Jesse Freeman is a Microsoft Tech Evangelist, game developer and author of “Introducing HTML5 Game Development: Developing Games with Impact”. He recently started a Meetup called the New York Game Makers where he teaches a beginner game development and advanced game development class out of Microsoft on Saturdays for free. The classes pull a mix of new game makers and those who’ve released titles, and it’s an incredibly welcoming atmosphere where passion overrides any traditional artistic pretensions. Everyone just really loves to make games and being offered a time and space to focus on this has the wonderful side effect of building community.
The goal of New York Game Makers is to enable participants to build and release one game a month. Why make games so quickly?
I have been very active in promoting One Game a Month, or 1Gam as it’s called on Twitter, which is an initiative setup by Christer Kaitila. The goal isn’t to speed through the development of your game, it’s actually to focus you on releasing the game. I find that finishing is the hardest part of making a game. Games are especially difficult to create from scratch and complete. I believe the saying goes the last 10% takes 90% of the time, or at least it feels that way for me.
What is really great about 1Gam is that you are forced to focus on what really matters, which is gameplay first. Get that game out there, get feedback on it and decide if it’s worth spending more time on or if you should move onto the next game idea. Think of 1Gam as an opportunity to rapidly prototype out game ideas each month while building up the skills you need to deliver new games quickly and effectively. The other advantage is that you also build up a great library of reusable code so that each game theoretically gets faster and faster to develop.
Photo courtesy of New York Game Makers
What is your favorite aspect of teaching people to make games? Is there a stage in the process that you most enjoy?
My background, before I got into programming, was art. I have been painting and drawing since I was 5 years old. As I transitioned into digital art and programming I really missed being able to go into a studio and work with others. Creation is a collaborative process and while you may not always look for outside influences, just being in a room with others who are also trying to create can be a huge help.
The weekend game development workshops I am running are my modern take on the weekend painting classes I used to go to as a kid. Now it’s my turn to be the mentor teaching others just like I worked under one when I painted. I find that people get so overwhelmed when they are trying to make a game, especially for the first time, that they are unable to move past step one. I love being able to help talk people through their problems, simplify their gameplay mechanics and motivate them to start building.
Sometimes you need someone there to just bounce ideas off of and keep you moving forward. Likewise, the part I enjoy most about making my games is getting feedback from others and seeing how their opinions about my game help me refine and clean up the final product. Reviewing your ideas and concepts with others is key to making a product with mass appeal. You can’t just make games for yourself or nobody will play them.
What is your favorite kind of game to make and who do you design for?
I love making 8-bit Nintendo style games. I am very much stuck in 1985 when I started playing Nintendo. I tend to gravitate towards making side scrolling platformer and Roguelikes (more so because I love writing random map generation algorithms). Lately all of the games I am making are for my 3-and-a-half-year-old. He is my go to play tester!
It’s been amazing watching the game industry go from indie devs to triple A and now back to indie again with the rise of mobile gaming. It’s been a huge mental shift for me to make more casual games, I always had these epic ideas.
The way I see it, if my son can’t play my games than they are too hard for other people. He has been instrumental in me refining my last two games: Super Paper Monster Smasher and Super Jetroid. Even Super Jetroid, which is a more complex puzzle platformer, has a “kids” mode so that he can play without taking damage and just have fun flying around aimlessly. I designed these two modes in a way that allows him to play with me as I unlock new levels so that he gets to safely explore ones I’ve already beaten. Because of this, we can play the game together in a way that is less frustrating for him since he is still a little too young to be good at more complex games.
Building games for kids doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down. I think the real key is to make a game that you want to play but take away some of the obstacles that would frustrate a younger player and help them feel empowered. You’ll also find that casual game players will enjoy that as well.