All About Me
My name’s Michael. I am a blind game developer and C# programmer. I have been fighting severe vision loss for my whole life. Despite many headaches and challenges along the way, the former being quite literal, I have not once let my disability get between me and what I enjoy doing. I enjoy developing games as my primary creative outlet, and I hope that my creations inspire others just like me.
The “acidic light” username comes from a symptom of my blindness. I am extremely sensitive to bright lights, with many of them including the Sun causing a distinct burning sensation in the back of my eyes. As you can imagine, it feels as if someone’s pouring acid on my retinas – which is exactly where the name came from. It also works well as a hacker pseudonym.
Ritchie is the friendly character seen in my profile picture everywhere. You’ll also see him in the splash screens of any games I release. Ritchie represents both courage and charisma, which are two major character traits I both value and try to demonstrate in my own life.
The Ritchie character’s appearance draws inspiration from my favorite character in the Pokémon anime. The two characters also happen to share a name!
My history: How I became a programmer
My interest in computers started all the way back in early childhood. In Kindergarten (2007-2008), we had a few computers in the front of the class that ran Windows XP. During free time, several groups of us kids would rotate between different activities in the classroom – one of which being playing on the computer. During one of my turns on the computer, I accidentally opened the classic Shutdown dialog where it asked me “What would you like the computer to do?”
I soon realized that this was just asking me whether I wanted to log out, turn off the computer, or restart it. But it also piqued my curiosity. What did I want the computer to do? What could the computer do?
Even before then, I was already familiar with the idea of a computer. We had several in the house already, one of them being a COMPAQ tower my mom used for work at one point. I also grew up familiar with video games, playing my first set of games for the PlayStation 2 at the age of 4.
At some point later in my life, my mom no longer worked the same job and thus no longer needed the COMPAQ tower she used. Rather than throwing away a perfectly-good computer, my parents decided to set it up in my bedroom with a collection of CDs with various PC games I could play on it. It also had full access to the Internet, where I’d spend most of my time watching YouTube and playing various Flash games.
To me, as a kid, my life seemed perfectly normal. I was doing well in school, if struggling a bit in gym class. It never occurred to me that anything was actually wrong with me, but my parents knew something wasn’t right. As a baby, I would be incredibly terrified of the dark, and would cry non-stop until someone turned on a light. When they did, or if one was already on, my parents would find me staring straight up at it. As a little kid, I also would never sleep with my bedroom door closed, because I’d always be in view of the light from the upper-floor washroom. Clearly, something was wrong with my low-light vision – but at the time, nobody knew and I didn’t notice.
After several visits to eye doctors, referrals to specialists, and genetic testing, I was eventually diagnosed with a rare hereditary form of Retinitis-Pigmentosa in 2010 at the age of 8 years old. This genetic condition causes the retina, a normally-flat surface in the back of your eye, to foil – or crinkle like a piece of tin foil – as light receptor cells begin to malfunction or die. This is degenerative, and at the time, had no treatment. It manifests itself as noticeable and progressing loss of vision in the patient as they continue to age. It explained everything, my fear of the dark and my strange sleeping habits, as one of the tell-tale signs of the condition is severely-impaired low-light vision at a young age.
As I continued to go through primary school, my vision loss would begin to affect my ability to read and write in moderate light levels. I would struggle every time the teacher turned off the lights in the classroom, unless I sat directly next to a window. Often, I would stumble into things I didn’t see, sometimes including other classmates’ desks. With the formal diagnosis of my condition, my school would put accommodations in place such as limiting my time in low-light environments, and having me do most of my schoolwork on the classroom computer. Suddenly, computers stopped being just a toy, and started to become an absolutely-necessary part of my life.
At home, I would explore the various settings on my computer. This led me to discovering the Windows High Contrast theme, which immediately made the screen easier for me to see. I tried to enable it on the school computer as well, but the theme settings for it were inaccessible due to Group Policy set up by the school.
In grade 4 (2011-2012), I started finding it significantly harder to read dark text on a light background, unless the font was large and bold. I also found it harder to keep track of my mouse cursor, since it was too small. Since I couldn’t change these settings at school, one of my teachers showed me the Accessibility Wizard which would let me temporarily change to the High Contrast theme and a large black mouse cursor until I logged out.
Later that year, the school would also assign me a dedicated laptop to use. It came with extra accessibility tools, such as ZoomText, a screen magnifier and screen reader. Because it was a laptop as well, I could use it far more often as I didn’t need to share it with other students who needed a computer. I could even use it for more assignments, including unit tests and group work, where it would have been less feasible to pull off on a PC in front of the class.
