To Make Worlds

By Graham Lawrence Wilson

The short story "Sky-High" by Hanna Roberts is a reflection on her childhood memory of climbing up her family's clothes line, and of the thrill she felt to glide along it, feeling "almost sky-high". It ends however with her looking up at the line in later life, its wires now saggy and frail, and with her reflecting that she is now too heavy to glide across it; there are too many things "tying [her] to the ground." It is a reflection of the truth all must face when our childhood ends, and when the responsibilities of adulthood are thrust upon us by the march of time. It is probable that most people have a similar story to Ms. Roberts and her clothesline, each reflecting their loss of joy and innocence.

For me, it is not so much what I was able to do as a child, what I was able to enjoy as a child, but instead what I had longed and hoped to do – a driving creative vision. Ever since I first played my first ever first-person shooter video game, with its three dimensional graphics, I have longed to be able to create my own virtual worlds. I mimicked them as best I could with my lack of skills and experience, drawing crude 3D-style rooms in Microsoft Paint and then applying them with limited interactivity within Visual Basic. Still, there was no freedom of movement, none of the grandeur of architecture that was seen in the commercial games I was playing. I did not mind this however, as the thrill of chasing such a goal was enough to satisfy me, as I knew as I kept at it I would get even better.

Indeed, as time went on I did get better at it, with a little help along the way. In 2005, at the age of eleven, I downloaded the Game Maker game creation tool, and started trying to make games with it – still seeking my quest to create virtual worlds. Within the year I was making my own games in two dimensions, but of course this was not enough to satisfy me. I still longed to create the 3D environments of my favourite games, I needed to create the places I saw in Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem. To be able to make a castle, a cave, a super market, or any such appear within my screen, and to have it be a world of my own. To my enthusiastic joy, I found it was possible, I accessed the 3D game creation features of Game Maker, and began to build my worlds.

The capabilities of this engine were still not that powerful, as the environs created had no height, no elevation, no stairs or slopes. It was effectively just a series of long corridors, but I was pleased all the same, filling the environments up with crude representations of plants, computers, offices, military bases and grocery stores. I worked on these worlds for a year or two, tricking it out as much as I could. Still, this was not to last, as I soon felt I needed to leave these worlds behind. I did not want to be stuck forever with the limitations of making things in a proprietary tool on a proprietary operating system and only in pseudo-code. I knew that I needed to learn how to do these things properly. Therefore, in 2007 I slowly abandoned Game Maker, abandoned Microsoft Windows and jumped to Fedora GNU/Linux and Gambas, an actual programming language, to start fresh.

I am now back to where I started, after five years without, having taken up the task of learning 3D programming the right way – coding my new worlds in OpenGL, with the help of a mentor. Indeed, I am further now than I was then, as I was correct in thinking that doing everything at this lower level would give me a much greater level of understanding and control. My worlds now are better than they have ever been, with height, depth, 3D models and proper lighting. It is everything that I ever dreamed. Unfortunately, I am now nineteen years old, and it has been over a decade since I first began drawing those pseudo-3D rooms in MS Paint, and time has forever changed my outlook.

Rather than seeing the worlds imagined in my minds eye, the vision, my brain can only fill itself with the code of the constituent parts, the polygons and primitives that make up the worlds. Moreover, despite my advances, I still see what my engine yet still can not do, and obsess over how to optimize and improve it. It has become profession rather than hobby, systematic rather than playful. My quest for my childhood dream has brought me to be a capable adult, and yet I still wish I could still have the same childlike enthusiasm and delight that I once had. My eight year old self would love to be where I am, and yet I find myself at times wishing that I was still where he was. In the end, we all end up tied to the ground, no matter how high our imaginations once soared.

May 28, 2013