I'm often asked, "Where did you come up with this idea? What made you decide to create this game? How did you put all this together?" and similar questions. So it's fitting that this first blog post delve a bit into the history of Z Gate Crashers and how we got here.
The idea for this game had been spinning around the back of my head for quite a while before I actually committed to making it manifest. In its first iteration, this was supposed to be a computer game, and my intent, for reasons that seemed compelling at the time, was to publish it on the iOS (Apple) platform. I had a good amount of programming experience from my career as a computer systems engineer, but not on the scale needed to bring a game like this into production. I needed to familiarize myself with the iOS development environment and how to utilize it effectively. So I spent months learning iOS development rules, logic, and syntax and was actually enjoying doing so –albeit making little progress on the game itself.
Fast forward awhile –to the passing of Steve Jobs. I'm sure you're thinking, "C'mon, what does that have to do with this game?" Quite a lot, actually.
Prior to Jobs' death, Apple had committed itself to one style, one look, and one very specific iOS development environment. It made for gorgeous and appealing apps, and it allowed for easy and natural user interaction and a fairly rapid development cycle. That was the environment I'd committed to learning and spent a considerable amount of time knowing. After Jobs' passing, however, the minions who were given the awesome responsibility of filling those shoes felt the need to make their own mark on Apple and, consequently, on its development environment.
So right in the middle of my attempts to learn the "Apple way, "Apple decided to take off in a whole new direction and with an entirely different model. Everything was different –the classes, coding, structure, formatting, look, feel, and interaction had all changed. And that negated a considerable amount of what I'd learned. So while the changes may have served Apple's new and improved strategy, they ran over a good number of developers –including burgeoning ones like me. It just wasn't worth my time to start over.
I felt like I was losing control of my creation before it had even been incubated and that I was at the mercy of external forces I couldn't fully account for. That was a source of considerable frustration and brought a halt to my development efforts. I figured I'd just park this idea for a while and work on something else.
As luck would have it, one day I found myself reading a gaming magazine. In it was an article discussing the trend toward tabletop games and how people were seeking the human contact and interaction that, ironically, was missing from the "smaller village" the internet had made the world. Online gaming, and the online world in general, had certainly made the world a smaller place –there was no doubt about that when I could set up a game in under five minutes consisting of players from the US, Germany, South Africa, and Belarus (Belarus?? Where is Belarus, anyway? Oh, there it is!) But even with that, this article postulated, people still felt isolated and disconnected.
It's perhaps important to point out that at the time, I would not have been classified as a "gamer" (online or otherwise) –not by contemporary measures, anyway. Of course, I'd played many games in my younger days (Gawd, I sound old, don't I?). Many reading this post likely remember hours upon hours (whole weekends? Yikes!) spent playing Doom, Quake, Hexen, Diablo, Warcraft II (the original, not to be confused with the current incarnation of WarCrack), and, and, and! Wolfenstein –remember that one? Remember the first time killing the Butcher? Or finding that secret crawlspace where you could score a BFG? How about the Hexen chicken-gun/egg –because if you could turn your good friends into chickens, why wouldn't you?
I remember, and good memories all. Heck, we still have hours-long sessions of Doom and Diablo. But now we're inducting a whole new generation into this world as we teach our kids about the games we used to play (Gawd, we have kids? I am old! Oh, well – I suppose it's better than the alternative). A good friend of mine once said we should get T-shirts that say "Avenging slain townsfolk since 1996," and I think we might do just that. Those were the early days of computer gaming, and growing rapidly with computer games was connected gaming. And I was very fortunate to be a part of it. But over the years, priorities shifted, and time became an ever-decreasing and precious resource.
From the tabletop perspective, my experience was much narrower. I had the games I knew and loved –Risk and Axis &Allies, to name a couple. But I'd played little else from the modern collection of games. It would be new and dear friends who introduced me to this rich new world. And it was through their excitement about each game that I discovered these new (to me) games like Small World, Catan and Call of Cthulhu, among others. It had been several years since I'd regularly played any game. Something was missing from modern computer games, at least for me. They seemed less and less about the novelty, fun and imagination of play and more and more about the intensity, reality, and fidelity of the platform, graphics and interface. In tabletop games, however, I'd rediscovered a love of gaming. And in them, I'd also found another component missing from computer games: actual human interaction.
It was within this context that I read the aforementioned article, and it struck a chord. It was that perfect confluence of events –that light bulb "aha" moment, and I thought to myself, "I'll make this a tabletop game." The heart and soul of the game I wanted to create would of course remain the same –if anything, it would be improved. The only thing that would change would be the way of presenting the story. And for me, the change in platform felt better, for all the reasons listed earlier.
But I still had a fondness for a lot of those old computer games. So it was in that vein that I set out to develop Z Gate Crashers. I wanted to pay homage to those early games while embracing what was, for me, a whole new medium. And this medium would allow me to explore many of the elements I loved about gaming.
In this game, I have strived to create a visually stunning graphic experience (I truly love the art -- thank you, Steve!). And with that, I've tried to thread an interesting and entertaining narrative through a highly replayable, exciting, and challenging game that actually brings people together around a table to interact face-to-face.
The iterative process involved in bringing this dream to reality has been long and winding, but it's a journey I've thoroughly enjoyed.
In the coming weeks, I plan to delve deeper into that process, how we got here, and the many wonderful people we've met along the way. I hope you'll join me as I share more of this story and see it play through to completion.