Michael Neumann, a junior art student, grew up playing video games.
In the early 1990′s, he played Super Mario Bros. on his two-button Nintendo Game Boy. In 1996, he bought a Nintendo 64, beating Mario 64, 1080 Snowboarding and a collection of other games.
But during his sophomore year of high school, something changed. Neumann realized he wanted to be on the other end of video games. He wanted to make them.
Neumann is currently helping to build Sacred Seasons, a multiplayer online role playing game.
You start the game by choosing a class, which varies by which season you pick. In each season there are four different classes with different attributes and abilities. After you choose your name and character, you head into the game by buying weapons, completing quests and developing friends.
Neumann fell into this project when he received an e-mail about Sacred Seasons on Jan. 6.
Daniel Day, director of Sacred Seasons, and his crew had been working on the game for three months and wanted to hire more programmers to get the project ready for release. Day mentioned that they needed another programmer to work with Flash, and Neumann was the ideal candidate.
“It worked well because I had been working with Flash since I was a sophomore in high school,” said Neumann. (Flash is a popular method for adding animation and interactivity to Web pages.)
Before working with Sacred Seasons, Neumann had made four video games by himself, including Acorn Dash, Hero R.P.G., Athalina R.P.G. and Pumpkin Smashin. He won a contest on armorgames.com, a popular gaming Web site, receiving $5,000 for his work on Hero R.P.G.
As a member of the Mennonite church, Neumann had to deal with conflicting views as a pacifist wanting to make a video game with violence in it. “I’ve always felt slightly bad that I do make games that contain violence because of my pacifist background,” Neumann said. “But I really don’t think it transfers into the real world.”
“In fact, I think that is part of the reason I like the fantasy/magic/adventure type games,” Neumann said. “Shooting fireballs and wielding a sword and shield doesn’t exactly transfer into our daily life.”
With Sacred Seasons, a big incentive for Neumann was the chance to work on a professional game with an experienced crew. Derek Day had previously worked for two major game developers, EA Games and Radical Games. The Sacred Seasons lead story developer also worked on one of Neumann’s favorite games, Fable 2, a role-playing game for Xbox 360.
For the next two months Neumann worked diligently, putting in close to three hours a day. “I had purposefully only taken 12-13 credits a semester this year,” he said.
Even though Neumann tried to build in extra time for Sacred Seasons, it took longer than he had expected. “Most days I would sacrifice basically all my free time to work on the game,” Neumann said. “Some days I would work three hours, some days a lot more. I spent one night working on it until six in the morning, which might have been a poor choice, but I wanted the other team members to know that I was dedicated.”
“My job was to write the code that makes certain aspects of the game functional,” Neumann said. He spent most of his time working with in-game menus and helped develop the chat system.
On Feb. 10, Day and his crew of 20 workers from around the United States released Sacred Seasons on Facebook, a social networking Web site. As of Feb. 27, there were 3,400 active users.
Since its release, the game’s active users grew 20 percent per day, but Neumann expects the numbers will slow down. The game has also been put onto another popular social networking site, Myspace.com and onto sacredseasons.com.
With the game released, Neumann and his co-workers still have one problem to confront: revenue.
Because this was a relatively new idea for everyone on the crew, Day, the director, and Jamie Young, the lead programmer, needed to see how the game went in the first couple of weeks. The game is making money from advertisements on Facebook, and the game also allows users to spend money to buy gold in the game.
Even though Neumann isn’t sure when he we will see a monetary reward for his hard work, he isn’t bothered. “This is an opportunity that I have been waiting for,” Neumann said. “I’m grateful for the experience and to work with such a talented crew. It’s not about the money for me.”
Neumann still chats with Day and Young on MSN for anything that needs to be worked on. Currently, Neumann’s workload has slowed down to four hours a week. “I’m still working on the game, just not as much as I used too,” he said. “It’s probably good, as school keeps me busy.”
For more information on the game, visit www.sacredseasons.com.