July 22

Why I Went Homeless To Make Video Games – Part 1 of 4

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Growing up in a small town of 700, I was fortunate to have had cousins I could visit and goof off with. I spent a lot of time with two of them my age. I would visit both often, and going over to their place was not uncommon... until one day...

I walked in, and the view took me by surprise. There were computers everywhere. Set up on card tables, it looked like a makeshift software company, but when I asked what it was all about, they said they were playing games.

I had played games before. I grew up with an Atari 2600. In fact, while my mom was getting her Masters in Education, we owned an Apple IIe so she can use it for some of her classes (Zork anyone?). I even learned a bit of BASIC using one of her books from school. I also used that computer to play Winter Games with the Apple Joystick and learn biology with a program about the body.  Not to mention many many hours of Karateka, so I was no stranger to computer games, but this... this was different. This was on another level.

I tried to stay out of the way and watched them play a game called Half-Life. Through the boisterous and playfully obnoxious taunts and smack-talking, I slowly pieced together what was actually happening. In fact, what I witnessed that day completely blew my mind. These computers were playing the same game. I don't mean that one cousin was playing Half-Life, and the other cousin was also playing Half-Life. I mean, they were both playing the same game of Half-Life. This cousin could see that cousin trying to hide behind barrels, and he was shooting at him, and on that cousin's screen, while behind barrels, bolts were whizzing by his head. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was sold. From that day forward... I was all in.

After that, my cousins taught me everything. How to play. (How to die.) Other multiplayer games. What a LAN was. What a LAN party was. It didn't stop there. They blew my mind again when they explained that the computers they played games on they had put together themselves! They taught me how to build my own computer, and because of their influence, I had become a hardcore computer gamer.

At some point down the road, one of my cousins and I even tried to learn C++ through the mail in a correspondence course so we could make games for a living. That didn't work. In fact, that experience would change my life and divert me from ever trying to learn to program again. It had convinced me that I just wasn't smart enough.

I always knew that I wanted to do something creative for a living, but I guess games just wouldn't be it. Instead, I pursued music and audio production, but it rarely paid the bills. It was always in the background as a "pro hobby". I never understood how to turn it into a business until I ran a studio out of my home. It was short-lived, but it was closest I ever came to doing something creative for a living.

To pay the bills while figuring out my path, I became a truck driver. I discovered it was the only job I could actually stand doing. In trucking, no boss is looking over your shoulder, no upper management doofus who can't even do your job telling you how to do it. It was just the open road and the trust that I will get the job done, which I always did. It was long days of being alone in the cab, thinking of creative ways to make a living. Thinking of ways to make money where I actually fit. Always looking for a way out.

Being a truck driver is hard for a member of the LBGTQ community. Always worried someone would find out. Constantly afraid of losing my job and always concerned for my safety... and worse... my family's. Getting out of trucking was a splinter in my mind. Combined with not doing something creative like I should be doing, it caused great unrest in my soul, and I knew that trucking was slowly killing me.

Even though I knew I was supposed to be doing something creative for a living, I couldn't always take the time to explore it—bills to pay, children to raise, and a family to feed. Knowing you're designed for a different path and never scratching the surface is a discouraging perspective.

Being a creative person without a way to wield it is exquisite torture.

Eventually, I got off the road, drove locally, and went through a couple of companies to find a gig I liked. I even left a local job that was 65-75 hours a week to go to a company with fewer hours. It was good money, but there's absolutely no energy left to find something creative to do for a living when you've exhausted yourself making someone else's dream come true. I finally found a pretty decent place to drive for. Since my wife at the time also worked in that area, we even moved closer to it so we could cut down our commute. This left more time for creative endeavors.

Still searching for that creative endeavor, I was always looking for options. It was a cold day in January of 2016 when I was diving down a YouTube rabbit hole. You know the drill... you watch one video that interests you and the next thing you know, it's tomorrow? This was no different. I was so deep into this particular YouTube rabbit hole that I can't explain how I got there or where I even started. However, I can tell you with absolute certainty exactly where I ended up.

I had landed on a video of this guy named Trey, who was making video games without writing any code. It was a drag and drop system. He was even animating sprites just by dragging in a sequence of pictures. In less than a few minutes, he was playing a video game that I just watched come to life. In the dark recesses of that fateful YouTube rabbit hole, I had seen something I had been searching for. A way to make games without needing to learn to program. An art form I could return to after 25 years of searching elsewhere. Once again...

I was all in.


Tags

game development, half-life, multiplayer, video games


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