games tech

“(Y)ou must first invent the universe.”

I’ve been playing a game called Moonlighter, an independent game from the small team of about seven people in Spain called Digital Sun Games. Players take control of Will, a shop owner that sells by day, and plunders randomly-generated dungeons by night to find new materials with which to craft and sell to his patrons. It has a thoughtfully-crafted in-game economy (as you might expect from a game based on selling items to customers), Legend of Zelda-inspired dungeon crawling, and an expandable shop to spend those earnings on. There’s even a banker that can help grow your money (whenever you’re able to talk to him).

And it’s a perfect example of why I love living in the future: every possibility to make something wonderful… no matter how small your team or experience.

My current command center.
My current command center. Why yes I DO need to clean up, why do you ask?

For any aspiring creative person, amateur or professional, today is the best time in human history for making just about anything you want. With a quick Google search and YouTube tutorial, anyone can start making whatever it is that’s in their head. And being a man nearing 40 years old, I’ve been so lucky to see and experience the development over my decades of internet access.

Both of my parents as I grew up had not only access to computers, but the early publicly-accessible BBSs and connections prior to the “world wide web”. I mostly experienced it with my mother, accessing Prodigy and America Online for games and help with my homework. Back in the early days of AOL, the “walled garden” days, I could chat with people across the world and make new friends (I even made a penpal friend that I can still reach out to this very day), or read all about video game news from GamePro’s sponsored channel.

I was still young back then, and games were where it was at. Slingo (slot machine bingo) and Acrophobia (make the best acronym and earn the most votes to win) were fantastic, data-easy games were the rule of the day. We wrote papers and shared info as time moved on, played better games (Quake III Arena anyone?). By the time I started high school and the garden’s walls fell, our school was teaching basic HTML for the burgeoning age where EVERYONE could afford a computer.

That’s when services like GeoCities and AngelFire were grabbing their foothold. Anyone could, in theory, share anything they wanted; they could publish recipes for family members, host a forum to talk about politics, teach others how to make their own pages even. They posted video game ROMs and emulators, and even helped share the code of those games to develop “ROM hacks”, which is how I first learned people could make their OWN games (I know individual programmers were sharing their own programs back in the 80s, but I wasn’t very conscious of the 80s, so…). It was the revelation of my generation.

Once social media gained steam with MySpace and LiveJournal, where anyone could post thoughts easily for everyone to see and the idea of “viral” content found the mainstream, possibilities exploded. Wikipedia gradually grew to become a trusted resource, complete with cited articles, on nearly any topic. Programs were easily shared for everything from word processors to music players (I loved me some WinAmp skins). You could buy almost anything publicly available for a couple clicks from sites (not gonna share the site, but you know the one). You could download both legal and bootleg versions of the best software for whatever you fancied fiddling with… photo editing, music creation, and – yep – video game development.

Thanks to platforms like, everything is right at your fingertips, and easier to use than ever. Game engines, assets, background music tracks, indie games galore, there really isn’t a limit to what anyone can experience. I can’t program a lick, but I was still able to create a few little games of my own using tools like GB Studio and the TwoBitCharactersGenerator. Making games without code, thanks to talented developers who code for themselves and to help people like me, are so widely accessible that you’d have to be proudly oblivious to ignore the treasure trove of creative content and tools available.

And I say all of that to bring it back to Moonlighter. I can’t name all of the tools they used, but it’s incredible that only seven people used an engine like Unreal (publicly accessible, free for amateurs and students, a small licensing fee for professionals) to craft an experience they dreamed together from the ground up. Having experienced a smidgeon of game development myself, I know that even as a total novice, I could spend the time to create my own game of the same scale and scope, and using only tools available for either free or nearly so. Even on the six-year-old MacBook Air I’m writing this on right now.

There’s a Carl Sagan quote I take to heart whenever I think about things like this: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” From thousands of independent and creative people across the world, developing tools touching every aspect of creative creation, the ability to invent the universe has never been easier.

Stand Tall and create on, friends. The world needs your universes.