I was reading the Penny Arcade Report story on Slender, a tiny indie game that has you running around spooky woods with a flashlight, when this sentence jumped out at me: "Slender is a successful debut from someone who only wanted to learn how to use an engine." And I'm like oh really? What engine is that?
I can't quite see myself actually making games, but I am intrigued with virtual worlds. I'm the guy who's still scaling every mountain peak in Skyrim because hey, the makers put these rocks and trees here for a reason, so hell yeah I'm gonna try to get up there. My ideal "game" isn't a game, but an enormous landscape to explore. (Alone. Which is why WOW is a non-starter for me.) But anyway, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to make something myself, so after a few days reading Unity tutorials and messing around, I got my first "level" up to explore.
I think I'll call it "Scottopia."
The primary actions in Scottopia are: run around, look at stuff, and plummet gracelessly off the edge of the world. Otherwise, there's not much else to do. That said, the moment the screen filled with the landscape, I experienced that fist-pumping horns-throwing emotional rush you get -- to riff on a Ze Frank chesnut -- from "moving from zero to one." Victory!
Any software -- or tool, or tutorial, or anything that is structured to help you make things -- that gets you to this YAY ME state quickly is doing something right. It's one of the reasons I still dig Garageband, despite its narrow feature set. It's designed to help you make something awesome quickly without making you feel bad about how little you know about recording. Likewise, I was able to get excited and stay excited building a 3D landscape, even as my mind was swimming with terms like "mesh renderer" and other unfamiliar bits of moon-language. That momentum is so crucial; you want your users to ride that wave on to the next challenge.
There's a huge yawning abyss between making a little 3D game world, as I have done, and making an actual game, something "playable" and "fun." I'm not sure I'm up for such a project, but it's kind of exhilirating to know that it's possible at all. By the way, Unity is free, so have at it.