First Reality

Last edited: 23 March 2016, 11:57PM


First Reality was a high school project I attempted to put together in the summer between my junior and senior year. To me, it was overall an incredibly poor experience that, really in some ways, traumatized me for some time afterwards. But also as a result, it opened my eyes to a lot of important and unfortunate project dynamics. Despite the difficulties it's caused, I think I've since been able to learn a tremendous amount from the experience. A lot of why I'm so motivated to work on projects today stems from this experience (or lack thereof).

Other than the 4x4 portraits above, I don't have much else to show for the project. We do have an outline overview of the game, courtesy of Malonzo, but it is rather unrefined and lengthy, so I'll just choose to leave it off.


I think ever since I was half a dozen years old, I basically signed my life away to the PC devil. Runescape, MapleStory, GunZ, Rakion, Guild Wars, League of Legends, and osu! in roughly the right chronological order, are the memorable games that stick out to me now from my past. I spent hundreds upon hundreds and thousands of hours jumping from one of these to another to consume my free time. This, along with a lot of anime and a bit of manga, was basically my entire middle school and high school life.

Good game

These were my inspirations for starting a game project. I was willing to work as hard as I could and spend as much time as I needed in order to produce something as cool that I was playing or watching in my free time. And I also really wanted to work with and bond with my friends from creating one of these projects.

My friends and I, all gamers, always kind of mentioned doing something like this in passing conversation, and with time over the summer, I thought we'd finally put this plan into action. I mean, I knew it was going to be difficult. I never really handled any responsibility as much as this before, but I thought, you know, having this kind of romantic vision of realizing a game to fruition would be something that everyone working on it could share.

Let's start with where "First Reality" the game idea came from. First Reality was an idea that, I want to say, I primarily came up with in middle school with my good old pals Derek and Daiki. Back then, we were big fans of RPGs, whether MMOs or just single player on console. One series that definitely was popular among us was Final Fantasy. I never really got a chance to play any because I didn't have the games for my console, but obviously I've heard of the characters and series before.

The OG

So one time during math class I think I was talking with Derek about Final Fantasy and how we should make our own RPG one day. And then it just like struck of out of the blue, of flipping the name Final Fantasy to First Reality. I mean, it just sounds pretty damn cool alright, and I think it pays homage to the original source. So I decided then and there if I ever made a RPG game I'd call it First Reality.

So now fast forward to the start of break, my first task was assembling a team. I first tried to get Derek on board since he was the main guy that I mentioned this to. I think he seemed okay with joining, but not 100% on board I suppose. At the time, I think he may have had some personal projects he was more interested in. But he was probably the only one out of us that decently knew how to program a bit, so he would be important to have on the team.

I then asked as many of my close friends as I could for help. Vince, who is probably the most wishy-washy person I know, joined on maybe or not to help on programming. And another Derek (now to be named Derek M and the previous as Derek L), joined on to help us with miscellaneous tasks. I also asked a few people on the side for help too, and in total we maybe had half a dozen or less or so people on the team.

The first major problem that cropped up was that I basically didn't know what I was doing, seeing how I never made a game before. This meant poor leadership and guidance on my part. I had hoped that I could rely on others to take up part of that burden for me. But this, as I've now learned as an important lesson, is something that backfires easily.

If I don't have a clear direction for the project, neither will my team, no matter how spirited I may be in wanting to get it done. Especially as high schoolers, whose motivations and knowledge run really, really low on the totem pole, reliably expecting things of others is not something I would advise. Most of us just wanted to relax and play games over break and not want to worry about a difficult game project on the side.

The next problem was our project communication and coordination. We had a Facebook group and chat that was a mix of casual and work-related conversation. Most of our organization and work happened online, which, as I've experienced firsthand, is just something that doesn't work out. I don't know what it is about it, but without seeing people face to face and mashing ideas out on the spot, it's hard to make progress. It's not easy to maintain focus when you can't see your team working with you.

In almost all of my future collaborative projects, I no longer work with others if I can't see them in person at least semi-regularly. This includes game jams I've worked on and long term projects. It's just so much more productive and fun when you can bunker together in person and work 100% to polish an idea together. Having to wait on people online and the trouble with organizing meetings and such is just not worth the effort.

We had a few formal First Reality meetings, the first one or two which were just online group calls, and then we had I think two or so in-person meetings at my house. I wouldn't say we exactly got too much out of our meetings. A lot of them were missing people, and even when we did have a chance to meet, our conversations tended to get easily sidetracked as we strayed off topic.

Failure to lead these meetings properly was mostly I would say on me. I, just in general, I think I'm not a very assertive and forceful person, so I tend to let people have their way when I run into conflict. This is one of the reasons why I believe I'm probably not the best fit for leadership positions. When I do eventually snap and a make a fuss of things, situations don't resolve very cleanly.

Basically, I don't look at myself as a very great person to person manager. The best I try and do as a leader is just to put my own individual effort 100% into my work, and I hope that my example carries off to the rest of the team. Or, I suppose ideally, just not be the leader at all and contribute as much as a secondary member of a team.

The first meetings were used to decide what our game idea was going to be. After some pretty muddled discussion, we eventually settled on a somewhat general idea of a strategy RPG that a few of us were inclined towards. This was in the style of Fire Emblem-like gameplay that follows the roughly the same formula.

