Great moments in PC Gaming: Releasing your first game

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(Image credit: Nat Clayton/Xalavier Nelson Jr/Priscilla Snow)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

There's a quiet terror that comes with that little publish button. No work of art is ever finished, but as soon as you hit that button you're committed to calling it done—to leaving your footprint on the great ongoing canon of games history, no matter how small.

In 2019, working with writer and PC Gamer contributor Xalavier Nelson Jr (Skatebird, An Airport for Aliens Currently Run By Dogs) and musician Priscilla Snow (Patrick's Parabox, A Good Snowman is Hard to Build), we released Can Androids Pray—a short game about the final moments of two doomed mech pilots. I'd released games before, small experiments and student projects, and I already had credits on Alien: Isolation (QA) and Minecraft (Level Artist) from summer gigs at uni, but this was the big one.The first one that felt real.

Making games is a messy affair. Even a game this small went through months of narrative rewrites, faffing over visual scripting languages, tweaking how the UI was drawn so it worked at different resolutions. Our marketing was nothing more than me showing up at festivals and museums across Europe with a laptop and too much coffee. Xalavier would message me about potentially working with Xbox, and then a guy from Microsoft would show up at my booth halfway across the world an hour later.

That any game gets released at all is a miracle, never mind when you're also trying to work as a full-time games journalist. But I'm sure everyone who's ever picked up a gamepad (I'm not sure what the keyboard analogy is here) has, at one point, reckoned they could have a go at it—even if that's something as small as theorycrafting balance changes for your favourite MOBA character, or considering why that one corner on a CS:GO map doesn't quite work.

These days, it's easier than ever to have a go. Mainstream engines like Unity and Unreal are free and boast a wealth of documentation, but even tiny web tools like Bitsy or Twine will give you the thrill of cobbling together something playable in an afternoon. Put that stuff on Itch and you're a game developer, no ifs or buts about it.

Can Androids Pray didn't set the world on fire, or even really pay for more than a few months rent. But we received glowing reviews in print publications, brought the game to consoles, gave some kids an existential crisis and even spawned one sequel, Can Androids Survive. More than anything, though, we made something I'm damn proud of. 

Natalie Clayton
Features Producer

20 years ago, Nat played Jet Set Radio Future for the first time, and she's not stopped thinking about games since. Joining PC Gamer in 2020, she comes from three years of freelance reporting at Rock Paper Shotgun, Waypoint, VG247 and more. Embedded in the European indie scene and a part-time game developer herself, Nat is always looking for a new curiosity to scream about—whether it's the next best indie darling, or simply someone modding a Scotmid into Black Mesa. She also unofficially appears in Apex Legends under the pseudonym Horizon.