether to dive into the world of game design, I also ask myself what should I really want to do with my life, and what legacy should I want to struggle for. I’m getting too old to wait until later to follow my dreams. But I do know that I am basically happiest when I’m writing. And I know that of all that I’ve accomplished in life I am most proud of my books. (Well, some more than others.) If I had to choose between the games and the books, I would choose the books. But I also want to bring the worlds of my books more to life, more visible, more real.** That’s my fiction and my nonfiction– RPG games might also be a good way to explore the philosophy of civilization, or of ecology, or a few of my other intellectual curios. And besides that, game design looks like it might be fun. 🙂

So, I sent one of my games to some people who might be able to tell me what would be involved in developing it from a pencil-and-paper game into a computer game. While I wait to hear back from them, I have a few more hypothetical gamedev questions:

– If I had a pencil-drawn elevation map of the world, what would it take to turn that map into an explorable 3D VR space?
– Same for sketches of houses, buildings, towns and cities, clothing, items and equipment, etc.
– Is there anyone local who could show me how to use Unreal Engine, or Unity, or some other gamedev software?
– If you have done computer game development work already, how much time and money was involved in what you did?
– If I hosted a games night, featuring my own games (so that we can beta-test them), would you come?

So at the moment, my hypothetical game design studio is a set of questions. It might go no further than this blog post. But I am curious to see what would actually be involved in making it happen. I have the writing skills and the management skills to do something like this. But I don’t have the computer programming skills, or the money. (And I’m not quitting my day job.) So I can’t make a computer game all by myself. Well, unless I made it on a Commodore 128, but then no one would play it. So, I am curious to see if this idea of mine is something that might also interest you.

And now, back to my library. I have another book to write.

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* One day I’ll buy a subscription to a stock image website, so that I can create a good interior layout for that game, and publish it under my own imprint. I don’t have enough money to pay an artist to create original work for it. But I might have enough money to buy a license to use artworks that are already ‘out there’.

** I’ve read my Beaudrillard, and I’m entirely aware that nothing in VR is truly alive nor real. But I’m sure you grasp the point I’m making.

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