It was also around this time that the COMPAQ PC I used at home no longer worked. This meant that I would be back to only having a PlayStation 2 in my room, but could also play the PS3 in the living room if my parents weren’t watching TV. Since the PS3 had a web browser, I would use it to browse the Internet at home and could even still watch YouTube at the time. I should also note that I’m telling this part of the story out of chronological order, as I was already using the PS3 for this for years by this point.
Since both the laptop at school and the PS3 at home are major parts of my backstory in their own right, I’d like to tell those stories separately. Long story short however, is that the PS3 got me further into gaming and eventually game creation, while the laptop was my gateway into actually programming.
How I discovered my love for game development
I grew up on the PlayStation 2. I played, and in rare cases, even beat, every game my parents had for the console. Since it wasn’t getting in the way of my education most of the time, I would almost always get new games for Christmas and my birthday. As the PS2 started to reach its end of life and less games were made for it, I’d start playing the living room PS3 instead. My dad also bought a PSP at one point, originally intending for it to be his, but I ended up being the only one who played it – so it eventually became mine.
We also had a Wii, which my dad jailbroke. This got me familiar with the idea of console jailbreaking, and the idea of homebrew. I soon discovered that I could do the same for my PSP, which allowed me to do way more on it than just play games. I even discovered that I could rip all of my UMD-based games to the PSP’s memory card and play them directly, which meant I could even bring it on road trips and play any of my favorite games without needing to bring the discs with me.
Having my own PSP also meant that I had access to the PlayStation Store, which I’d use to browse for other games that would seem interesting. I would do the same on the PS3, and because many of the games on both devices had free demos, I’d download them and play them. One of these demos was LittleBigPlanet for the PS3.
The LittleBigPlanet demo featured the first part of the game’s story, The Gardens. It also took you through a limited tour of both Create Mode and the LittleBigPlanet Community, with promotional videos for both as well as the game’s story mode. It also has two Community Levels on-disc.
I’d eventually get the full version of LittleBigPlanet for Christmas, and would also get the PSP version of the game a year later. When the trailer for LBP 2 came out, I knew I needed to have it – and I would eventually get it for my birthday less than 1 year after its initial release.
The game’s trailer had me hooked immediately. Not only could you use all the same tools you could in the original LittleBigPlanet, but you now had access to an entire logic system that you could use to build entire games with.
I would spend hours playing Community Levels in LBP 2, and would eventually start making my own. Some of which, you can still play to this day on LBP 3 on PS5. They aren’t anything special, but you can find them on MikeTheSackboy’s Earth – yes, that was my PSN back then.
Although I never became great at creating levels in LBP, it became a proper creative outlet for me. I also had friends at school who played it, which was one of the ways my best friend and I kept in touch even after we both graduated elementary school and went to different highschools.
On my jailbroken PSP, I would soon discover a homebrew game called LameCraft. As you can likely guess from the name, it was a port of Minecraft. In my mind, it felt like LittleBigPlanet but in full 3D. This would lead me to trying Minecraft for the PC in 2012, and becoming hooked on that. I would play it on the family computer, which was my dad’s Acer gaming tower.
Also on the PSP, I would discover something people would make for it called PSP Portals. These were little recreations of desktop operating systems that you could download and run in the PSP’s internet browser. This allowed me to experience a small recreation of OSes like Windows Vista, Windows XP, and even Mac OS X Lion. At the time, I didn’t have my own computer anymore – so the thought of having a desktop operating system on my PSP had always fascinated me. Eventually, I would also discover a port of DOXBox for the PSP that could even run Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, which was the first time I was able to experience a little bit of computing history.
Being able to experience these old operating systems not only got me interested in computer operating systems, but it made me wonder what else my PSP could do. I even thought of, and tried to create, my own PSP Portal based on Windows 7. I also started messing around with the files on my PSP, and even managed to change the splash screen of LameCraft. I even found myself writing my first ever HTML on that PSP.
LittleBigPlanet was a creative outlet for a long time, but after discovering Minecraft, my friend told me about a modpack for it called Tekkit. Tekkit had a mod in it called ComputerCraft, which is exactly what it sounds like. You could craft computers in it that you could program. These programs were written in Lua, which I’d also accidentally learned a little bit of thanks to many PSP homebrews being made in it. Eventually, I would watch videos from a YouTuber called NDFJay, who made a tutorial series on writing a ComputerCraft operating system. Sadly, it seems these videos have been lost to time. Nonetheless, my first functioning Lua program was a password-protected ComputerCraft door.
