Macro vs Micro: Why I don’t think we should tell people to recreate Tetris and Pong as their first games

Often times when new people enter the world of game development we tell them to start small. Abandon those grandiose ideas of an MMORPG. You’re better off recreating Tetris and Pong! That can be decent practical advice, but I think we can do better. Instead, we should tell those new developers to keep those big dreams, but understand that it’s the small and practical steps that put you at your intended destination long-term. And make those small and practical steps related to the big dream. It’s all about how you frame it.

My dream is to create 3D horror games similar to the early Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. I’m a sucker for tank controls and fixed camera angles. Those clunky game mechanics, jump scares, and stories about crazy demon worshiping cults were an important part of my childhood. But trying to make one of those from scratch with zero programming or art skills would be a daunting task. Sure, I could look for a team of programmers and artists, but nobody should work for someone who has never released a game.

I decided to work towards my dream by starting small. In 2015 I spent around twenty days making a Gameboy style horror game called Overlooker. It was an incredibly simple game but it was a big accomplishment for me. It had box pushing puzzles, zombies, and memos to read, just like in those classic Resident Evil games I love so much. In those twenty days, I went from having never opened GameMaker Studio or having released a game, to having my game being downloaded from and let’s played by YouTubers.

A couple months later during another break between University semesters I spent twenty or so days working on Overlooker 2. This time, I added save game functionality, inventories and item boxes, and improved the overall gameplay and presentation. In less than half a year, I’d gone from knowing nothing to beginning to have a grasp of what it would take to achieve my long term goals. By boiling down aspects of the dream game I wanted to make into something tiny, I avoided that quicksand of boredom that traps many first time developers when they try recreating Tetris and Pong.

Since then I’ve been working for a year and a half on my 2D RPG Towards The Pantheon. I’ve released a prequel game entitled Towards The Pantheon: Escaping Eternity, which again is a survival horror style game. It has been downloaded over 15,000 times on Steam and currently has an 86% positive score. Things are looking good.

Through taking these small steps I’ve always kept my vision on my long term goal. I’m confident I can achieve my dreams. I avoided starting too big and failing, but sidestepped getting bored by making games I don’t care about making. This also helps me to avoid burnout; how can I not be motivated when I have so much to accomplish, and how can I let some issue in the present get me down when it is trivial in the long term?

It’s possible that we’ve turned a lot of potentially great game developers away by telling them they can’t make their dream MMORPG and instead should work on Tetris clones. I propose that we recommend that someone new compartmentalize their dream games. Reduce them to their core aspects, and implement them as NES, then SNES, then N64 games. By the time they have made a few games, not only will they have the skills and knowledge needed to make that dream come to fruition, they’ll have a portfolio and a reputation in the scene.

It’s been years since I’ve started, but I’m working everyday towards creating new survival horror games. I’m excited and motivated, and hope you are too. I hope you’re dreaming big!

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