My name is Charlie Czerkawski and I’m the CDO of Guerilla Tea; a Dundee based game and app developer. Several weeks ago Guerilla Tea worked together with ENABLE Scotland's East Renfrewshire Local Area Coordination Team to run a few game development workshops for young people who have learning disabilities.
ENABLE Scotland is the country’s leading charity supporting children and adults who have learning disabilities and their families and carers. The charity campaigns for people who have a learning disability to live full and independent lives.
Several months ago Guerilla Tea met with ENABLE Scotland quite by chance at Futures Fest, an annual careers fair held in Glasgow. There we discussed the video games industry and the organization mentioned the fact that a number of their members were extremely interested in video games, specifically how games are made and the possibility of it as a viable career path.
Guerilla Tea is a young, ambitious company and as we continue to grow the business we are interested in exploring a number of different aspects of game development. It is widely known that there is still very little structure in place and routes into the industry, as well as prospects of career progression, are still somewhat unclear. However, one aspect that we have had to come to terms with as we have learnt the business is that the industry can, at times, feel fairly insular. With the increase in popularity of casual and mobile games however, and the ease with which games can be developed and published, we wanted to try and reach out and promote game development as a great past time, and potentially a great career.
The meeting with ENABLE Scotland’s LAC team came at an interesting time for us, and after some lengthy discussions within the company we decided that this was a cause that we all felt was worth investing some of our time in. After months of careful planning we decided that as an initial event we would work with a small group, around 12, young people supported by ENABLE Scotland. We would run game development workshops where we would introduce the group to the Scottish games industry, and teach them the methods and some of the more user-friendly software involved in game development. During the course of the two scheduled workshops we would work with the group to decide on a game concept and move it towards a working design. We would then build the game and ultimately release it on iTunes and Google Play as a completed product.
Workshop 1 – Concept Design
Our first workshop took place during early February where we met with the group and began with an introduction to the Scottish games industry by veteran Brian Baglow. The talk itself was extremely entertaining and Brian covered the Dundee game development scene, which is recognised as a hub of game development in the UK. He talked about the existing game companies and a little about the history of the games industry. A few myths were dispelled in the process, including the notion that Grand Theft Auto was developed in the United States!
After a short lunch break, we set about doing some basic concept design with the group. The first thing we needed to do was come up with a team name for the group, and we took a number of suggestions, eventually deciding on the name ‘Lazy Boys’ by majority vote. There were a number of catchy names suggested, and ‘Sonic Muscle’ was my personal favourite!
Our idea was to basically structure the two events in the fashion of a game jam. We then told the group about the idea behind a game jam, and the fact that normally games take months or even years to make, but here we speed up the process to cover a single weekend, often losing a few night’s sleep... Although these workshops would take place over two separate days and wouldn’t involve working throughout the night.
We set team Lazy Boys with the task of coming up with some ideas for games, noting down suggestions on paper. The main lesson we were aiming to teach the group here was project scope. Given our limited time and resources there would be a lot of features and gameplay elements which would simply be unachievable, and our challenge was to keep the concepts within the umbrella of simple, pick-up-and-play casual games. The group understood the idea of scope extremely well, and there were a lot of concepts for games ranging from several different takes on the platforming genre covering a number of themes, along with ideas for text based quiz games.
After a few hours we took some time to collate the concepts. There were several ideas for various elements within the concepts including enemies along with pickups and other gameplay enhancements. We got the group together to work through the ideas and essentially vote on elements to include in our final project, eliminating aspects which were not relevant or feasible.
A recurring idea was platforming as mentioned above, which we worked into an endless running game. A theme which seemed popular was cyberpunk, so Lazy Boys decided that the character would be running over skyscraper rooftops in a dystopian future. Thinking about the character, there were several ideas for outlandish creatures but ultimately the name ‘Norman’ was decided and a regular cartoon styled human figure seemed more fitting. So how could we make the game a little more interesting? Random ideas thrown together was becoming the theme of the day, and to keep in tune with this the team voted for the enemies to be extra-terrestrial elderly people, appearing to block Norman’s path on the rooftops. Norman would also collect Mana which would boost his score.
A name for the game – ‘On The Freerun’. A fitting name and descriptive of the content, which was another lesson we covered during the day, as many amateur games are created with weak titles which limit their potential reach.
