Artist and indie game writer Elliott Queen shares two pictures that represent snapshots of how his project has progressed in both character design and game visual design.
Elliott transitioned to The Learning Center as a 5th grader. His earliest learning experiences took place in the homeschooling environment that he had known and grown accustomed to up to the time of enrolling in our public charter school. He recalls a feeling that has stayed with him from his time on our campus into the present: "that of an intimate classroom environment with a real atmosphere of learning and growing as a group, as opposed to the sink-or-swim mentality my mind had always conjured up with the idea of beginning my public education in 2006."
I had the privilege of teaching English Language Arts to Elliott during his Learning Center years. His creative, challenging, yet determined journey into indie game writing comes as no surprise to me. Nor will it surprise me if he someday captures a corner of the game industry market. He tells his story best:
"Every day" at The Learning Center "offered something new and exciting. The one activity that I would say still means the world to me, and still helps me with my project today, is the daily writing that we would do in our journals. Being able to just brainstorm and put something onto the page was incredible. I genuinely think that if I hadn’t been afforded the freedom to just write, even on days where it was difficult, I would not be where I am now. When my Middle School years came to a close, I found myself anxious about leaving the Learning Center and going on to High School. My entire class was seeking to enroll in a program called The Early College, which would provide students with not only a High School diploma but also enough college credits to equal an Associate’s Degree in college transfer. Class sizes were limited and there weren’t enough seats to match all the applicants; so, the school needed to go to a lottery to fill the seats. I was one of the lucky students who became a part of the Tri-County Early College class of 2014."
Day to day life at the Early College was similar to The Learning Center, but I’d be lying if I said that the intimate atmosphere I had enjoyed previously was the same between the two. Though the class size was still small, there was more emphasis placed on the idea of individual responsibility. Several classes would ask us to proactively choose from a list of possible assignments and pursue those as we saw fit. This was a complete change of pace, and structurally put more strain on the students than the approach of growing and learning together.
Although the strain (and stress) was in full effect, I have to count this too among the defining moments of my education. During my Junior and Senior Years, students were tasked with accruing hours of community service as part of our graduation pre-requisites. One of my classmates and I decided that we would give back by tutoring at the local elementary school classrooms. And, what started out as a simple helping hand with daily assignments evolved into an entry-level engineering program through the elementary school. I’ll never forget my final day with the class, saying goodbye to the kids. Having the opportunity to take some of the ideas I had learned and maybe instill those into a younger generation of learners will probably remain with me until the end of my days.
Following High School, my education hit a bit of a speedbump; my grandmother had become ill and her declining health meant that I would need to pursue an online program for my College Degree if I was going to stay in town and help take care of her. My time studying at home was rather unremarkable, and I never finished my Degree Program. I had chosen to pursue a degree in Game Design through DeVry University.
Game design was something that I had set my sights on ever since my eighth grade year at The Learning Center. Rewinding back to 2010, I’d started experimenting with the basics of programming in my free time, a hobby that lingered through my High School years, all the way until today. Weeks where I could find the time at home, I would sit in front of my laptop for hours trying to “reverse-engineer” simple systems I had seen in games my brother and I had played. The results weren’t always perfect, at times even discouraging in how imperfect they were. Still, I pressed on, working and improving wherever I could.
It was during my Sophomore Year of High School that my game really got its start. The concept, admittedly, was inspired by a lot of what I was experiencing as a young person in a small town. Naturally, it took a long time to escape what I consider to be a pretty bland setting. A small town, teenage heroes, and a regional tournament as a central plot point all sound like elements pulled from any number of Sports movies. The ideas were barely avoiding the realm of cliché. I knew I needed to add something more interesting, or I’d never be able to write a plot that I myself would enjoy reading/playing. This is where that old-enemy of storytelling reared its ugly head: writer’s block. It was years before I picked the story back up, still unable to really break away from boredom with my own ideas. So, for guidance, I turned to storied that had impacted me in the past.
Absorbing media like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ series gave me a foundation in fantasy elements. Playing classic games like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger only served to cement those elements. But, I didn’t want my story to simply emulate that kind of story or the characters therein. I wanted to create a world that felt very modern, but had fantasy elements built into its history. Contemporary Fantasy is hardly a new idea, so it wasn’t until I actually grabbed a pencil and paper that I found what I consider the missing piece to the puzzle. You see, growing up, I was a big fan of animation, specifically Disney films and Japanese anime. I remember falling in love with Disney’s ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ and ‘Dragon Ball’ as a kid. So when I actually started drawing my characters, creating that same energy became my goal.
Like anybody making a first attempt, my first sketches stunk! I suppose that’s to be expected, looking back. For reference, this was right around 2015. I was a young man fresh out of High School with the intent to tell a grand adventure story all on his own. The first drafts being good is almost a fantasy in and of itself. Thankfully, I have a wonderful friend in my corner to help me correct myself and continue to improve. Without his input I probably would have given up on the story all over again.
And, that brings" my journey up to the present. Having just passed the second anniversary of my 'formal announcement' about working on my own indie game, reflecting back on my journey to get to this point has been an unexpected trip down memory lane. I’m thankful for the chance to jot some of this down. I’d like to say that the finish line for this footrace is in sight. But, then I don’t want to lie to anyone. I don’t plan on giving up any time soon, and so steady progress and a wide release is all I can really say about where this is going. But, more than just finishing the game and setting it out into the world, when the game is available to play, I’m hopeful that it will affect those who play it in the same way games I played growing up affected me. Being able to write a story is impressive; but, being able to share a story with others: that is what would make it all worthwhile."