Saturday, November 26, 2011


This is my other interview with Dax Gazaway. He is a Senior Game Designer at Row Sham Bow. He does "brainstorming techniques, concept pitching, design documentation, prototyping, and level design, with specialization in systems design." He has worked for other companies too. He was a designer for Star Wars Games.

I emailed him my questions and he emailed me back! Here is what he said:

Dax: Hi George! It's nice to get an email from you. I will do my best to answer all of your questions.

George: How old were you when you first started making games?

Dax: I was 5 when I started making board games, role playing games (made with pen and paper) and sports games. At he time, home computers could not be used to make games. I have been making one game or another since then. That's over 30 years of game making!

George: Did you use Gamemaker? If so, did you have to teach yourself?

Dax: That program was not around when I started making games, but I do use game maker a whole lot now. i think it is a great tool. Yes,I taught myself, but I already knew some basics of writing code.

George: When you first started programming did you pick it up right away or did you have trouble with it?

Dax: I found it to be very hard and i still do! Learning how to program in school makes things a lot easier, but making games is always hard. That is part of what people that make games like about it. If making games were easy, then everyone would do it and it would be boring. Part of the fun of making games is knowing that you are figuring out problems that no one else has ever solved!

George: What kinds of games are you working on?

Dax: I am making Woodland Heroes for Facebook right now. In my spare time I like to make games with my kids and change the board games they play so they are more exciting. I also prototype games in game maker rather often.

George: It takes me about one week to make my games. How much time does it take for you to make one?

Dax: The shortest game I have worked on took six months. The longest took over THREE YEARS! Most of the games I have made took around two years and that's a very common time in the game industry.

George: How did you get to work on Star Wars games?

Dax: I had been working as a junior designer at another game company called 3DO. I applied at LucasArts and they gave me an interview. They liked me and i liked them so they offered me a job and I took it. I worked there for around two years and made four games with them, 3 of which were Star Wars games.

George: When I was researching you, I saw that there is a Star Wars character with your first and last name. Was he named after you? If he was, how did you get them to give you a Star Wars character?

Dax: Yes, he is named after me. They actually asked me if they could use my name. The producer of Pod Racer Revenge saw my name in an email welcoming to the company. He was looking for a name for the announcer character in the game and he liked mine, so he asked if the company could use it. I said yes, and I had to sign a contract that said they had permission, then they put my name in the game. I have always liked telling people about that :)

George: How do you come up with so many ideas for your games?

Dax: That's the easy part! Ideas for games come from everywhere. I often come up with 2 or 3 ideas i like EVERY WEEK! Now, if you do some math with that number, you will see that comes up to over 100 ideas a year. I work on teams that can be very large, up to 100 people. So again, do a little math and you can see that the team might come up with 10,000 ideas a year, but we only get to make one game every two years! That means the very hardest part is picking just the right idea and then making sure everyone on the team is happy with it.

George: How do you make characters look different when they run and jump?

Dax: I am a designer, so i don't do that part, but i do find it amazing how animators and artists are able to do all the things they do.

George: Do you know any other software I can make games on?

Dax: I recommend starting with board games and your own imagination. Make sports games with your friends, or make word games, or role playing games, or card games, or any other creative idea you have. There are a lot of skills in game making that you can learn without a computer and it's usually more fun to make games without a computer, because programming is a rather advanced skillet to learn for games. I do like game maker, but even that is very tough to learn and you will probably spend most of your time fixing broken games and less time making full games.

Dax: thanks for sending me your email. I am always excited to hear from young people that have the same passion for games that i do!

George: Just like Borut, Dax gave me a lot of important information. I am surprised that he uses GameMaker because that is what I use! I can't believe that he got his own Star Wars character! It's amazing!

Thank you Dax!

Friday, November 25, 2011


This is my first interview, with Borut Pfeifer. He is an "independent video game developer who lives in Venice, California." Borut says this about himself: "I previously worked at EALA, as lead AI programmer on game collaboration between Doug Church and Steven Spielberg. I’ve also worked at Radical, Sony Online Entertainment, and my own start-up (White Knuckle Games). I’ve taught in the Vancouver Film School’s Game Design program. I’ve written articles for the Game Programming Gems series, Gamasutra, and more."

I sent Borut my questions over email, and he answered me back! This is a photo of Borut.

George: When you first started programming did you pick it up right away or did you have trouble with it?

Borut: Well, I started programming quite a while ago, when I was about your age. Only the games you could easily learn to program were all text - I would copy a program that was printed out in a magazine or a book, enter it all in by typing it myself (since this was before the internet). So since the games were usually simple text-choice games, they were quick enough to learn for me then. As I got into more complex games, and graphics, it wasn't always that straightforward. I think learning's always tough but when you really like what you're learning you just don't notice all the effort you put in.

George: It takes me about one week to make my games. How much time does it take for you to make one?

