Tuesday, February 01, 2011

My first game is shipping February 3 (the personal story behind War of Words)

Always the dream

When I was in middle school, I decided I would create games for a living. I found some friends and created a little seventh-grade "company", Double C Productions, where we created state-of-the-art text adventure games in QBasic. This was in 1992. Then 3D happened, and I got completely left behind by the math and art requirements.

In 1995, at age 15, I got my first "real" job as a graphic designer. In 2002, I became a waiter, then a restaurant manager. In 2006, four years out of college, I finally "grew up" and got back to my roots: software development. But it wasn't games, it was enterprise business intelligence software. It did give me some real-world experience with the software development lifecycle: development, release, support.

In two days, nearly five years after that, my first game will ship.

Of add-ons and fame

But let's go back again, to 2005. That's when I started playing World of Warcraft. I'd been playing MMOs since 1998 (EverQuest), but WoW presented me with an interesting opportunity: add-on development. I ended up creating one of the first add-ons for WoW (it was the 262nd add-on on Curse, if you can believe it) -- HitsMode. That add-on is still alive and well, and it even has a modern successor.

In 2009, I created a little add-on called AVR Encounters. That add-on landed on the front page of MMO Champion (a huge thing in the WoW world), and netted me nearly a million YouTube hits. I was a bit of a celebrity. Then, around 3 months later, AVR Encounters became one of only around three add-ons in the history of the game to be intentionally broken by Blizzard. My run at fame was over, but my taste for game programming wasn't piqued.

But, I hear you saying, add-ons aren't games! So why am I telling you this? Because my add-ons are used by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of players. These players run the gamut from hyper-intelligent to hyper-stupid. I've gotten thousands of comments and hundreds of tickets, and I was starting to understand what supporting a game must be like. It was a valuable experience.

But it wasn't enough.

Then, everything changed

In the summer of 2010, I stumbled upon the old journals of Jordan Mechner. He is the creator of the original Prince of Persia, and the screenwriter of the 2010 movie by the same name. Mechner was a true prodigy: an artist, programmer, and writer. He has an attention to detail and a strong concept of what makes things "fun". Plus he speaks at least five languages, and at one point lived in Paris six months out of the year. He became, that day, my idol.

I spent an entire day reading through all 96 pages of his journals, which encompass his life from 1985-1993. Mechner reminded me a lot of myself -- although he's got some talents I don't have -- and it was almost scary. Yet he had used his talents immediately -- even during college -- to create commercial games. And I hadn't.

It was a wake up call.

Time to write a real game

Games have come a very long way since Mechner's day. I don't have a 100 million dollar budget or a team of artists. The scope of modern console and PC games is far beyond what I am capable of. But there is one platform that is still approachable. It reminds me, even, of those days back in 1992 where myself and a few other classmates hacked out our games and dreamed of the possibilities. That platform is mobile.

So, in September of 2010, I bit the bullet. I bought a Mac and set out on my first project. I wouldn't be able to do some triple-A first-person shooter. I couldn't create an MMORPG or even a good platformer. Since I'm not an artist like Mechner, just a graphic designer (there's a difference), I was a bit limited in my approach.

But I did have a good idea.

Thus was born my first game: War of Words. This is initially an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad game, but I'll port it to Android and other platforms if it's successful.

The general premise can be summarized in three words (the mark, I'm told, of every great piece of art): Scrabble with bombs.

That right there should get you thinking in the right direction. If you want to know more, I've got the marketing story all ready to go over at www.wordswithbombs.com. You should check it out. It's free (ad supported), and it's fun.

Maybe my next game will be a shooter or a platformer, or even the next WoW killer. Maybe I'll create the next Prince of Persia. Who knows. Until then, enjoy.


Steve Bowdoin said...

VERY cool, Jeremy...congratulations! I am not a gamer, by ANY means, but I can appreciate the interest in it by millions, and also that you developed one to be picked for distribution! Good job!

Tom Fuller said...

As Jeremy's dad I can attest to his drive to write games. We bought him his first computer at age 8 - and we had no idea what we had unleashed.

What Jeremy doesn't tell you is that in everything he does he strives for and achieves excellence. Every bit of this game (and we've seen many of the iterations in development) sparks of attention to detail in art, game play, usability, and collaboration.

I'm so excited about this venture that I may just go out and get a couple of iPhones!

Unknown said...

Remembering Jeremy dreaming of writing games and pouring over different code manuals in his spare time... I am a bit emotional as his mom. What we have seen of this game is amazing! You are so talented Jeremy!

Unknown said...

You're incredibly talented and I love War of Words. Whoever your admin is on the WoW Facebook page, is awesome! Don't pass that job on too quickly. Lol I know some would love to have it, but finding someone who can manage it that well yet not over do it can be difficult.
Thanks for the app. and your creativity.