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Gabriel's Video Game - Part 1
Monday, January 26, 2009

Yesterday night, Gabriel, my 8 year old son, asked me how video games are made. I explained a bit of the process as follows: someone designs them and someone programs them; once they are completed, they are ready to ship and people buy them. In the middle of our conversation he said that he wanted to make his own game. I told him that he could do as he pleased and that after school the next day he could start his game. I told him that I could help but I wouldn't actually make the game for him.

Today, as soon as he came in from school asked for paper to start designing his game. I didn't time him, but the whole process took him around 30-45 minutes. He even has a title for it, Heven's death way--we must rise. He also has a map of the game, a few weapons, a place where to save his game, and a couple of action shots. It's a pretty complete software specification, by any standards.

I will post the game specifications below. They are all done in pen an paper--it's never too early to have him working within a proper software engineering framework. First, however, I want to explain why I'm recording this experience.

I'm not sure how far he'll get, but I hope he finishes it. I'm absolutely staying away from the creative and implementation phases. This is his project, not mine. I'm just trying to facilitate the process and I'm trying to find him the right tools. Therefore, everything he's come up with this far is his own: I haven't given him any recommendations or feedback on his documentation. I'm sure he's gotten some inspiration from somewhere, but I don't know from where. The point is that nothing he's created has come from me. In general, I try to stay away and not influence his decisions too much--it's very hard, but I try. It'd be too easy to get carried away.

When I was his age, things were different. In fact, I didn't actually touch a computer until I was 17 years old (in late 1989). Like I said, things for him are different: he's part of the Millennium generation. These are kids who grew up and are growing up with their own laptops, high-speed internet, the latest game consoles, Club Penguin accounts, online chatting, Google, YouTube, weekly trips to bookstores, no television (cable or satellite TV). The list can go on. Needless to say, these kids are connected and are truly the future of what's to come. I'm sure that whatever this generation will invent will be just incredible. To us, the things that we do (the things that I do for a living) are extremely cool, but these kids will expand on what we are currently doing and taking the net to places we can't even imagine today. We think Facebook is revolutionary--this "Web 2.0" meme will be nothing compared to their inventions.

So what's next, now that he has the map of the game? I'm trying to look for a 3D rendering engine that he could use--like I said, I don't want to do anything. He also needs to create a few characters and give them names (I think he has some already). He has the story, I just need to understand what it is so I can help him put it into the engine. By the way, does anyone have any recommendations? If you do, email me.

What I find surprising is the sophistication of his design. I take a look at his 3rd grade school homework and nothing they do in the classroom compares to what he's created. I think it's a pity, as our educational system hasn't caught up to the times--we'll suffer for that. I think most of what he's done comes from the games he plays and the surfing he does--he likes game publisher sites with lots of videos.

I have to put a disclaimer here: Gabe is a normal kid, and I'm not trying to create a mini-me (2 of me would be great, but this is not the right way of going about it). He does more things than just play video games and surf the net. For example, he plays baseball and soccer (we'll try again this summer--fingers crossed), swims from time to time, plays chess, takes piano lessons, collects rocks and sticks (don't ask), reads, has a journal (I think this one is weird, even I don't have one), etc., etc. You know, the typical kid stuff.

Another theory I have about his diagram involves me working from home most of the time: I typically have a few design documents opened on my computer screen, and he may have seen a some of them--because of the connectedness of the missions. Who knows, but I'm certain most kids his age could create what he has done: these connected kids have access to a lot of information and have learned to digest it fast and effectively and, most important, apply what they learn to problem solving.

If you are still reading, here is the documentation he has created:

Splash Screen (all games have a splash screen)

I'm still not sure how he arrived at the name. I googled the full sentence, but no results. Note that "heaven" is misspelled, but I'm not sure if the mistake is not actually intentional (kids and txting). The gratuitous artistic touches clearly serve a marketing purpose: cool sells (that's how I interpret it, anyway).

The Game (with the levels and details of levels)

Note that the game has a start and an end. You can clearly see the connection to different levels. I also like that the challenges in each mission are different, e.g., in P4 you have to "find a desert and solve the puzzle." In the final level you have to fight the "devil" (I'm not sure what he means by that, but my guess is that the devil is similar to a Wii's Guitar Hero character). What I'm most impressed with is the "Xbox Live" button: he knows that players can connect to other players on the internet (he challenges other Guitar Hero players on the internet all the time). He's a kid of the times, that's for sure.

Cool Weapons (what game is complete without them?)

Each weapon or gun has a specific name. My favorite is the "funny gun"--I haven't asked him what this gun does.

Battle Detail (1)

Battle Detail (2)

Saving a Game (you should save your game)

He's very cognizant of the fact that players need to save games. He gets really mad when he has to brush his teeth and we keep asking him to go do it, when we know that he has to reach a point in the game where he can save everything. I'm not sure why he picked 4 "data" slots--perhaps that's what Wii games offer.

I'll keep an eye on his progress and post it. If he ends up creating a binary, I will post it, too, for beta-testers.

I think the whole point of him wanting to create the game is to sell it, but we'll see how it goes first. I will have to review his business plan first and monitor the quality of the game. :)

8:13 PM | 0 comment(s) |


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