How Neopets has influenced a generation of game developers


Websites designed in the 90s may seem rudimentary and simple compared to those created today, but much work was done to create a domain.

The hardware was also relatively expensive during the Internet childhood: families who could afford a single desktop computer usually delegated it to a section of the house. Because of this agreement, children generally had limited time to surf the web before logging out.

So what was there to do online? Between play Minesweeper or scribbling in Microsoft Paint, many game developers who grew up with the Internet spent most of their allotted time exploring Neopets The virtual pet website launched in 1999 that grew to be much more.

For Nina Freeman, Fullbright level designer and Internet developer. Cybele Y Lost Memories Dot Net, discovering how to create your own websites in Neopets It was crucial to foster their future in game development.

"Was wearing Neopets as a preteen in the early 2000s. I was super throughout his guild community, and I discovered web design and coding through that space, ”he explains.

& # 39; My first experience was coding Neopets& # 39;

The guilds housed the players under a central theme, becoming a space where they could participate in activities (generally associated with the guild theme) and socialize. Often, guild issues are unrelated to Neopets at all and they dedicated themselves to television programs, movies and video games.

Creating a guild was much like building a custom web page, where users would format and design their home page with HTML and develop the aesthetic feeling with custom CSS. For Freeman, she used the freedom to create guilds to her advantage.

"If I really think about how I got into the development of the game, I think it would chart my path until those days I spent making guild designs in Neopets. I really cultivated my love for games."

"I used to make fun anime graphics in Photoshop and create custom designs for strangers to run guilds," he says, referring to the practice of exchanging website designs for other products. "We all publish our designs for these guilds on forums or, sometimes, even on our own websites, so that people can download and share them."

The flexibility unions offered a paved path for many other developers when it came to discovering how to code, since the development of a website was (in many ways) the first time they were exposed to the concept of programming.

"This whole scene is what really led me to coding," Freeman continues. "If I really think about how I got into the development of the game, I think I would continue my way until those days I spent making guild designs in Neopets. I really cultivated my love for games. "

After experimenting with games related to Internet culture and forming relationships online, it's easy to see how the site ended up guiding Freeman's work.

Discovering that those skills are transferred to the game design was critical for a number of game developers that Newsdio contacted, including Linden Reid, a Procedural Reality programmer working on Limit theory.

"My story with programming and game development begins with Neopets. My first experience in coding was in Neopets– You can customize your profile page with simple HTML and CSS, ”Reid explains.

"I had never coded before because the programming seemed very intimidating, but the coding in Neopets was very simple and non-threatening and facilitated creative expression," Reid adds. "I also experimented with web development outside of Neopets, thanks to the skills base I learned from him."

Finally, Reid formed a student organization at the university called Women in Computer Science, which organized a 48-hour game and had the help of industry professionals to volunteer during the event. It turned out that one of the volunteers had really worked in creative systems in Neopets that Reid had learned to code during his teenage years.

"Having a developer that was part of the reason why I now volunteer game development at my event has been one of the highlights of my career so far," said Reid. "I always quote Neopets when people ask me how I got into coding. And by Neopets, coding has always been a creative expression tool for me. "

Arousing curiosity is key

Kevin Snow, a narrative designer who currently works in Southern MonstersYou have similar thoughts about the accessibility of back-end tools that help shape your technical skill at an early age.

"I played Neopets from 2001 to 2003 or so and I learned to write HTML through customizable home pages and shop windows in Neopets"Says Snow.

Neopets The forums were filled with a community of users eager to help each other when it came to building these web pages, publishing tutorials and tips on how to change the size and style of fonts or get a specific image to load without breaking.

"I started copying and pasting code, then modifying it and then writing it myself," he adds.

Snow was encouraged to look for solutions through trial and error, browsing through online threads to see how those who were before him solved a problem and tested it himself until it worked (or not).

"This was the first time I felt I could see the seams and stitches of a game, and the logic behind it was not daunting for me."

"I feel that teaching me that skill through online tutorials and problem solving was a great help for my art as an adult," says Snow. "I taught myself how to write C #, CSS and Javascript, because it gave me confidence at the beginning of my learning skills."

Like her fellow developers, Sophie Mallinson, a narrative designer at Arkane Studios, agrees that Neopets It was his first exhibition with HTML and CSS, and by extension, thinking critically about how the systems really worked.

"I was about 9 years old when I joined Neopets," she says." It was a fairly rudimentary browser game at the time, with simple, almost naive graphics and a minimalist interface. "

But for Mallinson it was Neopets"Minimalist interface that aroused curiosity and helped foster the desire to create that many developers cultivated through their own work.

"Since most of my actions were simply clicking on hyperlinks, this was the first time I felt I could see the seams and stitches of a game, and the logic behind this was not daunting for me," Mallinson explains. "Neopets it's also where I learned to use HTML and CSS, designing designs for guilds and profile pages. "

A platform to tell stories.

