With over 200 games made and 19 years of experience with game development, Allison James from Chequered Ink has every right to be called a GameMaker expert.
We sat down with Allison to chat about her experience with game development, the speed with which she makes her games, and our mutual love for game jams!
Have you always wanted to be a game developer?
I wanted to be one ever since I started playing games. I grew up with Super Mario World on SNES and the Spyro trilogy on the PS1, and when I was young I used to doodle down levels for those games, as well as my very own games, in jotters.
How did you start making games?
In 2003, my high school installed GameMaker 5.0 on the computers, intending on teaching it – they never did, but I noticed the program in the Start menu.
I took a copy home as well as messing around with it during school lunchtimes; my first ‘creation’ was an edit of Mark Overmars’ Asteroids game that had swear words written onto the asteroids.
Why did you choose to work with GameMaker?
It was my first and, mostly, it’s been my only!
You haven’t tried any other game engines?
I’ve dabbled, very temporarily, in a few other game development programs over the years, but never got into anything else.
I’m a very slow learner, and a poor technical programmer, so the barrier of entry into making something I can continue to live off, in a program I’m not au fait with, is far too high.
Is there anything that frustrates you about GameMaker?
There have been things over the years that have to varying degrees, but nothing has provided long-term frustration. I think the advantage of being such a long-term and single-minded GameMaker user means I adjust to anything someone else might find frustrating with it.
For example, I’ve never got used to GameMaker’s sprite editor. I use a ten year old copy of Fireworks for all my art, though, and never really have to encounter it.
What project are you working on currently?
I'm currently working on Maddening Rift, the ‘ending’ to a series I started in 2009 out of a silly game jam entry. It's a game in which you run around in circles while a wall chases you.
The game's in early stages at the moment, and is set for release late 2023. It it's coming along really nicely already - it's a total rewrite of the old engine for the first time, incorporating a ton of new mechanics.
Maddening Euphoria by Chequered Ink
How do you manage to make games so fast?
I've always had a fairly low attention span. Larger projects are something I seldom have the interest to finish, so usually, I don't try them! I keep my ideas as small as possible and well within my abilities to either program them outright, or learn small bits here and there for them.
I also enter a lot of game jams. Over 50 of my games are jam entries for gm48, GMC Jam, Ludum Dare and others past and present.
I’m pretty much the opposite of a perfectionist, but that does mean that I’m extremely good at finishing projects. The fact I’ve released so many small-scale independent games means I know exactly where my skill limits lie, and am efficient in creating things fast.
A lot of my best work has originated as jam entries, including Revolver and Co (from Rev%lver, a gm48 entry) and Maddening Euphoria.
Game jams have been indispensable in eliminating overthinking and forcing me to just try new things and see how they work, for better or worse.
Is there any project you’ve created or taken part in that you’re particularly proud of?
It’s always the milestones that I feel proudest about. Innoquous, a game I released in 2008, was the first time I saw one of my games covered in a physical magazine – an issue of Edge – which made me extremely proud.
Maddening Euphoria is possibly my best independent game to date and was the first time I saw my game on Nintendo Switch. It succeeded Maddening Overload, the first game I released on any console.
Lastly, Pong Quest is one I was really proud to be a part of. I enjoyed making that, loved that Atari were open to our ideas with it, and perhaps most importantly, my parents had heard of Pong, so they understood something I did for once!
Pong Quest by Chequered Ink
Do you think there are challenges that come from being a woman in game dev?
Definitely, although I do count myself lucky that I’ve barely been on the receiving end of any issues. Just the odd dodgy direct message here and there.
I’ve always been fairly ‘underground’ though, never attending events in person and never really having that big of a fanbase, so I’m thankful I’ve not had to deal with things I know other women have.
What do you do in your free time to relax after a long day of programming?
If it’s winter, I cocoon myself in a blanket and play Pokémon on my Switch. If it’s summer, I forgo the blanket and play Pokémon on my Switch. I collect Pokémon cards as well.
Besides that, I’m a fairly easy-to-please lass, so any combination of food, music, quiz shows, panel shows, YouTube, games, and joining friends on Discord with an online board game and rum and cola will do me nicely.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m in the early stages of learning how to make music, not so much to release it as stand-alone but to avoid having to rely on licensing music for my games in the future.
You can see me trying that out in my gm48 jam entries, and Revolver and Co. I still use license pieces for a few games that require better music than I can make.
Besides that, Dan Johnston and I are making games and fonts as Chequered Ink, so my hope is that it continues to go strong so I can save up some extra money and spend it on necessities.
Plunder Dungeons by Chequered Ink
Is there a piece of advice you’d like to share with your past self?
Don’t sweat the small stuff! It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to have a bad day, it’s okay to have a bad month even. You’ll get through it, you’re strong, and the world has your back.
Oh, and cancel ‘Super Fidget Spinner’. The craze will be over a week after you waste that one evening making that dumb game, it’s not worth the effort!