After Lindsey Warren donated $10 to video game developer Ernest McCracken's GoFundMe campaign for his latest game Fallen Space, she commented, "Maybe someday Memphis will be the next game development mecca."
McCracken hopes so.
"I have aspirations to make it that," McCracken, 33, an IBM application architect and University of Memphis professor, said. "More and more developers are moving to Memphis. I think that it is not just possible but very probable that Memphis will start see more of a spotlight in game development."
On behalf of Memphis Game Developers (MGD), McCracken has immersed himself in the world of independent game developing over the past few years. Population III: Fallen Space, his creation, is an open-world survival game: A player is caught in the midst of a Terran Empire's collapse caused by the invasion of a never-before-seen alien species. Fallen Space is conceptualized, but "MGD's artistic side is severely lacking," McCracken admits. They'll commission local artists to bring it to life — if they can raise $1,600.
- Memphis Game Developers
- An image from Population III: Fallen Space
"It's important to work with local artists, and we are very locally minded," McCracken said. "The plan is four character portraits, eight to 12 faction emblems, and numerous alien poses, all in 2D. If we get to the $1,000 mark, I plan on matching donations up to the goal. [Right now], we rely on art we purchase online, but most of it is not unique or high quality."
McCracken formed Memphis Game Developers with Devitt Upkins and Nick Day nearly two years ago. The initial goal was to better understand game development through collaboration. They started meeting at Midsouth Makers, where Day was a member.
"We mostly sparked each other's interest by showing off things we created and showing each other how to find resources on the Internet to enable developing the types of games we liked," McCracken says.
MGD soon gained sponsorship from Unity Technologies, a development platform for 2D and 3D indie gaming, and became the official Memphis chapter of the Unity Users Group. They now host workshops and lectures for about 200 members.
Though the plan wasn't always to become a developer, McCracken's enthusiasm for video games dates back to childhood. Atari's Joust sparked his interest at age 6, and it was multiplayer games built on Bulletin Board System software that opened his mind to development. Still, McCracken was a late bloomer.
"It wasn't until meeting with other developers that my interest in video game development really took off," McCracken says. "I was going to be a network engineer, but I started writing programs to visually map out network diagrams and started dabbling in 3D graphics engines. It was then that I changed from network engineering to application development."
If McCracken's ambitions are realized, it's because technology's rapid acceleration paved the way for those like Memphis Game Developers to experiment. Platforms like Steam, a site that delivers a variety of games to a user's computer, allow indie game developers to digitally distribute their products to a broader audience.
"If someone wanted to create video games before Steam, they needed to be able to not just make a game, but create the packaging for it, burn the game to a DVD, create instruction booklets, and then find retail stores to stock the game," McCracken said. "Not to mention the huge financial commitment to make and distribute all that packaging. Steam and digital distribution allowed indie developers to forgo all that."
When his aspirations materialize, McCracken plans to expand MGD at home.
"I love this city," McCracken said. "If Fallen Space becomes a great success, I plan on staying in Memphis. Many successful studios move out West, but all of us plan on investing locally."