Having the ability to manipulate the code was not the only feature that sparked creativity within developers, within Neopets was the Neopets Adventure Generator, a tool that worked similarly to the adventure engine of choosing your own as Twine.

The product of this generator, appropriately titled "adventures," were text-based games that included instructions and prepared the scene for the story in which a user would embark. Clicking on the links would lead to separate passages, where there were usually one to four options on what to do next. Like Twine, Neopets Adventure Generator allowed beginner developers to change font colors to indicate different options, or choose background colors to establish an environment. Perhaps most importantly, he encouraged narrators to create a compelling beginning, middle and end.

The Adventure Generator is what Francesca Carletto-Leon, an independent developer and 3D artist, remembers having used to create her first game during a restricted Internet schedule.

"This was the first time I spent time on the Internet regularly without the direct supervision of my parents," explains Carletto-Leon. "Within Neopets Adventure Generator, I made my first game. "

"I worked tirelessly on a text adventure with hyperlinks and then published it in the void that is the Internet and never thought about it again," he continues. "I was very proud of it, but it wasn't something I wanted to show my parents or friends from the real world."

Neopets The forums were a space where Carletto-Leon could publish her fairy art fan or publish adventure games with a group of partners involved in the same activities and interests she had. Being able to share her work with other anonymous Internet inhabitants had a great impact on her career as a game creator.

“Now I make games, many of them narratives, about my life and experiences with the hope that others will find in me what I found in Neopets; validation that we all have stories that are worth sharing, ”says Carletto Leon.

Mallinson echoes the impact that the Neopets forums had, attributing them to help her understand the impact of telling stories only through the text.

"When I wasn't busy giving tortillas to my pets, I was at the Neopets forum, learning to write through role-based games based on text. Some of these threads of role play would last weeks, "she says."

"About a decade later, I started using Twine, a tool that allows you to create interactive fiction in the form of web pages."

"I feel that my experience with Neopets It helped me understand the potential of hypertext to tell stories and how evocative text-based video games could be, "he adds." Twine was my first foray into game development from A to Z, and it's one of the reasons why I'm working on games today. "

Gabby DaRienzo, a Toronto artist and game developer known for The story of a funeral home, also cites Adventure Generator as influential in her career as a game developer.

"Neopets I had a very basic game creation system, Twine-lite "choose your own adventure", and I often wrote elaborate stories and made my own games through it, "explains DaRienzo." My text-based adventures and "choose your own "They were some of my first games, and later I was interested in both the development of the game and the narrative design."

And a place to socialize

No wonder that Neopets It became a platform for people to socialize, using forums to post threads and commenting on the work of others or simply by contacting based on shared common interests to form links.

Internet accessibility meant that developers could instantly log in and make friends with like-minded people, preparing them to eventually interact on social media platforms to promote their work and feel comfortable exposing themselves.

Neopets It was especially crucial for developers like Snow, who relies on online communities to work and collaborate.

"It made me trust to do something and put it on the Internet for other people to see."

"It made me trust to do something and put it on the Internet for other people to see," he explains. "Growing (in) the rural south of the United States, the online community I found through the website was vital to me, and it did search for similar communities online after I started visiting the website less frequently. It was the first online community in which I spent real time. "

Why Neopets It seems to have been the first online community for many developers, it was especially important to discover that they were not alone. DaRienzo points out that finding a space free of the limitations of the small city in which she grew up was monumental when she accepted herself.

“I grew up in a very small town north of Toronto, where they were all white / cis / heterosexual. Neopets I had a fairly large LGBTQ + community, and it was my first introduction to that space, ”explains DaRienzo. “I didn't go out like queer until I was just over 20 years old, but in retrospect I think the Neopets community had a very positive influence on me and allowed me to be my being with other queer children (even before I knew what that meant to me ) ".

While many game developers I talked to were younger when they first discovered Neopets and began socializing on the Internet, Emily Buck, narrative designer for Telltale Games, was in high school when she started using the website.

"I started to play Neopets In high school, I was in what I thought was the upper end of the age spectrum for the service, "remember." At first I enjoyed playing with the economic system and saving for brushes. ”

Buck participated in activities (including missions throughout the site) and created his own websites, as did many other users.

“When I went to college, I got my own laptop and I had no more parental restrictions regarding computer time, my love for Neopets spiraling in my first forays into coding, "he explains." I made a website for one of my pets about theories about how to get the mysterious avatar of Chef Bonju. "

But his most formidable experience with Neopets came from the Lab Bay waiting room, a nightly conversation in the help forums where people gathered to discuss how their pet could transform.

