When I Was a Kid
From Gamer to Developer, The Story of Red Falcon Run
By Tim Murosky 9-18-2017
When I was a kid, which by the way was quite some time ago, an Arcade was in every mall, strip mall, and probably a small gaming section in every favorite store you would walk into. The blinking lights, by today’s standards the terrible sound effects… a lot of beeping, booping, and other odd digital noises would sing their way into every passerby’s ear. My little brother and I would tug on Mom’s shirt and ask for a few quarters to go and play the games. This was quite a while ago, but Mom always wanting to put a smile on our faces, would almost always bring a few extra quarters along, just for us, even though she would play it up as though we were asking her to give up the moon. (Never mind that she was addicted to Ski-ball and Centipede.)
Of course a kid could not just walk up and play any game, you had to sift through all of these flashing images and odd noises to find the one you really wanted to play. We had several favorites to choose from. Have you ever played Kangaroo? What an odd game that was. Of course I have been around since Pong, so I have seen the game industry change into what it is today from what it was back then. But I digress… and I could talk about it all day. Back then, the game developers were evil… there was no mercy. Pac-Man would just get faster and faster… and faster. You had no chance, eventually you were going to run out of lives one way or another, and the game was going to end.
If you wanted to master a game during the age of the arcades… it took a lot of quarters (not sure how many I lost to Pac-Man). There were no tutorials, no walk through level to teach you how to play the game, no hand holding little icons to tell you which way to go. It was one quarter, live or die, and if you lost your quarter fast, the trip to the arcade was over in just seventy-five cents. So you had to get good if you wanted to put your name at the top of that leader board. I was lucky since my name only has three letters in it, but at the top of that leader board before I got to it, inevitably there was someone who entered A.S.S. as their initials. (Ladies and gentlemen, I present the trolls of the 80’s).
I played hard. Instead of playing a few games, I would focus on just one game… because I wanted to snicker and tell my Mom I beat A.S.S. (It turns out when I finally did tell her, she did not think it was as funny as I did.) Nevertheless, I was proud of my accomplishment… right up until I walked passed the next game, and A.S.S. was at the top of the list. I was crushed, but determined to beat that guy. I asked my Mom for another quarter… but it was time to go. I knew it was actually time to go when Mom used that tone of voice so there was no use in pushing it.
However, one thing never sat right with me… I spent all that time learning the game, and taking first place, and all I got for my trouble was typing T.I.M. into the game and getting slapped for swearing. Nobody said, “Hey good job kid, you won! Here is a prize from the shelf to commemorate your victory!” Hell, even in Ski-Ball you would get a prize from the shelf with enough tickets. I wondered why there wouldn’t be some kind of prize, or a contest or something. Of, course thinking back on it now, organizing that kind of thing in a physical location would be very difficult, troublesome to do for the owner because people would be watching rather than playing the other games and dropping quarters into machines. A few years later, the arcade scene eventually started losing popularity to another form of gaming.
While I had a Magnavox Odyssey at one point, and an Atari at another, a few years into the 80’s the Nintendo Entertainment System came out. Of course, Mom got one for my brother and I, and we spent a few days drinking pop and playing the hell out of Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt (that miserable irritating fricken dog…). Then our game collection started to grow, and I got my very first taste of “designing a game” (boy was I in for a wake up call many years later). Excitebike, you could build your own track! I was a kid at the time… I know better now. Contra, and Life Force, I think those two stand out for me, because they were two player co-op games, and my brother and I knew the secret code for thirty lives (every real gamer knows the Konami Code), so we could crush those games in a quick round before we walked (or ran) to school. (While I reminisce about Contra while I write this, I remembered a Twitch Streamer named General Andrews speed runs Contra on Sunday nights.)
Right around the time The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy came out, I was already a full blown gaming addict, I love gaming. And whats not to love, a sense of accomplishment, cool art, the feeling of controlling your own fate as you face monsters and aliens and fighting your way through the story. For your money, games are better than movies just for the ability to replay it, and it is still just as fun. However, at some point during those years, I was put on the path to learning music, and learn I did. I think that crossroad may have taken me off the path that I should started walking much sooner.
Many years later, already a battle tested performing musician who has written more songs than he can remember, played more holes in the wall he would care to admit, and played for many empty chairs and tables, I was was sitting in my guitarist’s bedroom watching him play Rainbow Six: Raven Shield… again. (I was more of an RPG guy at the time, and definitely a console guy, PC’s were expensive, and I could game just as well as on a console, so I was kind of bored.) My guitarist turned to me and said something along the lines of, “Look at this”. And it was a map he built with the Unreal Editor 2 that came with the game.
My inner geek was completely unleashed. I got my hands on that, remembering my old days of Dungeons and Dragons with the graph paper maps, and the excitement of building my own track in Excitebike… I was hooked. Fifty Raven Shield maps later, I got my very own first PC, and I ended up in school for Game Design. Building games has been a dream since I was a kid, if I was going to do this… I wanted to do it right and learn everything I could about game design. Man, what I didn’t know cost a lot of cash.
Regardless of the cost, I did gain knowledge, and now I understand what questions to ask to build anything I want. However, building anything I want costs even more money. And once I graduated there was already plenty of debt, but I was kind of landlocked away from the game companies in my city in Pennsylvania, and finding a job remotely is difficult to say the least. So instead of belly aching that I could not find a job, I would make a fricken job. Instead of whining that I could not afford the software I wanted, I focused on what I could do with the software I had. It wasn’t much. Adobe screwed up my software order and delayed and delayed and delayed the shipment that I finally called up and lost my mind on the manager and ended up with a ridiculously cheap professional version of CS4. That comes with Flash, and Photoshop, among other programs. It isn’t much, but it was enough to build a working prototype to try to build a game that could generate enough revenue to build a better game without having to seek a hand out, another loan, or investors that tell me the kind of game they think I should make.
