Saturday, May 21, 2011


Wikipedia describes a rōnin as a samurai who became masterless after the death or fall of his master, or the loss of his master's favor. That, unfortunately, provides an apt analogy for my brief career as a programmer.

I'm an autodidact computer geek who landed his first programming job in 2005 by virtue of knowing the right people. That job didn't challenge my coding skills at all, but I learned some hard lessons about project management. After I quit and my former boss was sued, I learned that I'd been the third developer to walk away from the ill-fated project. I don't blame myself for everything that went wrong, but there were certainly some things I could have done differently — some warning flags I should have had the sense to raise — even as a junior developer thrust into the role of project lead.

I haven't sought a programming job since.

My first exposure to programming was in grade school, when I was among the gifted kids pulled out of math class to play with Logo on the school's Apple IIs. I got my own first computer during my sophomore year of high school. Soon thereafter, the bottom fell out of my academic performance when I discovered dial-up bulletin boards and TradeWars 2002.

The BBS scene is long dead, obliterated by the Web more thoroughly than even the most pessimistic pundits predicted. And although TW2002 survives as an Internet game, the community surrounding it has been reduced to a handful of die-hard players. Still, the nostalgia lives on; I've commiserated with many a thirty-something geek who remembers it fondly and speaks idly of slipping once again into the captain's chair of a Merchant Cruiser.

Like many gamers, I dream of creating my own games. But I don't aspire to work for Blizzard or Sony. I don't even want to be a programmer; I want to be a farmer. I just want what I've wanted since 1995: to write my own version of the game that got me interested in programming in the first place.

I don't actually expect this project to attract a lot of attention. Dozens of other would-be successors to the Trade Wars throne have come and gone, and few have received critical acclaim or developed any significant following. (There's EVE Online, of course, and I'm keeping my eye on the rather cool-looking Starport: Galactic Empire.) While I like to think that some of the ideas I've collected in my notebooks over the years are original, I have to admit that it was hard enough to even come up with an original name for my project. The Web is littered with space trading games unfinished, fallen by the way, and remembered only by Google.

Nevertheless, writing my own Trade Wars game is one of those things I just have to do. It represents both an act of professional redemption and a check mark on my bucket list. And I'm going to chronicle the entire process here.

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