Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 3    April 1998

So Where Do the Ideas Come From?

By Chris Federico

Well, songwriters and authors are asked the same thing. I guarantee that nobody has ever located a secret wellspring of ideas for any creative work they've produced. The filter that turns notions into projects is your imagination. The less picky that filter is -- the more you allow into that imaginative part of yourself -- the more original, or at least really nifty, your output will be.

It's easiest to discern where an idea to write a utility program comes from: the need to take manual control of a situation, of a lack in your available library of tools. You start by thinking, and usually at a time when you're not looking for ideas, "Man, I wish there were a program that did such-and-such." And then you're suddenly thinking, "Wait a minute! That wouldn't be too hard to write, now, would it!" It's almost like having a new game at hand -- programming is like a puzzle or brain game, and it's really exciting when you start working on a program, because it's like a big, blank crossword puzzle -- but with looser, more lenient dimensions.

But getting an idea for a game is completely different -- or is it? Sure, the designing of a game isn't based on a practical need for anything, other than a craving to create. Games are mainly based on wanting to pull your imagined visions into reality, to play inventor or god. But that's based on the same kind of need as the conception of a utility program, and it's the simplest, most basic idea wellspring of all: "I want to play this sort of game. I would buy something like this if it were available." It's like writing songs you'd want to hear, or writing the kind of story you'd like to read.

And it really is that simple. What sort of game do you want to play? Is that game around yet? Well, then, write it yourself! The only people who can't do these things are people who are convinced, or who've allowed themselves to be convinced (mostly in their formative years, I'm sorry to say), that they can't.

And once somebody's pegged a language and completed a few things, resting on his laurels is the worst thing he could do. Keeping an open mind and a curious imagination is vital, no matter how successful your last project was. Why bother attaining any self-importance about it? You have fun doing this stuff. What other reason is there?

Some people would say that it's always about the money. And let 'em say it. A good game is a good game and a shitty one is a shitty one. What matters to the person playing your game, and to you when you're playing it (your first responsibility as an artist is to yourself), is how much fun is being had.

Trust me: You'll surprise yourself with how capable you really are at writing your own programs. It's like a lot of creative talents: It's easier than it looks. As long as you're interested in it and you have the necessary degree of motivation, you can learn and apply this stuff.

What's been a matter of debate for some time is this. Programming: art or science?

It's a little of both. That's what makes it so appealing. Both sides of your mind are engaged. You get to dream up a wild idea; but then you have to program it. But coding -- using your sense of logic and structure -- draws from raw creativity as well, like those brain games I mentioned. You're using the so-called left brain and the right. And everyone has both of those! -- CF