As the first workshop came to an end, we had a game concept which would be taken to the next stage. There were of course a lot of other ideas and some members of the group had shown a great deal of interest in making games in their spare time. After highlighting the fact that the software Guerilla Tea uses to make games is beyond the hobbyist price range, we talked about available free (or more affordable) software programs such as Gamemaker, Unity and GIMP, which can be purchased or downloaded, and we prepared a list to be sent out to the group.
This concluded a successful first workshop, and during the intervening period Guerilla Tea undertook some basic preparation for the next workshop which would be the development day.
We designed a logo for ‘Lazy Boys’, and also put together a basic front end for ‘On The Freerun’. We also worked on putting some of the core framework together for an endless running game using YoYo Games Gamemaker engine.
We decided that the most effective approach to building the game with Lazy Boys would be to have them create the art assets for the game using traditional means, ie. simply creating it on paper with coloured pens. We would then scan it into a PC, and add a little minor polish using Photoshop. With the game framework in place we would create the gameplay on the day of the event and import the art into it, finishing the day with a working game.
Workshop 2 – Development Day
The second workshop began with two further talks, beginning with games industry adviser Phil Harris giving a presentation on the games industry in general. Throughout the talk he covered organised game jam events in greater detail, again something which the group showed interest in.
University of Abertay Lecturer Ryan Locke then gave a very motivating speech on focussing on your goals and ambitions, and the value of attending university, and in particular how closely tied the University of Abertay is the Dundee games industry, providing all the benefits when looking to build a career.
After lunch we separated Lazy Boys into those who were interested in programming and those who were interested in art.
The programmers worked with YoYo Games Gamemaker, with help from Guerilla Tea CTO Alex Zeitler. The object of this was to learn Gamemaker in the process of building On The Freerun. With our basic pre-prepared framework, a few members of the team began implementing the designed functionality of the game. They managed to get a character moving in the randomly generating environment, and implemented the health and scoring system, as well as the behaviour of the Mana and damaging effects of the hostile elderly people.
Simultaneously, the members of the team who were more interested in art worked with the help of Guerilla Tea CCO Matt Zanetti and Ryan Locke to create the art assets for the game. We set about putting up a list of required objects onto our large projector screen, and then assigned different tasks to members of the team. Throughout the next few hours the team created a series of buildings, enemies and mana objects on paper.
It was great to see the team working towards the design established from the first workshop, keeping things simple. Although in the process we did lose the cyberpunk style and the game world did become more cartoon-like. Something that was unavoidable with the tools to hand and the short time frame.
We had already planned out the basic running and jumping animations for Norman previously, and at a point in the afternoon, Matt helped a few members of the team draw a simple design for Norman using Photoshop, and also tweak some of the animations with Maya. This was definitely a more sensitive aspect of the design, so a lot of supervision was required here.
Myself, Matt and Ryan guided the tasks during the day and as the development session came to a close, we collated the afternoon’s work and brought the art assets into the prototype which Lazy Boys programmers had created, tidying up some of the art using Photoshop, although this was very minimal.
The group then had a chance to test their game to round off the day. The majority of the team had been particularly keen on the game tester role within the industry, and they did actually find a good number of bugs in the game in only a short time playing. However, the ins and outs of game testing was not the objective of the workshops but since it’s a well recognised first rung on the career ladder in the games industry, we recommended some of the older members of the team to actively look into testing work.
On The Freerun
Over the following few days Guerilla Tea set about adding a little polish, and more importantly fixing the bugs the team had found. We released the game to the world on iOS and Android:
Lazy Boys now have a completed, released game with their names in the credits, published by a professional development studio, certainly something to be extremely proud of.
This is one of the first events of its kind and we hope to open up many possibilities in the future. I’m very pleased with the positive response from we have had from the games industry so far, along with some excellent media coverage. We hope to further reinforce game development as an enjoyable and rewarding career choice for those willing to put in the work.
A Great Career
The games industry can at times seem fairly insular but we hope that this small event is just the first step in proving otherwise.
I was quoted in the media:
"We wanted to show the kids and the adults, the concepts of making a game, the software, some of the processes of game development and at the end have a game with their names on the credits."
"We were really promoting that game making is a viable career option, for anybody. It is certainly not cut off or elitist."
Dougie Purves, Service Leader with ENABLE, said:
"We identified that many of the young people we engage with have an interest in the games industry and were really keen to give them the chance to find out more about this field and the training and employment opportunities that exist in Scotland."
"This was a unique experience for everyone who took part. The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. We are so grateful to Guerilla Tea for making this possible."