Here's a fact I learned today: the first ever indie game developer (to her knowledge) was a woman named Joyce Weisbecker. She was also the first female game programmer, and her work appeared on a long-forgotten console called the RCA Studio II.
This fascinating interview on Co.Design tells Joyce's story. She was never employed by RCA - which was her father's company, giving her the rare opportunity to immerse herself in technology and early computers as a child. Instead she pitched games, got the go-ahead, and then made them and got paid for them, which makes her "the first contractor... and possibly the first independent video game developer". She programmed her first games in 1976 - TV Schoolhouse Quiz, Speedway and Tag. Here's an excerpt from the interview:
People who work with modern computers don’t understand the restrictions. The hard part was not fitting the code in 2K or running on a slow processor–there’s plenty of things you can do with that. The problem was how do how could you display the state of the game on such a limited thing? You had the equivalent of two black-and-white 32-by-32 Windows icons, and that was your entire screen. You try doing it! You know? You try making an entire game that fits in two Windows icons.
Sadly, the games were never released in shops due to the early failure of the company that made the Studio II console. She made three more games for RCA before deciding to focus on college instead. "“You look around and you say, ‘Okay, do I really want to live at home and spend every night duplicating cassettes, and going down to the post office and making photocopies of the instruction manual, and coming home and putting them in little plastic Ziploc bags and mailing them off to people?' That was the computer game industry at the time," explains Joyce.
Joyce wants to be remembered not as the first ever female game programmer, but as the first ever independent developer, she says. The full interview goes into great detail on a fascinating, forgotten slice of gaming history.
Top image credit: David Sarnoff library via Co.Design