Making a game with a 6 year old

One of my most personal bonds with my six year old step daughter is computer games. I’ve always loved computer games since before I can remember and I am very happy to see Faye really enjoys them too. In early 2012 I finally bought a computer capable of playing games and one of the first games I tried was Minecraft. I had played it before having bought it in 2010 but the rate at which it was updating soon made it unplayable on my modest Thinkpad.

I knew it would be exactly the type of thing Faye would enjoy (she loves organising things, opening things, putting things in things, taking things out of things, building things, destroying things, things) so one morning when I was looking after her I showed her. She fell in love instantly and it’s still something we come back to at least once a week (usually more often), from my experience this kind of longevity is unheard of when it comes to entertaining kids! I could go on about what other things she enjoys playing but I am getting past my point.

Faye knows I use a program called Monkey to make games and she is well aware I made the You Are The Yeti game during an LD48 competition. She had lots of suggestions that I just didn’t have time to implement, but I loved the fact she was interested.

I’m not sure how it came about but a couple of weeks a go I asked her if she had any game ideas and she launched into a 10-15 minute non stop game ideas pitch. She was genuinely excited and enthusiastic about it, so I made a point of writing as much of it as possible in a Google document. And so was born the design doc for NIMBLE BAT! The name is very much inspired by the game Nimble Quest, but that’s where the similarities end. I don’t want to go in to too much detail, but there are bats, there is a pet shop, people steal things at night and you collect things at day (plus 50 other ideas).

The plan has no cohesion, no real structure, is full of half baked ideas but honestly, who cares? I get the impression that’s kind of how Minecraft got started and that worked. I say “who cares?” but I think the game designer in me would probably scoff at it had an adult presented it to me. I’m trying to get on with a “proper” game, Ninjah 2, and this will no doubt get in the way, but I think I’d have to be pretty dead inside to ignore the chance to work on a game Faye can feel she has had some input on. My hope is to work on it between now and Ludum Dare 28 and finish some form of game by the end of that weekend. I consider it a jam entry that will almost certainly have nothing to do with the theme.

There is a problem though, game design to most people, is boring. Especially 6 year olds. I certainly don’t want to force Faye to be involved “You wanted to make a game, now SIT and watch me struggle to fix this memory leak!” but at the same time, I would like to make enough of the process open to Faye so she can have an active involvement.

Nimble Bat Start

The start of Nimble bat

I’ve not started coding yet, but I have started on the graphics. I am using Aseprite, because it’s a brilliant, simple to use, yet powerful pixel art/animation tool. Katy (my girlfriend) showed Faye the above picture and she instinctively knew that it was “drawing pictures one square at a time”. Last night Faye sat with me and started drawing too, and again, she was drawing one pixel at a time, every pixel she was drawing counted. I’m happy to see Aseprite supports Linux, so I will install that on the Ubuntu running Thinkpad (something Faye already uses a lot) and let her get on with things there too!

To go back to the point about trying to keep interest going, I think graphics are probably the quickest way of generating some form of immediate feedback to the work that’s being done. I will aim to made sure that if I don’t have anything playable to show, at the very least I can say “Hey, I drew the acorns (a requested feature)”. Eventually I would like to make a simple level editor that allows Faye to be involved with the actual game design as well, but that’s for another day (I am aware that Unity now has 2d specific tools and while I am tempted to give it a try, I’m a bit apprehensive about using it for this project, maybe I will reconsider if it helps keep interest!). As I write this, I have just got thinking about sound effects. I’d love to have a small handheld recorder so we can quickly and easily make our own sound effects for the game too.

Anyway, to summarise, Ninjah 2 maybe on hold for a bit, and hopefully this won’t be the last post about making a game with a 6 year old!