Designing Programs

February 12, 2013 5:20 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

In my last entry I made a list of goals and aspirations. The first entry in that list was “Design computer programs for a living”. I wanted to explain that one a bit.

I have used computers for a fairly large portion of my life. The first experiences I can remember with a computer were with a Franklin, an Apple ][ clone, that my parents owned in the mid to late 1980s. I don’t really remember a whole lot about it outside of the two or three games we played on it and the printer with the cool, green and white paper that was hooked up to it. In fact, I didn’t really start remembering my computer usage as “computer usage” until 1989-1990, when I would play Lode Runner, Scarab of Ra, Shufflepuck, and KidPix on my parent’s Macintosh SE. I even got to do some word processing on it for school (though I had to stop doing that because it was seen as an advantage over the other students in my class). I eventually learned to use HyperCard, to a minimal degree, and started creating and managing my own stacks.

Despite my lengthy usage of computers, it didn’t occur to me that the programs on them had to be created by a person for quite some time. And although my father has been a programmer for most if not all of my life, I didn’t really understand what that meant until I was in high school. In high school I met a number of people who were “into computers”. People that actually used computers as a hobby. People that would build computers. Program computers. Mod computers. Maintain computers. People for whom computers were their life. It was around that time that my interest in computers really took off. Oh sure, I’d used them most of my life. But that didn’t mean that I was “into computers”. Computers were just a thing that you used to do other stuff. And sure, I knew that someone had to create the games and other programs that I used. It was right there in the opening images for Shufflepuck, Scarab of Ra, Lode Runner, KidPix, Microsoft Word, Aldus Superpaint, and all the other programs that I used. But it was never really a tangible idea. It was like the credits in a movie. “Producer”, “Executive Producer”, “Director”. You don’t really know what all those people do until you experience it.

Then there was Escape Velocity. Escape Velocity was a game for the Macintosh that debuted in 1996. It featured space exploration, trading, battles, and a fairly dynamic storyline. But more importantly, the graphics and information that make up the gameplay portion of the game could be expanded, modified, or completely replaced by creating data files called “plugins”. You can learn more about it here. The documentation for creating those plugins was thorough, and it finally drove me into looking at becoming more of a content creator. However, it took me nearly a decade more to actually gain any programming skills. And even those were minimal. But it occurred to me, while taking programming classes at a community college in Olympia, that I could design them. If someone else did the programming, someone more skilled than I could hope to become, I could work as the interface designer.

Which is where I am now. My goal with (hopefully) enrolling to take classes at Stanford is to become skilled at human-computer interaction and user experience design, while simultaneously networking and finding the people who are better at the other things necessary for computer program and game design. While working on designing the programs I’ve been considering for some time, I will also be listing and describing the ones I want to create with the hope that it will give me more focus in my work. I likely will not be placing that list here, though. Unless I can’t make any personal progress on them, so that others may use my ideas (if they consider them to be worthy).

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This post was written by Mikal

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