Discovering programming at school
My school laptop ran Windows 7. It was a Dell Latitude E5420 laptop. When I first got it, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it. It was decent enough to get schoolwork done, and although it came with useful accessibility tools the other school PCs didn’t, it was still heavily restricted by Group Policy. Also, around this time, Google Chrome was widely used but the laptop didn’t have it and I couldn’t install it. This meant that I was stuck on an outdated version of Internet Explorer, which no longer supported the version of Flash Player needed for many of the games my friends would play. During free-time periods in class, I’d find the laptop very limiting as a result.
By this point in my life I was already extremely familiar with both Windows and PlayStation modding. I knew what my laptop could do, but also was well aware of what it couldn’t. But because it was a school laptop, it had all the same school software the other PCs had – many of which I never thought of trying to use, because we’d normally not be allowed to. Being unable to install my own software meant I had no choice but to explore what was already there. Thanks to which I was able to discover the Adobe creative suite, Movie Maker, Kidpix, Scratch, and later in life, Visual Studio.
Many of these programs, I had no idea how to use. But I’d always try to play around with them during free periods in class or during art class where my sight loss had progressed to the point of not being able to participate. In Grade 6, I would start to experiment with Visual Basic and Windows Forms, which coupled with my basic knowledge of programming from ComputerCraft, allowed me to easily pick up the basics of the language.
I found myself creating my own web browser using the Internet Explorer web view, as well as other programs like a text editor. At one point, I even wrote a Bingo game so I could play along with the class. I would continue to practice programming in Visual Basic until 2015. I’d also make videos about it, such as an extremely over-the-top trailer for OrcWrite that you can see next to this text. You’ve been warned though, it’s really over-the-top.
It was also around this time that my dad would give me one of his old laptops, a red Toshiba Satellite running Windows 8, which is the same laptop used to make the OrcWrite video. This let me practice even more Visual Basic, since I could do it on the weekends and after school as well as during free time at school.
Finding my true passion
Now having several massive creative outlets in the form of LittleBigPlanet, ComputerCraft, and actual programming with Visual Basic, I knew for sure this was the path I wanted to take. I was going to become a programmer and I wasn’t going to let a single thing stop me. Soon my close friends would recognize this, and I’d become known for my love for computers at school.
When Windows 8 came out, I started seeing videos about it and peoples’ reaction to its new UI. One of these videos was from a YouTuber called OSFirstTimer, where he got his computer-illiterate mother to try the operating system for the first time. She hated it! I would watch every episode of OSFirstTimer that I could, discovering all kinds of Linux distributions and old Windows versions I’ve never seen before. This made me even more fascinated with operating systems, and made me want to make my own.
My closest friend at the time also discovered OSFirstTimer, and we would talk about it at recess together. Paradoxically, he also enjoyed the thought of making our own operating system together. We would dream about it all the time, and he’d eventually give me a DVD with Linux Mint on it for my birthday. This led me to trying it, and other distros, in virtual machines and eventually on real hardware. We never did make our own OS though.
Eventually, OSFirstTimer would release a 2-hour long video about his history, and how he became interested in operating systems. Inside the video, he explained his history with programming in Visual Basic, and showed off a video game he attempted to make called Histacom.
Histacom was a story-based game set in an alternate universe where you time-travel between different eras of the Internet. You play it through a virtual Windows desktop, travelling between different operating system versions as you travel through time. It was a really interesting concept to me, and knowing it was written using the same language I knew, it immediately made me look up to Phil as a creator.
Eventually, I would join the forum for one of his other games, ShiftOS, which was essentially a build-your-own-OS simulator with a story to it. I would soon become a developer of the game, and eventually its lead developer in 2015 – where I kept working on it well into 2017, after porting it to C# and then to MonoGame.
Developing ShiftOS gave me yet another creative outlet, being able to learn even more about programming and even game development. It also let me design my dream desktop operating system without needing to know how to write one, and it was also how I met some friends – who I’m still close friends with to this day, one of which is currently a moderator at Trixel Creative.
I could never fully complete ShiftOS, though. I could never really make it work as a concept. I would eventually experiment with turning it into a hacking game, taking inspiration from games like Hacknet. But it never worked with Phil’s original story idea, so rather than continuing to work off his vision, I started trying to work on my own.
Welcome to The Peacenet, my original game idea
As a little kid, although I had a few real-life friends, they were few and far between. Many people just didn’t want to hang out with the blind kid, because I couldn’t play sports and wasn’t really interested in trying lots of other things. Some people would even bully me, because I’d spend recess just wandering around the schoolyard getting up to whatever nonsense I was getting up to.
