Four Decembers ago, while browsing Flickr I stumbled over a series of screens from a pair of previously unknown games, apparently designed with Recreational Software Designs’ Game-Maker. I contacted the account’s owner, and soon found myself in a fascinating discussion with Bionic Commando associate producer James W. Morris. The topic strayed from Game-Maker through a tour of the Shareware era, before fixing on the problems and potential of educational games.
This interview has sat on my shelf for over three years, waiting for formatting and a sympathetic host. Here I present in full James W. Morris, on learning to game and gaming to learn.
I forgot to mention this. Recently I also put up some excised bits from the Andy Stone interview — interesting details, yet possibly even more specialist than the rest of the interview — and a rambling probe into the mind of Gary Acord. If you don’t know who that is… well, read on. Be astounded.
It’s getting hard to find time to do things. I’ve a few more articles in the backend there, waiting for a few tweaks before they go up. I’ve got the long-delayed conclusion to my series of posts on the history of A-J Games. I’ve got my novel that I’m writing. I’ve got a knee-deep pile of untended emails, comments, tweets, and who knows what other missives. I’ve got wiki articles to edit and update. I’ve got my own design projects to explore.
But I’ve also got work and life here. So, stuff is coming. It’s just coming slowly. And it’s going to keep being that way.
The sidebar over there has decided to be strange. I think part of the database went corrupt. That’s okay! If I ever publish another half-dozen articles, it will right itself.
The decade between 1995 and 2005 was a dark time for the bedroom developer. With the introduction of the Web and the death of dial-up boards, the Shareware scene had crashed. With the introduction of 3D cards and the growing popularity of the home PC, development became complex and expensive. There was never a harder time for an amateur game designer to get started and build an audience.
That silent decade need not have happened. In 1991, a company called Recreational Software Designs released its own game design suite for MS-DOS. RSD’s Game-Maker supported VGA graphics, four-way scrolling, Sound Blaster music and effects, full-screen animations, large maps, and fully animated characters and monsters. Its editing tools were powerful and intuitive, allowing quick turnaround of sprites and background tiles and easy assembly into full games.
RSD ceased development just before the Web caught on, and right on the verge of a radical reinvention. The company never built an online presence, and Game-Maker failed to make much of an impression on the Web – leaving a big void for Mark Overmars to fill.
We caught up with lead programmer G. Andrew Stone, to talk about Game-Maker and the place that it holds in indie game history.
A few months ago we detailed some search methods for discovering unknown Game-Maker games in the wild Web; as examples we detailed two games: Roland Ludlam’s rather wonderful Hurdles, and Matthew Groves’ modestly charming Space Cadet. Since our interview with the one author went so well, we now turn our sights on the second, Web developer and aspiring Android coder Matthew D. Groves.
Following our interview with Orb author Joshua Turcotte, we turn our information thresher to another isolated game, the closest that Game-Maker ever got to a respectable scrolling shooter, Hurdles. The game is short on presentation and deep in ingenuity; it does what it sets out to, and then moves on. To contrast with that focus, its author Roland Ludlam is something of a polymath: hacker, musician, illustrator, photographer, poet.
Most recently, Ludlam has co-founded a small game design company, Studio Walljump, with the aim of producing a new puzzle-music game for WiiWare. We caught him with a dual-edged interview; come for the moldy game, and get a preview for the bargain.