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Home-schooling game design with a 5 years old

There’s only a certain amount of home-schooling and exercises to do at home, especially for little ones. They become exhausted and lose their attention rapidly. A continuous battle to find more and new exciting things to do.

Earlier this month, after half an hour of phonics reading and struggling to get the basics of multiplication we paused these topics for a completely different one. Game design.

Surprisingly as soon as I mentioned we’re going to make our own game I had all the attention and focus in the world. Flows of millions of ideas followed.

A great opportunity to learn by playing, as long as the perception of making a game is considered playing. It was, it is still, even after three weeks, a few hours a week.

Just to name a few there is a plethora of skills and knowledge required to develop and build a game. I obviously picked the technical and advanced topics like software development and integration and assisted him in all the rest.

Project management

Project and game name: Shrot – straight and definite answer from the little one. I’ve tried to discuss and explore alternative options; this was definitive, as the lead designer he made his choice.

The name of the game is Shrot

Next major item and similarly for grown-up projects: managing expectations. We need to set goals, which are achievable in a relatively short term with the time and skills we have. Million of ideas is great but let’s start simple and think big. And so we agreed to base the game on a simple mechanic, a 2-dimensional platformer with a target of 10 levels, playable with a gamepad and on-screen buttons.

We’ve also started to gather and classify workable ideas into a Kanban board using Trello. Trello helps to organise ideas in cards where they can be reordered, prioritized and mark as complete. This is trivial but the core of project management.

Graphic Design

The obvious start is to work on visuals. So we gathered all sorts of arts and crafts and materials we could use. In the current version of the game, there are elements designed with paint, felt pens, gritty pastels, pencils, glitters, wiggly colourful bits, pompoms, cotton, squashed paper, digital media, real-life pictures,  glue and various sorted of crafted items.

The graphical theme is quite broad and organised by theme, especially picked by the little one; jungle, snow, lava, cloud worlds and others.

Game and Level Design

Designing the game and levels is actually one of the most challenging parts. It needs a lot of thinking for the game to flow. We approached it by testing and playing. An interesting game needs to introduce new mechanics and slightly raise the challenge over and over to make it fun and not repetitive. As of now the first level, the jungle, is complete in a sense that it contains all the elements and progression we wanted.

Audio and Music Design

Some of the audio is recorded with a microphone, the main bulk comes from sound libraries where we spent time browsing and exploring sound ideas.

The main tune is actually am acapella recording from Otto from start to finish without and preparation. I told him do you want to sing the music of the game and just did it straight away. First cut. A few days later we layered in synthetic instruments while playing with Garage Band and the result is actually quite fun.

So this is our home-schooling game design experience. Here is the video of the first level, hope you enjoy, and we, especially Otto, 5, can’t wait to get your feedback.

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The tomato skier game

Game design is fun actually much complex than imagined. Many people aspire becoming game designers assuming it’s super fun and easy when you play a lot of game. It probably helps, but it’s not enough. Let’s go through the example of designing the tomato surfer game. The tomato surfer game is the first level designed for our educational game Ready Veggie Fruity Go.

 I don’t pretend to be a professional game designer and provide an academic process. This entry is from my own experience as a curious game designer and developer. Which is made up of a long succession of hit and miss of various trials and experiments. A while ago, I was looking at the process of making cell animation.  Cell animation is the old school way of animation by drawing movements frame by frame; think of the old Disney films from the ’50s. This requires an awful lot of talent and time, and I still wanted to give a shot.

So I draw a running carrot, nine drawings of a running carrot to be precise; each picture showing body and limbs in a specific position that would flow naturally with the rest of the animation. I had a vegan theme game in mind and was in a phase of experimenting all sorts of carrot meals – hence the carrot choice. So here we are, a few hours later I had a carrot running.

cel animation of a hand drawn running carrot

I’ve put in on a game scene and started moving it on flat ground. First, I realised cell animation is not the way to go since the animation stutter, are very difficult to generate and flow naturally and takes a lot of time to produce.

Secondly, flat ground is.. well, flat and a bit boring. Having hills and obstacles would make it a bit more exciting. This is where I did some research on generating hills and bumps, with a hint of randomness to get a realistic rendering.

And so I started to generated hills and playing with physics properties until I had the idea of using slippery surface. This led to change the initial concept. I was changing the running carrot to a surfing tomato. I’ve picked up an quick example of a tomato on the net to play with while asking Sofie was elaborating her own a surfing tomato concept.

One of the first prototypes of the tomato surfer, with a 3d snowy slope

So I eventually had a surfing tomato sliding on a snowy slope in the breathy mountains to play with. Thanks to Sofie’s artist talents the concepts became beautiful and visually pleasant. The hand-drawn character and background started to come to like with lovey pastel colours and lively brushstrokes. Additional gears and features allow the character to come to life.

The tomato skier artistic concept

Now was the time to more fun and educational ingredients into the recipe. The idea of the game Ready Veggie Fruity Go is to play a fun game while learning words and letters. This concept was incorporated as a goal and incentive to play with the surfer.

This level is now is beta testing and includes the main features. Here’s a video of the end results.

Ready Veggie Fruity Go by Sofielafée – The Tomato Skier

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A journey in game design for preschoolers

Why not creating a game for preschoolers? I will scribble about the experience of creating a homemade educational game.

Learning theory, game design, software development, this all can sound complicated; we all imagine games being created by a pack of highly skilled designers and developers working altogether in big studios. Few of them. Believe it or not there are many passionate independent developers willing to experiment personal creative experience. And why not getting original ideas out there.

The inception of an idea

Let’s go back to the beginning of the story. 

It’s late 2017. Winter is coming. Sofie, artist, graphic designer, had a creative impulse and spent several days drawing cute characters, colourful flowers, funny statements. Sketches and illustrations made up of watercolour, coloured pencils, felt-tip pens, photography, Photoshop, Illustrator, digital drawing. 

This little mouse with a spiky hat, checkered rocket, large ears and big smile looked amazing. Sofie pulled out Rocket Mouse out of her hat. This cute and funny mouse would be a great companion for toddler’s eager to learn and go on an outer space adventure.

Rocket Mouse Original Watercolour
Rocket Mouse in Watercolour

Learn and learn again

There’s a lot to do, I’d put Peaky Blinders, Game of Thrones and other series on hold for now; so I spent evenings reading blogs and watching videos about game design and game development. How to make a game? An interesting game. How to animate characters? How to interact with characters and their environment? Now to brand and give an identity to a game? The game had to be mobile, touch-based, easy to use, guided by narrative voices, pleasing to the eye, personal and fun. Colossal business.

As a matter of fact, we can all learn, learn anything. It takes time and might appear insurmountable. It may fail, it may work, it may be boring or exciting, but why not trying? Have you ever thought of creating your own game or animation?