Engineer to Game Developer with Craig Bickford

Engineer to Game Developer with Craig Bickford

Craig Bickford at computer workingWelcome everyone to our newest Learner Success Story! Today we’ll be chatting with Craig Bickford, a long-time gamer now looking to develop his own RPGs!

We’re glad to have you here with us, Craig. To get started, how did you get into programming in the first place, especially as someone who has an engineering background?

I got started back in the very early ’80s, when I first started messing around with BASIC on my brother’s Commodore Vic-20 Home Computer – we only had one game cartridge for it so there wasn’t much else for me to do with it. When we graduated up to a Commodore 64, my interest in programming really took off as the computer magazines of the day frequently published really cool, sophisticated games, with sound and graphics, line-by-line in BASIC. You just followed along and copied the program into the BASIC compiler and presto: you had yourself a game!

I started learning about how the logic worked and why the programmer did certain things and found myself actually changing aspects of the game itself as I learned more. That interest in how software functioned and how I could get it to do things I wanted remained with me and would grow as I learned more through courses I took in college. And it eventually helped me develop the tools and applications I needed to do my job and help my customers as a support engineer for an electronic instrument manufacturer.

How have your previous experiences with engineering and programming helped as you now pursue game development?

Over time I gained a sense of logical thinking and an ability to break down problems into simple blocks that can be combined to develop programs to solve those problems – a critical skill for developing all sorts of useful tools and applications, including games. Engineers are inquisitive by nature and love to explore how things work and how they can tinker around with them and improve them, and I find myself doing the same thing as I learn about how games are made. I want to figure out how they work and tinker with them to make them do bigger and better things.

Commodore64 KeyboardRelatedly, how have your 40+ years of experience gaming influenced the sorts of games you want to develop or how you think about game design in general?

I have seen a lot of video game history go by. I watched them grow from basic blocks and blips that could only move back and forth in the simplest of gameplay to the massive, Hollywood movie budget-sized AAA productions they are today with dazzling graphics and enormously sophisticated structure and complicated gameplay. Every gamer has their favorite type of game; mine was always the role-playing game going back to some of the earliest examples in gaming history. I was drawn to them like a moth to a flame. I loved that sense of escapism I got from immersing myself in their stories – jumping into the character and becoming them as I lead them on whatever adventures awaited, growing with them and developing their skills and abilities. I’ve always had a tremendous desire to make my own epic RPG floating around in the back of my head just waiting for the opportunity when I could learn how to start fleshing them out for real.

In your pursuit of game development, you’ve been using Zenva’s RPG Academy courses as part of your training. Can you tell us what drew you to our courses and how they’ve helped you so far?

I’ve seen more and more game development courses being offered online from various sources, and I’ve looked at them all, very closely. Ultimately, I chose Zenva because of the large selection of game development topics covered by your courses and the fact that as a subscriber, I can choose what courses I want to take whenever I want to take them. I have all of your programs and mini-degrees at my disposal; if I want to jump out of the Unity-based RPG Academy program to learn more about HTML5 game development using Phaser and then jump back into the RPG program again afterwards, I can. That level of freedom is unique to Zenva. The fact that you had a specific program in RPG development that starts with simple projects and works its way into more complicated big-game type modules like battle systems and character customization was what pushed me over the edge. Zenva was a no-brainer for me!

Craig Bickford working on a Unity projectBesides making games, you also dream of starting your own game development studio. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind that and what sorts of future projects you have planned for the studio?

I think everyone with an interest in making their own games has, at one time or another, dreamed of dropping whatever it is they’re doing at the time, be it school or the 9 to 5 job, and immersing themselves in that huge game project they’ve always wanted to develop. I certainly have, since I was a kid. I can think of nothing that would be more satisfying to me than to sit in my own studio with a bunch of other talented like-minded programmers, artists, and writers to get some of the big ideas I’m sure we all have floating around in our heads made into actual working role-playing games to be played by everybody, especially my kids. I want to make games that my kids can not only enjoy playing and immersing themselves into the same way I did when I was their age but perhaps help them learn to appreciate video games the way I always did – from the inside out.

Thank you for chatting with us, Craig! As one last question, what advice do you have for other gamers out there who are looking to jump into game development?

Learn to look at game ideas as just a set of problems to be solved. Learn to break the idea down into small manageable problems and come up with a solution for each – one at a time, one after another until you’ve solved them all and you have yourself a game. Develop a thick skin and learn to take constructive criticism; your first games won’t be great and there will be people to let you know that – but don’t get discouraged. Keep improving on the techniques you use to solve each of the many problems that make up a game and absorb how others have approached the same issues. Never stop learning and with that said, I can think of no better advice I can give to someone looking to jump into game development then to just take the first leap and START learning with Zenva. Happy gaming!

That’s it for this learner success story, and thanks to Craig and everyone else for joining us on this journey!

Want more information about Craig?  Check out his LinkedIn profile for more information.

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