In the 1980s “computer literacy” used to mean something. These days most people’s most complicated computer involvement is taking their ECDL in transition year. Who doesn’t want to display their Microsoft Access credentials on their CV, amirite? Before Mario, before Sonic, before we as a culture became massive consumers of video game media, people made their own games. Computers weren’t just bought to buy more stuff for them, they were bought to be used as a tool to create. Children using BBC Micro computers in school, or lucky enough to have one at home, were teaching themselves to code and building games passed on tapes from friend to friend.
With the advent of this new-fangled internet it’s never been easier to get help to learn the real basics of computers, or to find and share home-brewed games. Even beyond free-ware and flash games on time-wasting websites, digital distribution systems like Steam and smartphone app markets have suddenly made it possible to break into a market dominated for years by giant companies. This means that people don’t have to catch the eye of a huge publisher to make games for a living. Though apparently not as “recession-proof” as initially thought, the video games industry is more profitable than film, and politicians are starting to take note. David Cameron (allegedly addicted to Fruit Ninja on his iPhone) even spoke about boosting domestic game development, so hopefully we’ll hear something similar from Enda one of these days – although his Blockia 6310i probably doesn’t run much more than Snake II.
Even if you find the thought of designing an original game from the ground up a bit daunting, there are still ways to not just be a passive consumer. Many games have quite complex level-editors, giving players the chance to build their own puzzles and challenges. Portal 2 is a great example of this, with user-generated levels free to download and rated by other players. Look behind any large indie-game site and you’ll find a thriving network of designers happy to test each others’ games, but having access to the community in-game is brilliant. There are also design tools that bridge the gap between the restrictive rules of a level-editor and the terrifying freedom of coding from scratch. Twine and Stencyl are useful stepping-stones for the budding game developer. Twine allows you to visually map a series of interlinked pages to easily create interactive stories, and Stencyl is a tool that has spawned countless flash and iOS games that has built-in sharing and feedback mechanisms so that users can swap content and criticism.
So get creating, because that 8-bit unicorn courtroom shoot-em-up you’ve always wanted to play isn’t going to build itself.
Started as an after-school computer club in Cork, Coder Dojo is a growing not-for-profit initiative to teach people how to code and develop games and produce online content and websites. The sessions and lessons are free, but have to be pre-booked because places are limited. The Dublin Dojo is run in the Science Gallery in Trinity College every Saturday from 1pm til 4pm.
These guys want to make the BBC Micro lightning strike twice, aiming to give a programmable computer to every school-child in the UK. The computers are the size of a credit card and just need a USB keyboard and mouse, with a TV for a display. The hope is that this will give everyone a chance to try coding and spark a computer development renaissance. Sales of the Raspberry Pi ($35 with internet, $25 without) will fund the donation of one to every child, with Computing at School providing manuals and educational material.
So, you’re a game-making whiz now! Why not try build a game from scratch in one weekend? Ludum Dare hold weekend-long Game Jams every four months. Each Jam is themed and entrants code and develop free games to be voted on by the community. It’s a great chance to try your hand at making something weird or wonderful, or even just to see the development process in action – lots of the entrants post diary updates or a making-of. Enter the next Jam or even just play some sweet free games a