Junicorn Workshop #1: The beginnening

I am very excited. Guys. Guys I am so excited.

June 7, 2013

In which I became even more convinced that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing, and that’s okay.

I am making my first video game. I am absolutely terrified. It is going to be so much fun.

I’ve played games since I was a small child. I’ve written before about how A Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past has had a profound impact upon the way that I think and move in the world, as well as approach storytelling. I’ve been in love with the narrative possibilities of gaming for ages; but I’ve never before found the courage, or the right environment, to take the plunge into making my own.

And then, Junicorn appeared, a month-long game incubator presented by Dames Making Games and hosted by Bento Miso. I recognize a kick in the motivation from the universe when I see one, and this was undeniable.

This first blog post is going to be a little bit gushy, and little bit unfocussed, and the upshot is bound to be simply me repeating GUYS I AM SO EXCITED over and over again using different words. But I am. I am so EXCITED. I am so thrilled to be working with Jennie and Cecily, the workshop coordinators, and all the other Junicorns, brilliant and funny women from incredibly diverse backgrounds, every single one of whom I admire profoundly after talking to them for just a few minutes. I have rarely walked into a room and felt so at ease, so welcomes regardless of skill level or area of interest, so greeted with pure enthusiasm. There is something very special going on here.

But the workshop! After a round of introductions and brainstorming, Damian Sommer delivered a workshop on level design. First, he showed some games (including Braid and World of Goo) that are particularly good at teaching the player to use new skills, effects and abilities without direct instructions, letting the player learn by playing rather than telling. Then, using an engine he’d built for a game that he’s currently working on called The Clown Who Wanted Everything, Sommer demonstrated how we could design simple, problem-solving-based levels to teach a player how to use a specific item or effect. I’d never thought about exactly how much learning and skill acquisition is built into games, and how essentially that learning process can be to enjoyment and play. I love things that shift my brain over, and this workshop definitely did that.

Then, Cecily led the group through a brief intro to the game-making software we will primarily be using. I’ve messed around with Twine quite a bit, but this was the first time I’d ever tried Game Salad, which I found quite natural and intuitive to play with. By the end of the demo I’d make the image of a bald eagle into a sprite (or “actor” according to the software), placed it against a background, and made it able to move forward and back according to the arrow keys while “Stalingrad” by Accept played triumphantly.

I’d always intended to write a game that was narrative-driven — probably in Twine, or maybe Ren’Py. But now, I might try for something more ambitious and active. The last few days have included gathering and re-writing story notes whenever I have a spare moment. At the beginning of Junicorn, as much as I’d like to be able to objectively assess things, all I feel is an overflowing well of enthusiasm. I can only feel that this is a good thing.