Videogames are magic.
To those of us who slave over making the things they’re lumps of code, things that hang together precariously at the best of times. We see the cracks, we see the little bits of sellotape that keeps everything together. We see the hours spent, the problems already solved, the new problems to solve. The conversations, the meetings, the sheer amount of work.
If we’re doing our jobs right, videogames are magic.
We’re witches in the digital dimension, conjuring up whole worlds, whole universes, from nothing but commands that make a computer do a thing.
When it all comes together, when that code runs and becomes a videogame to be shared and played, that’s magic too. A wonderful magic that folks in the big wide world often fall in love with. Those universes, those worlds, the things built from the hands of humans that people forget are built by the hands of humans.
Which is the point, right? It’s why we put so much effort into covering up the cracks as best as time, money, knowledge and technology will allow us too.
Someone, somewhere, sits at home, flicks a switch and there they are. Somewhere else. Somewhere we created for them.
One of the things I try to hold onto whilst writing the videogames that I write is that people will flick a switch for the first time and this world I made will seem as magic to them. They won’t see the hours. They won’t see the shortcuts. They won’t see all the times everything went wrong to get something right. Or as right as it could be in the circumstances.
They won’t see the days where I make next to no progress. They won’t see the times I reach out to people smarter than me for help. They won’t know any of that. They will just see a videogame.
I write, by most people’s standards, simple videogames. Yet even I go to lengths to obscure the work involved, to cover over the parts which oh, if I had more time, more money, more knowledge, more people to assist me, could be so much better.
What is polish if not adding more magic to the mix?
And lost in this world where day after day I’m staring down lines and numbers and semicolons and more numbers, I’m not surfacing for air sometimes. Sometimes I see the cracks in other games, I see the seams and the breaks that so many people would never notice.
That’s the problem with being a magician. Sometimes you see how it’s done, not how it is.
I’ve been around since games. I cheered at getting a UDG on the screen, a sprite was something else. Making that little black rubber keyed box of mine bleep something that sounded vaguely musical felt like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Years later, toying with Blitz 3d, getting a triangle on screen felt like I had been handed such an obscene amount of power.
Yet. So many things I’ve made felt impossible to me once upon a time, unknowable and unknown. So much still does. I can make you a game where a 2d fish shoots a 2d laser at a 2d pink robot but you want me to work in 3d? This is gonna take some serious curtain pulling back before I even have the slightest.
I’m a magician but not the greatest magician, y’know?
I chose not to go into writing games first. In the eighties, making the things in my head felt out of reach. My head was bursting with videogames in all the colours. My Spectrum had a handful. Even the CPC with its most beautiful colours did not have enough. I left the magic to everyone else.
I’m glad I did. By the time technology was in a place where I could make these games at a high enough level and with all the colours I wanted, I was curious enough to dig deeper, to see how these things held together for myself.
Between the then of the eighties and the then of the two thousands, so many people kept me interested. Those who talked about the magic, pulled the curtain back. Whether it was Braybrook’s diaries on how Paradroid got put together or the internet where folks shared their progress as they made videogames happen. It kept me excited. It kept me wanting to be involved.
I had no stomach for the all too technical, all too code-y bits for a long time but the brief sneak peeks of how magic happened, the reminder that humans made the magic happen, gave me hope.
I sit here and I write about videogames, about being in videogames now. I write videogames. I know the work involved. I know the stresses, the sweat and the hard work that goes into making anything just fucking work at all. To holding these damn worlds together.
Yet it still all seems like magic to me.
Because that’s what it is.
It’s magic. It’s a magic where even the oldest tricks still seem impressive because that’s what they are. They are impressive. They’re impressive to me here, a maker of games. The glue that holds our game together is so much more magical, so much more impressive, to those who never get to see behind the curtain.
I try and always remember that.
To be fair, I don’t have to put much effort into that because one look at what everyone is making around me and it still feels as magical now as it did the very first time I laid eyes on a videogame. I hope, genuinely, this feeling never goes away.
I hope that small glimpses behind the curtain inspire more people to make themselves at home here as they did for me. I hope more people are excited and inspired by the ability to make really technical gubbins build really beautiful things.
No matter how rudimentary that glimpse may seem to me. Right?