But what could I build? Another endless runner? Another match it up mobile game? Another Angry Birds clone? How about yet another rip off of some other person’s idea? I couldn’t do any of those… I spent years creating my own music, bringing the ideas in my head to life. I would be damned if I just straight ripped off Flappy Bird. What kind of game did I want to build, with what I had to work with at the time? What did I love about games back in the beginning, when I started playing games?
I remembered the arcade, the beeping sounds, the evil game designers who made you work for the win, the top ten leader boards, that 80’s troll named A.S.S., and the fact that I never got a prize, or a good job for being the best player at a game. I remembered I wanted to play in a video game tournament and walk away the winner, prize in hand. I remembered how my brother and I used to play Life Force and Contra for hours and hours on end. And then I had a really bad idea, I could see the potential problems with it, I said, “Screw it.” and went ahead putting my plans in motion. A video game with a top ten leader board, where the best player would win a prize. The first thing I would need is a prototype.
The first version of my game called Red Falcon Run (a nostalgic homage to Contra and Life Force), was a hideous piece of crap. But, I already knew I was a terrible 2D artist. I am a 3D guy, 2D work is just not my thing. So, I knew I was going to need help getting this project off the ground and to completion. In addition, my available funds to make all this happen was right around $0. Damn it. How am I going to make this work? Fortunately, I am a people person. I like helping people out when I see they are having trouble, if I can help, I help. And I had a lot of classmates from school who had skills I didn’t in the game development world. With a couple who owed me a favor or two for previous help on things they didn’t quite understand that I did. It was a good deal. Several fellow student who didn’t have a job just like me, with skills they couldn’t use being so far away from a game development studio just like me. So why not build a team? I had a plan, a crappy prototype, and the will to make it happen.
The first person I got was Brian, he redesigned all the enemies, the weapons, and the player. I ended up building the background. Garrick designed the interface. Matt helped program the game into a much better version (coding is not one of my strengths). But then Matt ended up getting a job and had to leave the team behind. Contina took over the arduous programming nightmare I threw at her. Tom started building the website functionality, I designed the original website, and the eventual website that is running today for our game Red Falcon Run, BA drew up some characters for a short story, Zach (my old guitarist) created the music, and I created some sound effects for the game. I then coordinated the whole effort remotely via Skype, with people who have never met, living in different parts of the country, each performing a minor task, minus Contina, Tom, and myself who took the whole thing from concept to completion.
By the end of development, I had sought all the legal information I needed to make sure I was in compliance with laws regarding skill game tournaments for cash prizes. (Because what better prize is there than money?) And, with the help of my friends, I built a video game tournament with a cash prize for the best three players for a bi-weekly cycle. I even included a free practice mode to play for fun and to learn the game before players spent their credits. (That’s a far better shake than any game developer or arcade owner ever gave me when I was a kid playing Pac-Man). I even made it so all players that registered for our tournament got four free credits when they signed up, and every registered player got one free credit every single week to play the tournament for the cash prize. Its literally a free credit for a shot at the money… every single week. Its not a lot of cash, but dude, I am a cook… that’s what I can afford to give away as a prize. However, I did make it so if a player does decide they would like to buy some credits, the minimum prize of $50 grows by $0.50 until it reaches $900. The competitors give, I give back, making the game more exciting for all the players.
Not being much of a Facebook or Twitter person, not to mention the worlds worst salesman (seriously, I couldn’t sell gloves to a naked Eskimo), I went about finding ways to spread the word about my game. I figured the plan was bulletproof. So I joined a group of indie game developers on Facebook and went about posting the very first thing about my game. The reception was not warm. I was introduced to the world of internet trolls. My bulletproof plan got shot to hell like Murphy in the opening scene of Robo-Cop. “Con Artist. Bullshitter. You need a gaming license to run a game for cash.” I have heard a lot of rude stuff, from under educated people, that have no understanding at all of gaming laws all the while never even giving it a try. And that only took about fifteen minutes. It was in that moment, I was glad that I was a musician, and played to those empty tables and chairs, and heard a lot of negative opinions about my music from way too drunk individuals sitting at an otherwise empty bar, because that made me immune to the heckling of a sixteen year old child from some far away country who hasn’t done their homework yet. And while I have gotten plenty of negative feedback from those that never tried Red Falcon Run, I have had a lot of positive feed back from those that do play.
Most of my repeat players are there every cycle seeing which one of them will win. There are only a handful of them, maybe twelve regulars in total. But they keep coming back to win the prize. A couple of them are beasts at this point, but most of them have relatively easy scores to beat on a regular basis and they still walk away with the prize. Somewhere out there is a share happy, competitive gamer that has been looking for something like this. And if you have read this far, maybe its you. I know it sounds to good to be true, the one thing I did not really take into account was the level of skepticism I would receive. And there is plenty of reason to be skeptical, there are evil bastards everywhere out there that actually do rip people off, it is something I have been struggling to overcome. It does sound to good to be true, yet I built it, I run it, I pay the prize every two weeks to the best three players of my game, I post their names on our homepage for everyone to see , and I say, “Congratulations!”, just like I wanted to hear when I was a kid thinking about this kind of stuff. Its free, try it here… https://www.redfalconrun.com
Owner of Mabus Games, LLC.