Instead, having played many video games, I would invent a set of imaginary friends to hang out with – many of them just being characters from my favorite games. I would imagine myself going on adventures with them, and this was how I got through periods of boredom or sadness. When it was time to work or focus, my mind would go back to the real world.
This concept of being in the real world and being in an imaginary world, both worlds having their own unique social circles in my life, was partially what made LittleBigPlanet so interesting to me. It essentially made my imaginary world a real concept that I could actually experience. But it also became the concept for a game idea.
I imagined a future world where a company developed a simulated environment people could live in. The player character would be tasked in defeating a malware that was attacking people in the simulation. The player could translocate between real life and the simulation, gaining superpowers when in the simulated world. If you’re thinking a little bit of Saints Row 4, then that was part of the inspiration.
This game would have been far too ambitious for me to make, however. There’s a reason that games like GTA and Saints Row are made solely by large studios and not a single blind kid in his bedroom on a laptop.
But what I could make, was a hacking game based on the concept. This was The Peacenet.
The Peacenet was what I turned ShiftOS into. It took place in an operating system that ran on the simulated brain of the player character within a digital environment called The Peacenet. There was a virus spreading around the Peacenet, causing the digitized beings inside it to go crazy and attack one another by hacking their OSes. It was the player’s job to stop the virus.
And although it vaguely predicted real-life concepts like the Metaverse, something I never intended on doing by the way, it never got completed. But it got so far into development, and had such a cool concept to some people, that it would get my programming talent noticed by teachers at school.
From a hobby to a career
In Grade 10 (early 2018), I showed a copy of The Peacenet running on my school laptop to my vision resource coach. My sight had degraded to the point where the school started having me learn Braille, doing a practice lesson in it every week as a pre-emptive measure. I didn’t need the skill, but if and when I eventually would, I’d have it. Each week, we would read a page out of a Braille version of my favorite Pokemon novel, “The Lost Riolu,” and afterward, I would sometimes have time to show off the game I was working on.
Eventually I’d play through the game’s tutorial, with multiple teachers in the room watching. It was impressive to them, and I was then informed of an up-coming Dual Credit program at the local college for game development – and was recommended to apply.
From 2018 to 2020, I would take these Dual Credit courses. I would get to leave normal class, and be able to experience college as I’d take one course that I could earn both a highschool credit and a future college credit in. I took four of these courses, acing almost every assignment in each, with 99% final grades in each course. I would eventually take the game development program full-time in 2020 to 2022, but by that point, my sight had degraded beyond being able to properly continue post-secondary education – leading me to drop out.
However, my early success in the courses prompted my school to nominate me to participate in a provincial programming contest. The winner of this contest would take home $1000 in cash, which…well…I used to buy my first gaming laptop in 2020, which is the same one I have to this day.
During my second year of college, I joined up with Trixel Creative to work on an up-coming game called Restitched. I did this because the game’s concept was very similar to LittleBigPlanet, the game that helped me eventually discover game development.
Where I am now
I have severe vision loss, far beyond what I could imagine as a kid. My right eye has a blind spot and no usable central vision, and my stronger eye, currently has a visual acuity of 20/500 – with 20/200 being the threshold for legal blindness in Canada.
The PS3 I grew up on, however, is still alive and well – and sitting under my right monitor. I used it to take the PlayStation Store screenshot on this page. In the spirit of my early life, it is also jailbroken – which allowed me to access the old PlayStation Store UI from back then, letting me get the authentic screenshot.
I am still working on Restitched, and have been lead programmer of the game since April of 2022. I don’t intend to give that position up.
The Peacenet stopped being developed in 2020, because it became the current hacking game I’m working on – Socially Distant, which explores an alternate version of the events of the 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic.
When I was diagnosed with my Retinitis-Pigmentosa, the form of it I have was untreatable. However, thanks to seeing the top specialists of it in the world, and thanks to extensive medical research, I am one of the first patients with the disease in the Canadian public healthcare system to be able to receive a successful treatment for the condition – even having parts of my low-light vision loss restored.
My story is a long one, with lots of ups and downs. It is by no means a fairy tale either. But just like I said at the very top of this page, I want to inspire others to be creative. And I hope that my story inspires you, whether you are disabled or not, to never stop doing the things you love and to never stop creating – no matter what in life tries to pull you down.
And as long as this page is, it is not the end of my story. I’m still writing it.