After we grounded that in place, I got to work. I, really not knowing better, started working on parts that weren't exactly relevant at all to the core of the game. I drew chest portraits of characters, thinking that these would be concept designs and be used as part of the visual novel aspect of the game, where these portraits would be in the backdrop of dialogue text.

I wanted to avoid making actual sprites because I had no experience with making assets for video games before so I started doing character drawings. In retrospect, this was probably not the right direction to walk down because the core game has very little to do with visual novel-esque dialogue.

Especially now with some experience under my belt, I try and avoid pre-production or concept-design phases as much as possible because they simply take too much time and just drag down the project as people indecisively argue about ideas. This is particularly important for small projects with only a few members as any time lost designing is time lost developing. I think it's a better use of time to rush forwards making failures and then correcting problems as they crop up. At the very least, you'll be focused on doing work and fixes rather than lounging around being paranoid about what may go wrong.

By the end of the project, character portraits were all I did. The actual designs of these were a mix between Derek M and my ideas that we put together. I didn't feel it was a great use of my time, as I had nothing for the actual game to show. All I had were about a dozen or so characters made that were of, okay, I suppose, quality for my high school self.

Derek M actually put in a sizable amount of work. He didn't have any particular technical skills, and he didn't want to do art for the project, so he ended up writing a basic script/timeline for the game. His work wasn't very consistent though. After a month of silence from him, he out of the blue spit out a draft over a weekend that, as he claims, wrote on his phone of all things. I then followed up on parts of it and made some characters that he wanted for the game.

I don't really remember the details of the story itself, but I think from what I can recall it was something like a princess-being-hunted-down story, and you play as someone sent to look for and protect her. I don't think it was that bad, and with some refinement, we could of used that to design all the levels. Unfortunately, after the first draft, things kind of crumbled away for him, and we already reached the end of summer.

The rest of the members, unfortunately, contributed a lot less. Those that I had some hopes would pick up programming did close to no work. We decided to use Java since we took some basic Java classes in high school. But regardless, everyone was still very new to Java and programming and had little to no idea about game engines or how to set one up properly. After looking into how difficult and how time consuming it was, they, as I saw it, mentally gave up on the challenge and left the project in limbo, though still remaining on the project casually.

That seems to happen a lot. When members are too comfortable together, in the case of friends, it's difficult to refuse to work on a project or leave cleanly from one as well, though both these options should undoubtedly be better. Because the result, as this project shows, is a difficult back and forth of me trying to check up on people not doing their work, tensions building, and progress not being made.

I was a lot younger back then, and seeing the lack of progress really hurt me internally. By the end of the summer, we had basically nothing for coding, a bunch of portraits that weren't going to be used, and a half-polished script layout of the game. What hit me the most, however, was that I felt like I was in some sense betrayed.

Betrayed by my close friends that I believed I could trust in and build something awesome with. Because of what I went through, I felt like our relationships were strained, and I, as a moody kid, couldn't look at them or, I suppose, the rest world really in the same way. Seeing how bad the summer went, we put First Reality on indefinite hiatus in August.

For a bit of time after that, I felt traumatized by the experience. I learned a lot, for sure, about the strict realities of dealing with people, starting a project, and of course the difficulties in leading a team. I think my dream of working with people was crushed for some time, but, it did bounce back. Despite my failed run that summer, I returned to still dreaming of opportunities of creating amazing things with amazing people.

I've thought about it a little more philosophically, for my desires of developing things with others. And I think it's just, I don't know, warming to my heart to see people, human beings, coming together despite their different backgrounds and differences and pooling their knowledge together to create something. It doesn't have to be video games, but that's one of the things I'm closest with through my life-long experiences on the computer. I cherish that camaraderie that's built from working with a tight-knit group of friends making something you love.

For the next year after First Reality, I didn't look for projects. I still practiced art since that was what I was interested in at the time, but I didn't look for opportunities with any friends. If I really wanted to, I could have tried to organize something again with this First Reality team, but seeing how horribly this last project went, I couldn't do it. I could have also looked also at maybe other opportunities in school or outside of school, but I'm not exactly the most outgoing or social guy so that wasn't the road for me.

It wouldn't be until I went to college, to the University of California, Irvine for Computer Game Science, that I found my path again. At the opening ceremonies and speeches, there was a member of the Video Game Development Club (VGDC) that talked about their activities, and I immediately wanted to check them out. By the second week of school I had my first game jam with them, making Interntainment, and since then, I've never really looked back.

Even my working relationships with my high school friends were eventually repaired too. After having a lot of fun making games in VGDC, I really wanted to start my own game jams up and make things with friends. And who better to invite than my old local friends in NorCal when I returned from break. Contrary to First Reality, all these new game jams have been super fun despite the failures we've also ran into. These jams are a great way to catch back up over the years, while working on something bizarre, and having fun joking around.

I learned a lot from First Reality and my VGDC projects. Game jams are good fit for us local people, where we can be in the same room together as we mash things out. Working only a couple of days helps us keep a lot more focused and prevents any problems we'll face trying to coordinate things online or over long periods. We've also learned a lot in college that we can apply to our work. Things are looking up for us, and I hope we can continue these games in the future, maybe even make Second Reality.