Borut: Well, usually a bit longer. The one I'm mainly working on now has taken about 2 years (and will probably be done in six months or so). That can be tough to really stay disciplined to finish it over that long a period time. I do sometimes take a break from that to make a game in a few days - there's nothing quite as exciting as forcing yourself into doing something creative in a short time! :)

George: How do you design your characters?

Borut: Well, my teammate, Jake, he designs how the characters look. He uses a range of influences in his inspiration, like various artists from the past century (he studied art in school). He combines those inspirations in different ways to try and find something that conveys the personality and tone - for our game Skulls of the Shogun, the game is about ghost samurai, but it's humorous too, so the characters are meant to be spooky and a little goofy at the same time.
Then we have to design what the characters actually do - this affects how they look though, so as we change what they do we might update how they look. We use ideas from everybody (we have one other main teamember besides Jake & I, Ben), and then I try to make sure their actions all work together so the player has fun while using them. It always takes a lot of trial and error though, and learning along the way.

George: How do you get your games to look 3D?

Borut: We use all 2D art, but in code we draw everything in order from the top to the bottom of the screen - that way, when a character walks above a rock, the rock will get drawn above their bottom half, making it look they walked behind it. In order for that to work, we just have to make the collision around the rock lower than the image of the rock itself. Then we also add more layers of more 2D art on top of that, like clouds or rain.

George: How do you make your characters look different when they run and jump?

Borut: I wrote a custom tool to help animate our characters. With it, we can assemble a character from a bunch of different images, and then link them together. Then Jake creates animations, like running or jumping. He places the character pieces in one pose, then defines the pose for the character a fraction of second later, and keeps doing that until the end of one loop of the character running. Then the game takes those poses and repeats them as the character runs in the game.

This process ends up being pretty quick, so Jake can use the principles of good animation (which Disney originally pioneered -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_basic_principles_of_animation) to make characters seem like they have weight - heavy characters move slower, light characters move faster.

George: I see your games are about fighting. How do you make a lesson in them? I might want to try that.

Borut: Great question! That's something that actually is important to me too - Not all of the games I work on are about fighting, I've been working on another game that's about two parents who lose their daughter and have to look for her.

While a lot of games you see in stores are about fighting, games can really be about anything so I encourage you to experiment with making games with a moral or lesson.

In a book you can tell a story about a person who does something good and gets rewarded, or does something bad and gets punished, and that tells people a lesson. Games are about choice, though, so yo have to give players both good and bad choices at the same time. Then, when they choose the bad choices, make it harder for them to suceed at the game. Or if they make good choices, make it easier or more fun. The interesting thing about teaching a lesson in a game versus a story is that when people choose the right choice themselves in the game, it's a little like they did it themselves for real.

George: How do you get your games sold by companies?

Borut: That's changing - you used to have to talk to big companies like Microsoft, and get them to sell your game for you. These days, with the internet, you just sell your game on your own website too (like the game Minecraft). But if you want to put your game on any special hardware like the xbox or an iphone, you usually still have to go through the company that makes it (or another one that works with them), and get their approval. Some companies, like Apple or Microsoft with its Xbox Live Indie Games program, let you make a game, then just submit it and they'll approve it (as long as it works ok). then it'll be available for everybody to purchase.

George: When you first started programming, did you use Gamemaker? If you did, did you have to teach yourself?

Borut: When I started, and I programmed in a simple version of BASIC (the language of Visual Basic is based on that, but it's a much more advanced today than what I used back then). It was similar to scripting languages in tools like Gamemaker, though. I taught myself for a while, until our computer broke and it was several years until we got another one. Then I started programming again, and in high school I took the one class on computer programming we had. Then I went to college, where I studied computer science, which was the closest and most applicable thing I could study to making games. Today colleges & universities have all sorts of different programs you can study to work on games. There's also a lot of things beyond programming that are useful to know when making games, like math, science, art, even literature.

George: Do you know any other software I can make games on?

Borut: Flash has a lot of tutorials out there, and existing examples you can build on. Unity is a 3D game development tool - 3D may be more complicated & take more time to make games with, but you might want to try playing with that too in case you like it. There's also RPG Maker, which is good for making story-driven style games.

You can also try directly programming games, although it is harder. You can use a language like C#, and a tool called XNA, take an existing game, figure out how it works, then make a few changes to start & figure out the programming.

George: Borut gave me a lot of good information! If you have read my other blogs, you might have noticed that when he talked about the animation it was like my spider animation! Although the animations are similar, they are also very different. I really want to get Minecraft, so I was surprised he referenced it -- I didn't even tell him I want it! I wonder what the game where the mother and father lose the child is like? Just like the spider animation and his description is similar, making characters big and heavy and slow is just like my squid! Since he could make you lose the game in one hit, I made him very slow, just to make the game fair.

