Writers and film directors have long known that our phobias make good stories. Christopher McGlade knows they can also make an addictive video game. He’s created games based on fears of wandering in the woods at night and of battling giant lethal spiders.
McGlade (CGS’15) must be on to something: he’s turned what started out as an after-school hobby into his own company, Lightning Man Media.
It’s a mostly one-man shop. McGlade creates all of his games’ elements, from the artwork to the soundtrack to the programming. His two most recent games, both first-person adventures, draw upon emotions and phobias, as McGlade believes the virtual realm is a place where players are more willing to try things they wouldn’t have the ability or courage to take on in the real world. (“That’s one of the things I like about playing them,” he says.) In Nyctophobia, which he based on a nightmare, players race through the woods searching for battery packs to keep their flashlights powered. If the darkness swallows you, the game ends—and you die.
In November 2013, armed with programming expertise and work experience, McGlade brought Arachnophobia to the Microsoft offices in New York City, where he sold it to another game developer for “somewhere in the five figures,” he says. Now a college sophomore, McGlade juggles his passion with his life as a student; he squeezes in his programming during breaks from class and homework and always carries his laptop with him.
To build a game, McGlade uses Autodesk Maya 3D animation software, the same program developers use to create graphics and animations for movies like Avatar and Frozen and the television series Game of Thrones. The software normally costs developers $10,000, but is free for students, McGlade says. Using Maya, McGlade creates each 3-D component that appears in his games, and in Nyctophobia, that means things ranging from a hanging skeleton to a flashlight. He then transports each element into the game-creation engine Unity, where he codes the game as well as simulates the 3-D objects.
Next, McGlade composes his own music and adds sound effects he records himself, like walking in his backyard to get the sound of crunching leaves. “My parents thought I was crazy,” he says. In the case of Nyctophobia, which took about a year to build, the challenge was deciding when the game was finally finished. A year can drag on, he says, and “eventually you just have to stop.”
McGlade asked his friends to be his beta testers and provide feedback before he made Nyctophobia available for download in March on the gaming website Desura. “I had a few friends majoring in computer science play the game with a technical mind-set,” McGlade says. “Then I had a friend at the College of Fine Arts look at it through an artistic mind-set. I asked someone at the College of Communication if the story made sense. But the most important thing I want them to tell me—was it fun?”