"I was going through a dark moment in my life, and the knowledge that these online acquaintances might miss me, the habit of connecting with them, helped me overcome myself on days I would not otherwise have had," Buck explains.

"Those social connections kept me involved with the game long after I probably had, as for age," he continues. “I learned the power of being able to talk with other people about the games you love, why you love them, what works and what doesn't. We constantly dissect how the Neopets the economic system had broken so much. "

So how did this revelation help later in life, when Buck became a narrative designer? Learning the importance stories had on individuals and discovering how to create narratives that evoke the same feelings was a beginning.

“When working on episodic narrative, I would also say that searches across the site influenced me deeply. The content that could only be accessed for a certain period of time, and that was intended to be shot in order, changed the way I watched the games forever, ”he adds.

While the Internet climate can be very different now than at the time that many of the developers I spoke with used it, it definitely had a profound influence on how they share their work and interact with other developers online. Neopets He taught the Internet etiquette in a way that many places never did. With many games being developed and distributed on digital platforms, navigating this space is crucial.

Artistic expression led to inspiration.

In addition to being a website where developers can learn to program and design websites and develop their own text games to choose their own adventure, Neopets I was ripe to produce fanart. Lots.

"I didn't discover this until very recently, but the art director of Campo Santo, Claire Hummel, was actually an artist in Neopetsand drew many of the fairies, ”says DaRienzo by email. “I was obsessed with fairies as a child, and I constantly drew them. Neopets, whose world had a lot of random systems, including a complete stock market, also had an art gallery where users could upload their own fanart. "

the Neopets The art gallery was full of fanart, encouraging artists like DaRienzo to exhibit their work to be praised and criticized. It served as inspiration and also prepared it for the inevitable comments that developers should keep in mind when testing or reading reviews.

“So I spent a lot of time drawing fairies, uploading my art and then interacting with other artists (receiving / giving criticism, etc.). Many games encouraged me to pursue a career in the art of the game, but Neopets it was probably the biggest influence on that career choice. "

"Also for the record, even today Claire is still a great inspiration to me," he adds.

Since Neopets to In the valley of the gods

Without the knowledge of many (including myself), Claire Hummel de Campo Santo, who currently serves as art director for In the valley of the gods, actually worked as an artist to Neopets and designed many of the iconic characters that developers have emulated.

"So probably, like most children of my age with Internet access, I was a big fan of Neopets in the late 90s and early 2000s," says Hummel. "I was right on the cusp of my anime phase, I was busy perfecting my digital art skills, and in 2001 my small 9th ​​grade portfolio was full of Neopets fanart: Egyptian neopets, Animorphs neopets, a Neopets/ * NSYNC called crossover, predictably, * Neosync. The whole thing."

Hummel found the contact information of who was in charge of hiring in Neopets and (being young and bold) sent an email with samples of his work, waiting patiently to receive a response.

"Against all odds, they answered me and invited me to an interview. I am pretty sure that I told them I was 14 years old from the start (my mother has always said otherwise)," he recalls. "But in the grand scheme of things, I am surprised that they risked me considering how young and unproven it was!"

Campo Santo & # 39; s In the valley of the gods

In our email exchange, Hummel interrupts for a moment and analyzes how Neopets gives it a "first chance", despite its relative professional inexperience, it is a practice that the rest of the gaming industry needs to adopt.

“When people talk about luck and privilege being an important factor in the way you enter a particular industry, I am living proof of that: I was doing a good job, of course, but I already had experience with digital art. , he had a father in the film and animation industry, he lived close enough to the office to travel, ”says Hummel.

“I owe a lot to the circumstances that put me there, along with my & # 39; indefatigable teenage spirit & # 39 ;, I suppose, but I will try to avoid speaking for the tangent about how I am desperately trying to pay that to other young people. artists in the industry. "

Once Hummel settled at work, he worked as a full-time artist for Neopets every summer. The art team was democratic; They had clues, but all the artists worked on almost everything over the years: brushes, articles, new pet designs, game art, advertisements, merchandising, concept art, comics and stickers.

Hummel explains how each artist had specialties or things that he was particularly good at (he points out that he drew many of the Battledome action poses for unique brushes or cover banners), but the site moved so fast that each artist had to be Able to pick up any slack wherever it is.

"I think one of the best social skills I got when working in Neopets I was working within quick response times to put art on the site, ”she says. "We had daily deliveries and goals that were constantly changing, and as a result, it becomes very good at producing assets as needed."

Clearly, this was a good practice for a career in game development.

"Honestly, Neopets He also taught me that I could tolerate and even enjoy the idea of ​​working in a study environment, "adds Hummel." Before stumbling and spending the last ten years in games, I had initially planned to go into feature film animation, but in any case Neopets He demonstrated this idea of ​​working as part of a team, combining a house style, playing in another person's stylistic sandbox, that kind of thing. "


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