There's an interesting discussion going on at the IndieGamer.com forums about games we designed as kids. I still have the notebook I used to design games in, and although their scope far outweighed my ability, it's fun to look at them to see how things have changed.
Some of the designs were detailed, spanning pages of documentation, maps and game elements. Others were just paragraphs describing a concept, and usually a pretty unoriginal one at that.
It's amazing how much confidence a small amount of programming knowledge gave me back then. Copying a listing out of a book made me feel like a king, and my ideas reflected that. These days I'm far more grounded in my approach, which is surprising considering how my abilities have increased.
(Some of these ideas are typed directly from my old ideas book, and I've included the mistakes for comic effect.)
The Cream of the Crop
Not so much a game idea, as an entire franchise. I can't take full credit, as it was something my brother cooked up whilst high on sugary "Lemonade Dippers". It started out as an audio tape recording. Due to my brother's high pitched voice and the tape recorders "double speed" facility, Psycho Bean was blessed with a voice worthy of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
The story followed a happy bean called "Cutie Bean" that gets struck by lightning and turns into "Psycho Bean", a ruthless killing machine that destroys all in his path. Other characters included "Granddad Zimmobean" and "Baby Bean". Complicated stuff.
Psycho Bean's power came from lemonade dippers, but if he ate too many he would be sick. Levels included such original locales as "Bean Town", "Bean City" and "Bean Laundry". The penultimate level took place in the lemonade dipper factory, with a bloody finale in the Lemonade Dipper Burglar's Hideout.
Like most of the games I designed in my youth, I got as far as designing the sprites. Perhaps I should have been an animator instead.
Unfortunately, Psycho Bean was retired once my brother's voice broke. It was a cruel reminder of the brevity of youth.
Sonic Blast / Sonic Boom
OK, so now we're into "Watch out for lawyers" territory. Sonic Boom started out as the sequel to a text adventure I wrote called "Sonic's Adventure". Sonic's Adventure was actually the first game I'd written without any outside help, and the finished result was relatively playable. A sequel, Sonic's Adventure 2 was started, but lost due to a corrupted disk. Many tears were shed that day.
Like most of my ideas, Sonic Boom started out as a small idea and grew into a mammoth undertaking. I wrote it for the Atari ST, long before I had the Internet, so I drew all the graphics myself. I remember painstakingly copying the Sonic 3 sprite from a sticker album. Tough days.
The game didn't get particularly far, but it was my first foray into graphics so I was relatively pleased with how things went. There was no scrolling, it had annoying music and I'm not really sure what I intended for it. It had colour cycling though, which made for pretty waterfalls and sparkly gems.
Sonic Blast then mutated into Sonic Boom, which was more of a strategy RPG in the style of Shining Force. There were three different level types; side-scrolling adventure stages, top-down exploration stages and top-down turn-based battles.
Sonic Boom was easily the most playable game I ever wrote for the ST, and although the code was an absolute mess, I got quite far. There were four levels, and I had plans for approximately six chapters (that's about 36 levels in total).
Another feature was "P-Life", which was loosely based on NiGHTS's A-Life. Every time you defeated an enemy, you would collect part of their DNA. This could then be fused with the creatures in a special garden, and you could create interesting hybrids.
As time went by and I switched to a PC, the dream of my own Sonic game lived on. DarkBasic was the first language I tried, and before long I had a terrible model of Sonic sliding around a terrible level. DB didn't get much further than that.
I still have many folders crammed full of ideas and drawings, and of course I still have the dream. Sadly, most companies frown quite heavily on fan-games, so the journey will have to stop here.
Shining Force Online / Shining Force IV / Shining Force X / Shining Online
As with Sonic Boom, Shining Force Online was inspired by another commercial game - "Shining Force". Many, many hours were spent playing it, so it seemed only right to devote more hours to creating my own version.
Clearly, I should have spent more time thinking up a decent title for it.
I can't really take credit for this idea, as it followed the same pattern as most games these days; 1) find a forum about games, 2) tell everyone you're going to make the best game ever and 3) find people to do it all for you.
My brother and I signed up to help a fellow fan with his Shining Force game, but it quickly became apparent that he had no idea of what he was doing. Thankfully, he had quite a big team and had put all their email addresses in the "To:" line, so we instigated a coup to overthrow his leadership.
We should have realised that some of those emails belonged to his friends, and he quickly found out. I can't remember exactly how the email exchanges went after that, but I don't think he was very pleased. First lesson of mutiny: Make sure you're not the only people that want to rebel.
Once the excitement died down, my brother and I set about writing our own game. I'd already written most of the engine for Sonic Boom, so it was merely a case of adding new graphics and a plot. As you can see from the screenshot above, graphics were something of a challenge at the time. The Atari version even got reviewed in UCM Issue 23, although I think they were a little bit generous with the score.
After migrating to the PC, the game got a new title and a complete facelift. Two PC demos were released, and they generated around 4000 downloads between them. Not bad for a demo.
Other notable achievements include 3000 pieces of hate mail, all from the same guy. Downloading 3000 large emails via dial-up was no fun, especially as the connection liked to die during the process. Still, it was fun to inform his school of his transgression.
The source code also contains a set of quotes to inspire me. Most of them are of the "This game sucks" variety, but there were a few nice ones in there.
I made a lot of good friends whilst making the early demos, and I still keep in touch with them. It would be fair to say that the response to my early work helped me make the decision to become an indie developer. They were good times, and James and I still have piles of paperwork spanning all of our ideas.
Of all the game ideas I want to complete some day, this is right at the top.
The Bottom of the Barrel
Description: "A racing game where you fight opposing cars or just race".
That's about as detailed as it got, apart from the "other details" section which had the following important information: "The car is red, with with [sic] white stripes, the opponents cars are white with black stripe." With detail like that, it's hard to understand why I never made it.
Description: "You have to progress through various missions and achieve various goals".
Somewhat inspired by Andy McNab's book of the same title, this was set to be an army game with multiple vehicles, missions and weapons. As you can see from the description I wrote, it was thoroughly planned. From what I remember, designing the game was as complex as looking through books to find pictures of cool weapons and vehicles, and then writing their names down.
All Good Things…
That brings us to the end of our journey through my childhood dreams. Will any of these ideas ever see the light of day? Let's hope not.
Do you have any ideas from your childhood you'd like to share? What ideas are you proud of, and which ones make you cringe?