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How games made me a web-developer

chechenev profile image Maxim Chechenev ・6 min read

Recently, one of my colleagues asked me “Why did you decide to become a web developer?” My first answer was “I like to build a user-friendly UI” and the moment I said it out loud, I realized it sounded a bit cliché. Another thought was “I became a developer because they are well-paid”, but that is just the extrinsic motivation and I wanted to understand my intrinsic motivation.

This post doesn’t have any defined goals, it doesn’t have any secrets like “5 Things You Must Do To Be a Great Developer”. It’s my personal story of my motivations. Who knows, maybe my experience would be interesting and beneficial for someone.

Where it all started

As a kid, I used to love playing computer games. I usually stayed at home when all other kids were living their normal life, socializing and playing together.
“Why do I need to play football with them when there are plenty of fantastic adventures just in front of me?”

I was fascinated by computers even without the Internet because I got my first computer at the time when there was no home Internet (or it was very expensive and very slow). But it had a cursor and mouse! Games had a feature to save your progress and continue later! This changed everything!

I loved strategies and particularly economical games (tycoon mostly). Games like RollerCoaster Tycoon or SimCity 3000 were my favorites. You build something - you develop it - you make money. No war, no need to kill any virtual enemies, just peace and money - I was growing as a good pacifist, my parents should be proud. But I especially loved the interfaces in those games: all the menus, buttons, windows - they all looked so interesting!

Dacha

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Photo by Abbilyn Zavgorodniaia on Unsplash

What is summer for a typical school student? Three months of freedom, no more boring classes, no need to wake up early. Sweet deal!

But it also was a time when my computer buddy was saying to me: “See you in September, goodbye!” Because, like most kids in Russia at that time, I was spending the whole summer at a dacha (special Russian word for this type of house meaning is a small country house somewhere far away from any traces of civilization), with other desperate kids who didn’t understand why they were there for the whole summer.

There were no computers, consoles or any other gadgets. Few neighbours were super lucky to have a TV there (but with only 4 channels and no color) but not all of them. So kids had to play with each other in real offline life.

But those nice fellas couldn’t replace computer games for me!

To keep myself from getting bored, I was drawing computer games in the notepad. Not just characters, but interfaces as well. My imagination went further and I was designing my own games. As l liked the tycoon genre - I designed a few new games. My masterpiece was a SimCity killer game - where instead of the whole city, you had to build just one district but in a lot of details. I was prototyping all possible menus, buttons, modal windows, logos and so on!

At this pace, summer ended quickly and I came back to the city with huge expectations that I would build this game.

Something went wrong

I didn’t expect that. I didn’t know that making games was so damn hard! I was too young and too naive.

But I didn’t want to just design interfaces; I wanted to make them alive.

I didn’t even know how to start to develop a game. Everything I saw looked so boring and so complicated. I had to learn some programming language (“why can’t I just drag and drop all components and make it alive?”), use some ugly IDE which looked like advanced Word with a lot of tools. That was discouraging.

The only person who knew something about programming was my father’s colleague. He told me to study the Delphi language and gave me a huge textbook (literally bigger than all my school textbooks held together). I truly wanted to read it and try but I couldn’t find any section in the book teaching me “How to build games”, so I dropped it.

Afterward, when I got a home Internet connection, I discovered that there are game consoles emulators and I downloaded the SNES emulator. After I played all the games that I was dreaming about, I found a new genre - JRPG (like Final Fantasy) and I fell in love. No more tycoons and SimCity killer - EA and Maxis were saved!

How RPG games made me a web-developer

I found this amazing software – the RPG Maker - and I was able to make games without programming skills, just by using a nice and friendly interface. No more textbooks the size of a brick! No more ugly text editor software! It was just a dream!

How does RPG Maker look like

Just look at this simple and amazing interface!

The Russian RPG Maker community was small, literally just two websites and one forum, nothing more.

“Why is that, why is the English-speaking RPG Maker community so big with a lot of tutorials and articles?” were my thoughts and I started to work on it. I’ve started to participate in different activities and translated a few tutorials to Russian. I was playing an active role in building a new website with a lot of articles, tutorials, game reviews and so on.

I had some experience in making websites before and I was very proud of it. It was similar to the Wix product (website constructor) and I used to make a fan website about the Simpsons. And it was fun to build that website, even though it was very dumb.

Coming back to the RPG Maker community. Naturally, I was involved in the technical part of our website and our forum (based on vBulletin). As I didn’t have any knowledge about HTML or CSS, I started to read about it and try it out. I wanted to have a unique UI for our website.

The problem at that time was the lack of information and actual tutorials. My basic frontend knowledge was very messy and chaotic. I had no one who could help me, there were no online courses yet. JavaScript was the most inexplicable for me, but I was able to do some basic things like play background music.

But I started to understand that I love making websites and frontend even more than making games. It was a great mix of design and development. I didn’t really like working with databases neither liked backed code, so frontend fitted me perfectly and I decided to focus on that.

My first real job

I got to the technical university and got some real knowledge. I was studying a lot by myself as our university classes were not covering any actual modern knowledge. Instead of learning JavaScript as a language, we were doing pointless animations (like letters that follow your cursor). I found my first job as a junior developer and combined it with my study.

I learned a lot at my first job, the real world of web-development was so fascinating for me! Real products with real users, good knowledge sharing processes, the whole web-development was like magic for me because we were changing the world.

After 4 years of working in different companies, I decided that I needed a new challenge and I moved from Moscow to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. New culture, new language - it was exactly what I needed.

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Photo by Cale Weaver on Unsplash

What’s next?

Recently, I’ve started to work as a mentor to junior frontend developers. I’m helping them to not lose their confidence in themselves, sharing my knowledge and experience with them. I remember the time when I was learning frontend without any online courses and mentors and how difficult it was.

After 8 years of working as a frontend developer, I still love to build user-friendly beautiful interfaces. The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that I also need to care about the business side of my work - I’m not just sitting and writing the code, I’m helping my product and my company to become better. Everything that I work on should have value and impact.

And, well, I still have the dream of developing my own game. It looks a bit easier now than it did 15 years ago so, one day, I will develop my SimCity killer game.

Posted on Jun 19 by:

chechenev profile

Maxim Chechenev

@chechenev

Frontend developer passionated about UX/UI, photography, coffee, yoga.

Discussion

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Brother, I can relate myself with your story,
My whole childhood was about dreaming and talking about games solely.
As I grew up, things become tiresome, coding was not fun at all.
After digging my inner self I again started enjoying it.
Though I work in both backend and frontend I see myself enjoying UI part more.
Just need advice is it worth to learn some designing software?

 

Just need advice is it worth to learn some designing software?

I think, yes.
Personally, I found it exciting to know how to design interfaces in a right way. And as FE developers communicate to designers very actively - it's beneficial to know what they use, how it works, what principles do they apply in their works, style guides and so on. And how you can help designers, especially when they are not sure what is possible to build and what is not.

Sure, with Figma/Zeplin and similar apps it's very easy to export and copy styles, but I had few situations when I need to design something super quick.

 

Yeah I was thinking to get started with Adobe xd.