Taking it old school

First Posted: 5/23/2009

A prehistoric person stalks through the woods in search of animals to kill for nourishment. Hunger satisfied, he heads to a volcano where he makes his way through mazes of lava and extreme heat.
This is not a scene from the past or even from the next science fiction movie. It comes from Prehistoric Times, a video game created by Mount Airy native Blake Leftwich.
After a couple classes over the summer, Leftwich will become the first graduate from the Surry Community College Simulation and Gaming program. When he heard about the program from Jody Hartle, the instructor who was instrumental in bringing the program to Surry County, he realized that this might be just the thing for him, starting classes in 2007.
Game development is always what Ive wanted to do, he said. That was my strategy, I wanted to be the first one out of the gate. My goal is to have a job by the end of 2009.
Leftwich had already begun creating video games before he entered the program, completing Prehistoric Times around the same time he began the community college curriculum. However, he believes that going through the program has allowed him to develop more skills and make himself more marketable.
The curriculum is tough and theres a time crunch, but thats the way the industry works, he said. We are using the exact tools from the industry.
In the program, students learn about the pre-production, production and post-production of video game development, planning, brainstorming, designing conceptual art, using Photoshop to create the different levels and 3-D modeling and animation. Leftwich urges that the program is not for everyone, but can be a great asset to someone who is passionate about developing video games and pursuing a career in the industry.
Its not just for anybody to jump in. The programming and math aspects can be really challenging. If youre really passionate, its a very good step, he said.
There are a number of different positions in the gaming industry and Leftwich hopes to be a level designer or a programer in the Raleigh area before working his way up to a designer.
The industry is still making money. There are job postings out there, he said. Raleigh is the east coast center for game development. It is the biggest center next to California.

Developing a Game
When Leftwich decided to create a video game of his own, he knew it would be for the Atari gaming system.
My first gaming system was the Atari so Ive always wanted to make a game for it, he said.
He began researching what the system could handle and tried to come up with a unique idea for a game. The system dictated what he could and could not do, allowing the aspects of the design to come up with many of the ideas for the game.
I wanted to create a game that allows you to play all you want without dying, he said.
That is how the idea for Prehistoric Times was born. Throughout the first level of the prehistoric person hunting, players can continue playing all they want. If they want to take bigger risks, they can go on the treasure hunt through the volcano.
Prehistoric Times is an Atari 2600 home-brew, which means it is a new game created for an older system. He started the project in 2007 using the Batari program and completed it in about six months. He designed the game completely by himself, creating three unique screens.
As he waited for the right gaming convention to come around to release the game, he founded Salute Games. He, along with a small staff, are working on developing more games to follow the release of Prehistoric Times. Leftwich hopes to make one more home-brew among a number of other projects.
I wanted to make that type of game because I have a lot of love for the old systems, he said. Because Im a collector, I had a relationship with the classic game community and I wanted to contribute something.
Leftwich found success with that community when he found TooManyGames!, a national gaming conference in Leesport, Penn., and decided to release Prehistoric Times there. The conference was May 3 and Leftwich sold out of his cartridges in 45 minutes. He plans to have more copies of the game, which went for $15 a cartridge, in August through Hozer Video Games.
Contact Morgan Wall at [email protected] or 719-1929.

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