I watch an anxious, yet enthusiastic Lance E. McDonald monitor expo-goers as they play Black Annex, his Syndicate-inspired and retro-styled strategy game. He keeps an eye out for bugs and other oddities, some the average player may never notice, but for a creator, they are unsightly blemishes, bordering on miniature disasters.
(McDonald is on the far right in the picture above.)
McDonald is one of the more passionate developers I spoke to during PAX. As we talk, I see in his face excitement and concentration, but behind the visage, I can sense the cogs turning — he's already thinking about the code he'll be generating, massaging and compiling, perhaps even that night, as he works to complete his opus.
I know how he feels — I've been there myself.
And I feel this odd connection with Lance, almost like he and I are fellow soldiers, fighting the good fight for old school, Aussie-developed PC games. It helps that I got my programming legs coding in QBASIC, churning out rogue-like clones because, well, I liked rogue-likes. Hell, the first game I made for Kotaku's Game-A-Week feature in 2008 was a rogue-like called Wizkill, slapped together in seven days in Visual Basic .NET.
So, yes, McDonald and I hit it off almost immediately, sharing war stories of games development and the odd jokes about the various BASICs one can learn (there are a few).
The mention of QBASIC as McDonald's programming language of choice for the game has been a double-edged sword. Yes, it's garnered a lot of attention for Black Annex — who doesn't want to hear about a modern title coded in a now ancient machine dialect? — but on the flip side, McDonald feels it might have detracted from the game itself. It's a point he touched on when speaking to Mark last month.
He's more than happy to chat about the quirky technical aspects of Black Annex, but he hopes people will take an interest in the gameplay, content and mechanics and appreciate the title as something people want to play... and not just talk about.
Fortunately, PAX has delivered a steady stream of interested gamers past his nook in the expo's Australian Indie Show and the first question from their mouths isn't to do with QBASIC, or even programming — they just want to know what Black Annex is about. As a creator, there's not much more you can ask for than being asked to talk about your stuff.
Today's your last day to give McDonald your best if you're at PAX. Honestly, you just hit up the Indie Showcase and play everything there.
Black Annex [Man Fights Dragon]