11 Years of Game Design: A Retrospective

The Lost Games

This is a nostalgic look back at some old projects created in my youth. No screenshots or playable demos of the following three games survived.

On January 19, 2005, I released my first video game on the Game Maker Community forums, called “Battleground Zero”. The game was a long, linear side scrolling platformer, with 50 pre-designed levels. The player sprite was a small tank, which could jump and shoot directly upward. Bomb pickups allowed you to shoot forward. Enemies were simple and bottomless pits were common, especially in the later levels. The game contained 10 unique bosses, which occurred every 5th level.

Being an early project, it was rough around the edges. The sprites were original but I used resource pack music, since I hadn’t begun composing yet. All levels used the same green destructible terrain. I had become fascinated with a destructible terrain formula I found on the GMC forums, which I still use to this day.

Citation: http://gmc.yoyogames.com/index.php?showtopic=96801

One of the first games I ever made was simply called “Soldier”. It was a top down shooter game with an emphasis on stealth and strategic level design. The graphics and music were both pulled from resource packs. It was released on March 22nd, 2005, a year after it was originally made.

Citation: http://gmc.yoyogames.com/index.php?showtopic=111534

I released “Alteration” on March 23rd, 2005. Alteration was a hardcore platformer inspired by Jumper 2, which was very popular at the time. This was obvious in the sprites and tiles, all 16×16 pixels. The main character could switch between four elements (fire, thunder, nature, and water) which interacted with the world differently. This added a degree of puzzle solving to the level design.

Only three worlds were finished by the time of its final release: ruins, a jungle, and a desert. Settings were pretty cliche back then. The graphics were original, but the music and story hadn’t been added yet. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when I got mostly positive feedback, with one person saying it could be “the next Jumper”. At age 13, that was a big event for me.

Citation: http://gmc.yoyogames.com/index.php?showtopic=111624

In early 2006, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

I continued to experiment with ideas, such as making a point and click game. But my hobbies took a backseat to my health. I had surgery for the Crohn’s disease in March 2008. It wasn’t until a few years later that a friend would help me program a new game.

New Beginnings

A Starspangled Zephyr was released April 5th, 2010 on gamejolt. The game is an abstract space shooter with very strange bosses. There are 50 levels total, similar to my first game. Bosses occur every third level, for a total of 17 bosses. The ambient music was composed by myself. The name is taken from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.

For a long time, I thought this game was also lost completely. But in 2013 I rediscovered the gamejolt page, while struggling to finish a new game. I became reinvigorated in my desire to work. My new game ultimately became Cosmic Zephyr.

A week ago, I found another game I thought I lost forever. The game is called Deadman’s Dark Scenery Court, also taken from Finnegans Wake. Upon downloading, I faced a task almost as difficult as finding the game – figuring out the puzzles I had programmed nearly 5 years ago. After 5 years, I’m solving my own game as if I were a stranger.

I exchange messages with an obscure hero of mine. He jokingly replies “so you’re the one who bought our game!” AMBER: Journeys Beyond, made by Frank and Susan Wimmer, won the 1997 Macworld Game of the Year. So it goes. You can never reach as many people as you want, you can only hope to affect each individual deeply.

I never did make “the next Jumper”. But I at least have a few games I’m proud of. I’ve come a long way from resource pack graphics, and now my games belong to a world of their own. Eleven years after becoming a video game developer, I’m finally seeing some success doing what I love.

3/25/15 Update:
According to a post I wrote in August 2005, I lost Alteration as well as a few other forgotten games when my computer died. It also details my past more vividly than I can remember.

December 2003: I got GM off of Download.com and tried it out. I couldn’t figure out that the icons on the side were actually drag and drop, so I deleted GM.
February 2004: I got GM again and I figured out the D&D panels. After a month or so, I moved on to learning GML. 6 months and 5,000 minigames later, I had learned just about everything I could.
October 2004: When 6.0 came out, I started working on Battleground Zero, a platformer with destructible terrain.
January 2005: I release BZ, only to have it pretty much ignored by the general public. However, Darthlupi commented on it saying the terrain engine was “a lot faster than anything I have done yet.” That was just enough to keep me from quitting GM. I released the .gm6 shortly after.
March 2005: A thunderstorm rolled over Alabama, and lightning shorted my computer out, killing the hard drive and everything in it. I lost two puzzle games, Alchemy and Libra, and a platformer called Alteration. There is a demo of it at the GMC somewhere…
Now: I’m working on a Marble Madness-type game which I hope to release in the next few weeks. I also have a retro-style space shooter that has been eating up my free time. It will be done very soon…”
– Me, August 2005, age 14


About Dylan Franks

My name is Dylan Franks, and I'm a game designer and musician. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. View all posts by Dylan Franks

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