For as long as I could remember I wanted to take the pictures in my head and make them real. As a kid, this meant drawing crude stick heroes and enacting epic battles with as many action figures I could keep track of. Looking back at my adolescence, I guess I was living vicariously through the characters I played in video games. I envied the power that these digital heroes had, but more importantly, I craved the power that the game makers, as I had called them, possessed.
In the 5th grade I downloaded a free copy of Gamemaker, a development environment suited for making 2D games. Mind you my only programming experience at this point was very basic HTML and CSS (I needed to customize my Myspace themes). After a couple weeks of playing around with Gamemaker I was only able to make a sprite of Master Chief (of the Halo series) move across the screen when I pressed a key. It was exhilarating.
Year after year I built larger and more intricate projects. From Mario clones to half-complete pong prototypes, I tried to deconstruct and recreate them. This was all done in my spare time. I taught myself things as I needed them for my projects. If I needed to make 2D pixel sprites, I learned to make 2D pixel sprites. If I needed to create UI elements, I learned to make UI elements. If I needed blips and bloops for jump and attack sound effects, I learned how to create those, too.
In 2012, the summer before my senior year of high school, I decided to Kickstart one of my game prototypes. Please note that I didn’t know what I was doing and that I had no idea what it meant to work with a deadline. I had been working on games in my spare time as a hobby and I knew what that felt like, but this was entirely different. Different, but fun.
Today, I’m a senior at the University of Michigan studying computer science. I still make games. I even found time to Kickstart another project called Altar. This project is a horror puzzle game for mobile and desktop platforms. I’m developing it with a friend (he does all of the art, I just code). While the game requires all of my past experiences to create, I still find myself scratching my head everyday because I have to learn new skills: and I love that about what I do.
With my background in games, I was even able to land a job with Waymark over in Detroit! I am helping them design and build a mobile ad video editor for their clients. The project allows me to flex my creative muscles.
While I’m not as powerful as the game makers I envisioned when I was a kid, I think I’m getting closer every day.
Ben Lapid is a 2017 Hacker Fellow and Computer Science student at University of Michigan. He is currently working with Waymark in Detroit.