Thank you Borut!!


You probably think that I am only making the game, but actually I am not! I am not just trying to learn to make a game on GameMaker. I am also trying to learn stuff out of GameMaker. I want to learn how to make 3-D games.

One of the ways I am trying to learn more, I am interviewing people that make games. I am going to interview two people: Borut Pfiefer and Dax Gazaway.

You can see my interviews in my next posts.


Now we're going to talk about levels and rooms! Actually, levels and rooms are the exact same thing!

For example, this picture on the left is a room. You might notice that there is a background. A background is similar to a sprite except you don't need an object. (See previous blog entry for explanation of a sprite). This means that it is just a picture, but you can't tell it what to do. If you look close, the clouds are all similar to each other. If you look even closer, you will notice that some of the clouds are the exact same as others. This is because the background is made in tiles.

If you noticed, this is a close-up on one of my game's rooms. It might be easier to look at the clouds now.

This is a different room than the others.
As an example, the background is different. Also, you might notice that there are arrows telling the player what the controls are.

This is a different picture of the room above. You can see the background clearer now. And now you can see that the walls are different. A wall is a solid and it doesn't have to be on the edges. It can be anywhere. Some people might program it differently, but people usually program it so the walls prevent the player from coming out of the room. You can also use them as obstacles in the room to bother the player. As you can see, the giant mess of walls in my game pretty much block most of that part of the room.

You can't see this, but in that gap in my game at the bottom there are actually blocks that when you hit them, you go to the next room. I plan to have at least 25 rooms in this game. I have done at least 8 now. You might think I'm crazy when I say at least 25 rooms, but rooms are actually pretty easy to make. The programming is the hard part. (See my first entry). For me, the programming is pretty hard, because I have to teach myself how to do it.


Are you wondering what these pictures are? They are sprites. Do you want to know what a sprite is? A sprite is a picture that you use to make a character in your game. In GameMaker 8.1, which I am using, the sprites are pixelated. This means you have to create them with squares -- with a grid. This is the idea of a mosiac.

Now I will explain what they are.

This squid is an enemy in my game. He is a very dangerous enemy. Once you touch him, you automatically lose the game. You can't program the sprite to do this. You need an object.

What's an object? It's not your bed or a chair, it is what you add to the sprite that lets you tell the sprite what to do. Are you confused? I don't blame you! Another way of thinking about this is: a sprite is just a picture. An object is what you attach to the picture so you can tell it what to do in a video game.

This is also a sprite. I am not sure if I am going to use it or not. Want to know why? This character has nothing do with my game! Want to know why I created him? I was trying to create more costumes you could have in the game.

A costume is basically just a sprite. I am talking about it differently because of how you program it with the object. If you want to change what you look like during the game, you must program your character to do that. This is changing a sprite, also known as changing a costume.

The Spider (below) is another sprite. As you can see next to these words are a couple different pictures of the spider. If you think they all look the same, you're wrong! Look closer. If you still don't believe me, look closer.

Hopefully you believe me now!

In this picture they don't look like they are combined, because they aren't yet. But when they are, it will look like the spider is running. It will appear he is running because each sprite only changes a little bit. This is called an animation. If you make it change any more than slightly different, it will not come out as you want it to.

Guess what? You just learned some vocabulary! :0

Sunday, November 20, 2011


My name is George. I am 9 years old. I live in Long Island, New York.

I am in an enrichment program called "Atlantis" at my school. I get to choose a project that I will work on. My research question is:

"How can you best apply advanced video game-making skills to create an original video game?"

I am using Gamemaker 8.1. My game is an adventure game.

This past summer I learned simple Gamemaker programming at LuHi Camp. I enjoyed it, so now I am doing it for school.

At school I kept changing the programming to see what would happen with the game. A couple things that happened were: when all the good guys were gone, the game glitched out. And, we couldn't "x" out of it. When that happened, I knew I did something wrong. So, I played with it some more. After that, there were only two bad guys in the game, and about 50 good guys. I automatically knew that I did something wrong! I played with it and added two more platforms -- a platform that makes you lose points and a platform that showed your high score. When I played and I hit the one that made you lose points, I knew something was wrong because the game automatically stopped. I kept playing with it and I kept failing with it. So I eventually deleted it.

Then I tested out the score block. And it worked! So, I played with the characters in the game. When I finished playing with them I hit the score block again and knew I programmed something wrong. It automatically ended the game. I changed the programming so when some of the players hit the score block, I would move on to the next level. It worked, though only a few could hit it. I fixed that bug and started to make levels.

As you can see, it took awhile to do this because nobody told me how to program these things, I had to do it myself.

So far, at home I have added the basic controls, lives for the player, one-ups, enemies that make you lose a life, platforms (sand), background sprites (clouds, trees, water), and a start room.

I will be updating this blog until my project is done.