By Sergio Porres  

The video games industry has come a long way in the last 20 years. Things have changed so much that comparing those early games to recent releases is like comparing ancient cave paintings with the Mona Lisa.

It is no surprise that the way games are made has also changed. There has always been an element of the industry composed of pioneers and trail blazers, but in the beginning that was the norm. Those early game programmers, seized by their ideas and driven by their creativity, had serious challenges to overcome in doing what programmers today (most) of the time don’t even have to think about – something as essential as lighting up the correct pixels on the screen to simulate movement took some doing; whereas today we can work with many complicated 3d objects very efficiently.

tennisfortwoOne of the earliest games, Tennis for Two (1958) was programmed on an analog computer and used an oscilloscope as a display. The game had realistic physics (the computer it ran on was originally designed for calculating missile trajectories!), but the visual presentation speaks for itself. At some point somebody thought, “hey, I bet I can make this thing play tennis” and then hacked the machine to do it!

Three significant things have changed the way that programmers develop games that have made things easier than ever before. First, the raw computing power available today eliminates a lot of the tedium and technical limitations that originally hamstrung programmers.

Secondly, the ability for programmers to share solutions and working code bases on the Internet means that finding answers and working examples is easier than ever. ( No programmer that remembers buying 1200 page tomes on archaic subjects will shed a tear… ) Often times you can find great examples and discussion on many technical problems you are likely to face.

Thirdly, rich and powerful technologies that improve and streamline development (like Unity and Unreal) and distribution (Steam, Google/iOS stores) have opened the doors of game making to the masses. Whereas in the past game making was the recluse of a few wizard programmers doing insane things like Dwarf Fortress or large teams working for big studios, now more than ever small teams are releasing games and some of them finding success. In the past few years, independent game studios have proven that they can deliver on innovation and engaging experiences on both mobile and PC.

As the number of game makers has increased, so has the number of games vying for attention. Over 6,000 PC games were released on Steam alone in 2017; which is more than number of games released in the previous decade! (On mobile, some estimates range to as high as 1500 new apps daily) This volume of new games means that the industry is more competitive than ever.

Looking back at the first computer games they are not very impressive to look at, and their designs tend to be simple. But because they were the first they could get away with it. The industry now has empowered artists, designers, and programmers to get their hands dirty and see what they can produce and the bar for excellent content is higher than ever. As a result, though making something that works has never been easier, making something that stands out has never been harder.

Craftsmanship in game programming is found in the quality, polish, and function of everything in a game. When a programmer begins to work on a new feature we need to consider a few things more beyond the technical design of the code:
    “How clear is this functionality to our player?”
    “Is this fun? Why/why not?”
    “Will people event WANT to do this?”
    “How does this impact/connect to the rest of the experience?”

If we don’t do this, then we end up with crappy gameplay and experiences that are unappealing. This sort of attention of detail comes from a mixture of autonomy, ownership and responsibility in working on something we care about. Game programming is a mixture of building technical experience and the additional drop of sweat on top to make the smallest detail of how a button reacts to being touched feel special.

Everyone at BonusXP has a big stake in the design and creation of our games. Though our designers and artists drive the process of creating systems and produce incredible art, the source for many of our ideas and concepts are our frequent play testing sessions and open discussions.

What I have found is that by empowering the studio to give feedback and share ideas about our projects, when people go back to their desks to work they carry with them a sense of ownership and responsibility that leads to amazing results.