Another gift question: game edition
December 2, 2015 9:35 AM   Subscribe

My husband is a programmer/developer. He has expressed a great deal of interest in the two of us programming a video/computer game together. Help me figure out how to "gift" this experience!

My husband is an excellent programmer. I'm just a beginner. He really wants to program a game together as a way to spend time together and to create something cool. How can I "gift" this experience to him for the holidays? Factors:

1. We are both super busy and have a toddler, so time is really at a premium. I thought about giving him gift certificates for blocks of time, but I give him gift certificates every year for stuff like dates or chore relief and he never uses them.
2. He has asked me to come up with some sort of outline for the game. I love computer games like the old Sierra Designs Quest games, I loved Braid, and I enjoy text-based games, too. Text and puzzle with a story is my favorite. But I have no idea how to draft what I like? Thoughts? Resources to point me to?
3. How would I "gift" this? A script? A box with a promise?

The biggest problem is that I've agreed to do this with him, but we have never done it (and that's on both of us, not just me). I'd like a gift idea that would ensure we do this together.
posted by mrfuga0 to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Text and puzzle with a story is my favorite

How to create an interactive fiction game like Zork.

A similar method from Twinery.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:37 AM on December 2, 2015

So if you want 3d graphics, a license for, or maybe an account with some credits for plug-ins for, the Unity 3d graphics engine might be a place to start.

But since you say text adventures, yeah: Start outlining for what Cool Papa Bell linked.
posted by straw at 9:39 AM on December 2, 2015

If you know his calendar pretty well I'd arrange babysitting at a couple of set times so that you can focus on it together. That way it's something that's already scheduled/paid for and it won't go by the wayside the way coupons for things often do.

I'd probably print out something nice with those details in a box along with something tangible - a fun thumb drive to save it on? A toy that could be connected to the story you're doing?
posted by brilliantine at 9:41 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Might try participating in a game creation competition. For example, I spent a week doing Seven-Day Rouguelike last year. That kind of thing gives you a set time period which you can schedule around, and the motivation benefits of being a team together in a competition.
posted by joeyh at 9:50 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

IANYH but I would definitely like it if you would have prepared something to get the ball rolling. Maybe have some story prepared, or jot down some game ideas, also make yourself familiar with the software options out there.

To help you to get your own ball rolling, I suggest you take a look at some of the available software out there. Some are linked above but I want to add Adventure Game Studio and Game Maker Studio. While you don't need to dive right into the software already, I suggest you take a look at some of the help & support, and tutorial pages (also check the games pages, to see what's possible with the software options) to get a better feel of what might be acceptable for you without being too overwhelming at the same time.

"Package" all your findings in a nice Powerpoint presentation (I might not be joking here) or some nice slide show and that's about it. You can then use this as the starting point of your joined programming adventure.
posted by KMB at 10:05 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your gift might want to be 'research tools' for this joint project. It sounds like you're in the really early stages of game design.

Maybe jointly reading through a game design book would be a good approach to help figure out what you want to do?

I would consider the brainstorming about what game to make to be a fun and integral part of this gift. Maybe: a box of 500 index cards - with 100 filled out already with questions like 'what kind of story do we tell?' and 'what games are we emulating?' and 'who is the audience that would want to play this?'. Maybe you set up up a trello or evernote or pinboard or some kind of mind mapping software to track influences and ideas.

Also, I would swoon if my partner made me a mix cd filled with relevant songs and influences for the future game, and of course included the (TV specific but very relevant here) song by the Talking Heads - Found A Job.

Maybe you set aside time to play games together and (importantly) spend time afterward to talk about what works and why they work and what ideas you can repurpose from them. Do either of you have experience with storybuilding games/rpgs like D&D? Have you played coop video games, like Portal 2, together? What kind of games (video or otherwise) has he played in the past, and where is there overlap between what he's into and what you love?

Take all that above, plus some three ring binders, papers, pens, tape, gift cards for video game purchases, and a bottle of something nice called 'to be opened when game first runs', and throw it all into a storage container labeled 'game design in a box' and put a bow on it. Boom.
posted by enfa at 10:27 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am not married with a toddler, but I have been a busy guy with a busy girlfriend. First off, I 100% think you are doing something awesome here. I would have been over the moon if my previous girlfriends had ever shown this much interest in my trying-to-share-my-interests.

That said, I think arranging for babysitting with the plan of having some dedicated time together to work is an awesome thought. If you have the money and don't do this already, hiring a cleaning service for a few weekends to save both of you that time (and make more time for the together-project) might also be awesome.

Agree that scheduling around a game jam (or creating your own) would be a win, since it provides some built-in limitations on scope, so you can actually have a hope of a finished project in a reasonable amount of time (unless an ongoing thing together is what you want, but that's more of a lifestyle change and less of a gift -- not that that's bad!)
posted by Alterscape at 11:27 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know how old your child is but maybe it would be incentive if you wrote your first game for your child whether that is for immediate use or a few years from now. Together you develop a game based on family or familiar stuff to toddler. It would give you experience, would be a great thing for toddler and would start the ball rolling for doing this together.
posted by AugustWest at 12:52 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think your instinct to gift a way of removing some of the practical obstacles is a good one, because I think those mundane obstacles are going to be the biggest challenge to the project - no-matter how easy or hard the current part of the project is, it's only made harder by the responsibilities of life. Constantly having to put things off and do them another day kills the momentum, which depletes the motivation, and ultimately kills the project.

Maybe there is something to gift in terms of creating a workspace or living arrangement that enables concentration-heavy work to be less disrupted by the toddler, or allows easier juggling of desk-work with toddler-supervision or something?

Is the toddler old enough for a baby-sitter? (You don't actually leave the house, instead you can both busy yourself on the project in another room mostly undisturbed.)
Maybe a gift of a few babysitter evenings like that is enough to get the project moving?
posted by anonymisc at 3:04 PM on December 2, 2015

If you don't know how to program, perhaps you can be the story editor.

Is this game just for you, or is it supposed to be commercial. If not commercial, perhaps you can choose/gift a book from which the story (or at least the larger situation) can arise.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2015

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