Time to start the new year with a challenge

Originally I had planned to work on my Critterbits engine over the holiday break, but then as I got into the past week I realized that it had been a very long time since I had allowed myself to just do nothing. I can’t overstate the power of just having time without obligations every once in a while to reset yourself and reduce stress, and the changeover from 2016 to 2017 seemed like an apropos time to do so. I spent time with my family over Hanukkah and played Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. I relaxed and caught up with my favorite YouTube series. I played games. Nothing I did really felt like work, and I tried my best not to plan out my time, which was the biggest factor in actually being able to unwind.

As far as games go, I went back to Destiny again, which despite having seen what it has to offer, I still enjoy immensely just as a time-waster. I recreated my hunter (which was my first character) and played through the story again. The mission design in this game is excellent, and the moment-to-moment gameplay was stellar as always. I just wish they had spent time making the story less nonsensical. When they actually have cutscenes, they’re usually well crafted, but the dialogue is vague and doesn’t really contribute much to the story (plus, it’s full of writing gems like “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain” … gag). Hopefully when Destiny 2 comes along they’ll fix some of that and make the game more coherent. I’m also hoping that they port to PC eventually… my wife really wants to play co-op with me, and it’s tough justifying the buy of a second PlayStation 4 and TV just to play together.

We also played Age of Empires II HD with friends almost every evening. It’s amazing how well a 15-year-old game can still hold my attention, and the support is great. (They just released yet another new expansion!) It’s such a great RTS that still makes for some fun evenings of play, especially with the right mix of teammates. Speaking of 15-year-old games, I treated myself to a gift of a fancy modded GameBoy Advance from RetroModding, of whom I learned about from Metal Jesus’ videos. I’ve been getting into retro gaming more and more, and I really wanted to try out some of the games I missed from that era. I think the GBA has some great appeal because it’s basically a handheld Super Nintendo. I haven’t received it yet (there’s a bit over a month lead-time right now, no doubt in part because of MJ’s video highlight), but I’m excited to get it, and I hope to find some inspiration for working on Critterbits. (If you haven’t noticed from the earlier screenshots, Critterbits is partially inspired by GBA aesthetics.)

Lastly, I found some inspiration today to do a small writing challenge for the first month of 2017. Thanks goes to Michel Sabbagh for finding this 30-day video game challenge. He also writes some lovely thought pieces on game dev if you’re into that.

So let’s do day #1!

30-day Video Game Challenge #1: My very first video game

So this was really hard for me to figure out, because I’ve literally been playing video games all my life. I was blessed with a household that had a computer even in the late 70s/early 80s when they were a luxury item, because my father worked for various electronics and computer companies at the time. By my earliest recollection, my older brother had a Commodore 64 (I used to watch him play a lot of Spy Hunter), and I had a TRS-80 Color Computer a little later on. Dad also made sure that I was exposed to mostly educational titles early on, which is why I’m fairly confident this is the first game I played.

Say hello to Rocky’s Boots.

We had a lot of titles from The Learning Company back then, but this one really stuck in my mind. The game was all about solving logic puzzles with the basic ingredients found in your typical integrated circuit: AND, OR, XOR gates, timers, etc. I had no idea at the time but basically my dad was setting me up for my career in engineering. I don’t know how much time I spent in this game, but I know it was a lot. I can probably credit it for my curiosity about actual programming languages later on, and I ended up spending more time with BASIC on my TRS-80, graduating to Turbo Pascal once I got my first IBM PC several years later.

So yeah, they say that your first game can leave a huge impression on you, and in this case it’s true. I probably would have never become a software engineer if it weren’t for Rocky’s Boots.