Friday, October 28, 2005

Programmer Design: Sinistar graphics put to use

You know, I could get a huge kick out of just dumping game graphics onto my site and seeing the sort of games people make with them. Maximilian from stopped by one of my older threads and posted a game he is making with my old Sinistar-clone graphics. Thanks Maximilian! Quite fun even in this early state. :-)

Here's his comment:

It will not really resemble the old Sinistar, but be more like Freespace, but in 2D.If you even want to download the demo:

In this demo, you have to pursue the other (lightbrown) ship and destroy it in order to win. Controls are: WASD or cursor-keys to move, space to shoot.

Free graphics
For those of you who missed it, I have two relatively complete sets of 2D graphics from ages past that you can down load for free and incorporate into your own game designs:
  • Sinistar graphics: Random tidbit. I had a chance to meet with RJ Mical, the fellow who worked on the original Sinistar (as well as the Amiga, 3DO and Lynx). He's now working with Sony helping get the PS3 whipped into shape. Brilliant fellow. It is a wonderful thing that we are in such a young industry that you can still meet your childhood heros.
  • RTS graphics: Another random tidbit, the original programmer for this game went on to become the CEO of Snow Blind, the good folks behind the title Dark Alliance.

Programmer Design
Space shooters in particular seems like the open source text editors of the gaming world. Put a programmer in a room and 9 times out of 10 he'll make a space shooter. It is barely a surprise that Space Wars is often heralded as the first computer game.

We've all heard the phrase 'programmer art'. Programmer art is truly horrendous artwork that typically results from a programmer being forced to scrape together artwork when making a game, user interface, icon, etc. You tend to get artwork that looks how programmers think. There are a lots of iconic shapes, thick black outlines and shading that had super sexy linear gradients.

Here's a new phrase that riffs off the same theme. "Programmer Design" is the standard game designs that result from a programmer being forced to exercise their game design skills. :-) Again, the design tends to represent the programmer's most comfortable patterns of thought. Lots of die and repeat type of risk / reward systems, an emphasis on spacial thinking and reacting.

It's just a matter of priority really. Programmers love programming. That's why they do it. Art is something that needs to be created in order for the programmer to get on with programming. Game design typically exists as an excuse for the programmer to program and the path of least design resistance is the most optimal. Natural priorities are a damning thing.

You can't claim that the designs are bad. After all 'programmer design' is what launched the current industry. Maximilian's game looks like it might be quite enjoyable and borrows from genres long established in our hardcore vocabulary.

At a certain point though, you have to ask, "Does the world really need another text editor?" I suspect that it takes someone with a perspective outside of the common programmer mindset to make new genres of games that appeal strongly to non-gamers.

And the reality of the industry is that most of the people who work in it are perfectly happy playing programmer designs. Heck, those designs may be ancient and misrepresentative of the population at large, but they are also are the singular reason why we are involved with the game industry.


  • Programmers set the stage for the game industry with their 'programmer design'
  • The only people interested in making games are those that love, breath and think in terms of programmer design. The result is, not surprisingly, more programmer design.
  • We need non-programmers to help make games that avoid programmer design
  • Very few of these people really exist in the game industry, because they dislike the games that sport programmer design. The last thing any company wants to do is give money to someone who actively dislikes playing most successful games.
  • Even fewer exist on the fringes of the game industry because...wait for order to be an indie, you need to be a programmer.

Sweet. Bring on the space shooters. :-)

take care

PS: I'm calling out Phil on this one. Dogfighting planes is merely a hairs breadth away from a space shooter. Be honest. Did you come up with the design for this by yourself? :-) "By programmers. For programmers." It is a market.