“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
(Full Alternate Title: How Women’s Shoes Became the Inspiration I Needed to Take that First Step to Becoming a Game Designer)
Today, I officially start a journey approximately three years in the making. It has certainly not been easy getting to this point and I certainly cannot predict where I will wind up, but I do know full well that my true tests and challenges are only beginning. Thus “Questionable Adventures” as my choice of naming this blog chronicling my journey. I want to share my vision, quest, and even my opinions here, engage with others who are similar minded, as well as those who perhaps think I am a little crazy (but hopefully in a good way). Let’s start with some back story with how gaming was introduced to me, at least the iconic moments that defined my wanting to become a game designer:
A many years ago, in the summer of 2002 I was introduced to roleplaying with Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition. I remember my first character quite well, a lovable halfling thief named Fliberd. He didn’t get too far sadly, as by his third adventure he had managed to grow a little overconfident in his abilities and trigger a cataclysm of traps in the entire dungeon with the intent of springing them on the inhabitants to avoid deadly combat. Brilliant idea, terrible execution as his wisdom of 5 had caused him to conveniently “forget” he was essentially an inhabitant of the dungeon from the perspective of the traps. I recall quite vividly the damage rolled, taking 74 points to my meager 18 hit points.
Only the Wizard had survived as he was outside the dungeon trying to sort through our magic loot. He had quite a haul to bring back to town, as he could now traverse the entire dungeon essentially unhindered by any monsters. Rather than resurrect us with the prodigious amounts of treasure, he simply decided to retire. That was a mutual group decision, however, as it then allowed all of us to start a new campaign in the exciting Third Edition rule set (I had joined a campaign late into its fifth year). I played a half-elf bard for a couple sessions before stopping, I didn’t connect to the character the same way and had plenty of school things to do at the time as well as a hockey season to play.
And I discovered Morrowind. I was in love with that game, and it still remains to this very date my top pick of any video game out there. Nothing can ever take away my nostalgia from that game, and the sheer mod-ability and thus re-playability of it. I was impressed with the community that existed simply to create mods for the game. Although I never partook directly in this community or uploaded any content, I had tried my hand at modding myself and was amazed at how easy it was to create my own story or change the game. It wasn’t just a computer game then, it was *my* game, personalized to how I wanted to play it.
Then, through all of those personalized experiences, Morrowind eventually got me back into tabletop gaming about when D&D 3.5 Edition released. I had a new outlook on pen and paper roleplaying, and I took to heart the changing of the default game to run what I wanted to run. I wasn’t familiar at the time with house rules or homebrew content, I just considered it “modding” the system.
Enter 2007, I was graduating from high school and entering Georgia Tech hopeful for my physics degree and perhaps entering a master’s program after to study the unified force theory and how to tie gravitation into it. But it wasn’t my classes or studies that changed me, but all the new options that presented themselves to me. I joined a wargaming group there, and played Farsight Tau in a WH40k Apocalypse style battle towards the end of the Spring term (sadly I did not make time for the campaign they were running during the school year, wish I had).
And then there was the high speed fiber internet and campus-wide wifi, I was able to be online 24/7 doing virtually anything I wanted. I didn’t have parents disapproving of my gaming habits over my shoulders. So much wealth of information and knowledge, I found myself actually discovering others “modded” Dungeons and Dragons themselves, as well as a plethora of other systems that I did not know even existed. But I stuck with D&D, not because of familiarity, but because I saw the Open Gaming License, and I was smitten with the direction that Wizards of the Coast was going with that. It was practically inviting me to create my own content, even if there was no “official” validation of my homebrew.
I eventually realized I didn’t want to study physics for the rest of my life, I didn’t want to be an “academic” stuck in some lab or classroom for all eternity. I wanted to tweak games, make them, break them, fix them, and ultimately share them. Thus I was no longer a student, but that cliched guy with insane ideas to make his hobby into a career. It wasn’t about the money I could make, I wanted to share, change things, bring my imagination to life and spark the dream in others.
I got my reality break eventually. I wasn’t enjoying myself without being a productive member of society, I didn’t really manage to grab a job in the economy (although I certainly tried), and eventually found myself at a friend in Seattle who offered a fantastic deal on rent in a far better economic area than the deep South I was stuck in. I moved, gave up my gaming and found myself in the joys of retail just before the holidays. And my department? Women’s shoes.
I did pretty well selling them, honestly. But my mind would find myself wandering back to gaming quite often while I searched the backroom for that box with just the right size and color the customer wanted. I don’t know if you have ever seen the back room of a department’s store’s shoe section (notably women’s shoes), but if you haven’t it is a maze of shelving with shoe boxes upon shoeboxes. We’re talking nearly 50,000 pairs of shoes in this back room. Organized by style (long boot, short boot, tennis, sandal, heel, etc), then color, then brand, and finally by specific model.
My moment of epiphany came then during the 2010 holiday season. This lovely 20′s-something year old gal was shopping for shoes to match with a variety of outfits and would show me pictures on her phone as to which outfit she was looking to match with and have me go searching for that perfect complimentary shoe. I had started that shift right after running a D&D game online via IRC, so I still had gaming fresh in my mind while I shuffled through the backroom and tried to stack as many boxes as I could reasonably carry.
Somehow, I started to associate each box with a different mechanic of a roleplaying system. Why? I can’t really be sure, but I assume it goes something like this metaphor:
Your closet is the entire system you want to have.
Each outfit describes the feel/mood/etc you want each element of the system to be able to express.
The shoes are what allow you to match to that feel or mood and still actually be able to walk where you want to go (read: the mechanics that allow you to play the story as you want to).
In essence, those knee-high brown leather boots became the robust and comprehensive combat resolution system, while the red heels were the bloody and gritty injury mechanics. The Uggs became the downtime traveling mechanics: comfortable, not particularly robust, but get the job done without bogging you down.
I was stacking up boxes of shoes for her like they were part of a Lego set, building exactly what she wanted for her closet/system. My brain clicked right then and there that the mechanics of a pen and paper system can work virtually the same. I probably had a crazy gleam in my eye from all the inspiration as someone else wound up collecting the commission on the shoes I had gathered, but I knew I was onto something and didn’t care.
I spent weeks turning the idea around in my head, eventually realizing that I could even tie in my visions of homebrew and even crowdsourcing (I was following Kickstarter avidly) directly into the modularity, just like Morrowind allowed anyone to create modules to customize their game. It wasn’t just now the shoes or Lego pieces that I provided, but the ones that others would cobble or sculpt up. I knew I had the vision to make this happen, but I also realized that it was not going to be an easy road.
For starters, I had to get back in school as a business major if I wanted to actually make this a viable proposition. And I wasn’t able to get the financial aid I needed until I managed to turn 25 (for varying reasons). So I spent the next couple years figuring out exactly which college would offer what I needed and started working grocery after the holidays had subsided and devoured every book I could on business and game design I could get my hands on.
Early 2013. I enrolled at Bellevue College. They had entrepreneurship, the transfer programs I could utilize to get into a larger and more robust business school, and my final deciding factor: an excellent sign language program (I was born with hearing aids after all, and wanted to learn it while I had hearing should I lose it).
I want my vision out there, I want to build a relationship with people, share my ideas, know what others want out of their games, and work together to make this a reality. This blog will track my questionable adventure through both the design and business side of things, as well as let me share my own thoughts on the industries.
But know this: game design is still not about the money for me; it is about the love, passion, and thrill of creating something and watching it unfold to tell fantastic stories and maybe, just maybe, change the lives of others. Gaming changed my life and it is now time for me to try and return the favor to others who want something to spark their creativity, be a part of something more than just their own little slice of life.