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5-Year-Old Girl Makes Video Game
by Ryan Creighton on 05/24/11 10:01:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[this article is cross-posted from the Untold Entertainment blog, which is awesome]

As planned, i took my five-year-old daughter Cassie to TOJam, the three-day Toronto independent game jam, to make a game with me. And here it is:

Cassie drew all the pictures, wrote all the titles, and recorded the voice of the main character. She also came up with the NPCs (including Mr. Turtle, the Mean Tiger, and the villainous Lemon), and designed some of the puzzles (including the one where you [SPOILER ALERT] have to read a sign to justify your need for a coconut to throw at the Lemon).

As <a href=

Cassie and Ryan [photo by Brendan Lynch]

Send Cassie to College?

i used Mochimedia's ad service to inject ads into the game, which is fitting, because Mochi was a TOJam sponsor this year. i threw ads in there with the hope that the game might drum up a little bit of cash, which i will put toward the education fund that Cassie's grandma started for her. Wouldn't it be cool if Cassie's game paid for college? (Sadly, it won't happen. See the Pimp My Game series for more reasons why.) For kicks, i added a PayPal Donate button beneath the game.

Cassie with chopsticks

With your help, maybe we can send her to get some etiquette training? [Photo by Paul Hillier]

Alert Child Services

Dragging your kid to a weekend-long game jam, eh? Before you call Children's Aid on me, please understand that i didn't actually keep Cassie captive at TOJam all weekend long. She came in with me at 9:30 Saturday morning, and was the most excited i've ever seen her. We'd been preparing her for MONTHS so that she'd be emotionally ready for TOJam. After the organizers expressed concern that my rotten kid would be running around the place pestering people and making noise (an entirely likely scenario, if you're familiar with my insane children and my lousy parenting style), i spent every evening coaching Cassie.

Me: Remember, you're the first little girl who's ever made a game at TOJam. And everyone's worried you're going to run around screaming and making noise and wrecking things.

Cassie: (shocked face) No i won't!

Me: *i* know you won't. (totally lying here - i was as nervous about it as anyone) But you have to prove to everyone that little girls can make video games too. If you're very well behaved, then next year if another little girl wants to come and make a game, the TOJam people will say "the little girl who made a game last year was SO wonderful, we'd LOVE to see more little girls making games."

Cassie: i'll be have. i will!

Cassie and Daddy

Cassandra, "being have" [Photo by Paul Hillier]

Yes, Cassandra, There Is a Game Jam

The morning of TOJam was like Christmas for her. i'm not kidding. In the days leading up to the event, she told everyone she knew that she was going to TOJam. Naturally, they had no idea what she was talking about, but the strangers in the elevator and in the grocery store smiled and nodded politely all the same. By the end of the day on Saturday, Cassie had spent 10 hours at TOJam, and was begging me to let her stay overnight. She had put in about 6 hours of actual colouring work, and sunk at least another hour into voice acting later that evening at home, where it was quieter. i tucked her into bed and returned to TOJam late Saturday evening, and then pulled an all-nighter scanning her crayon drawings and integrating them with the game logic using UGAGS (the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System).

Ponycorn work

[Photo by Paul Hillier]

Family Jam

Sunday morning after church, the whole family joined me at TOJam with a bunch of instruments in tow. My wife Cheryl and the two little girls sat together on the carpet down a quiet hallway. Cassie grabbed the harmonica, i took the drum, Cheryl took the ukulele, and little Isabel used the thumb harp and the Happy Apple. We recorded some music tracks together. The one that made it into the game intro is just Cassie and Izzy playing together. It was really nice to have everyone involved like that. Here's the family track that didn't quite make the cut:

[VISIT THE UNTOLD ENTERTAINMENT BLOG TO EXPERIENCE THE CACOPHONY (because i don't know how to embed it on Gamaustra)]

Sunday evening, the family regrouped at TOJam. The game, while still unfinished, was set up in a hallway where Cassie excitedly ran up to any interested passers-by, snatched the mouse out of their hands, and said "I MADE THIS! LEMMIE SHOW YOU HOW TO PLAY!"

i think it was a really valuable life lesson for Cassie to see that all her hard work and effort went into making a product that brought smiles to the faces of her players. The next step is to brave the hairy Playbook process to get it on the device so that Cassie can bring it to school for Show & Tell.

Creighton Family

[Photo by Paul Hillier]

Correcting History

i really hope you enjoy Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure. In all of this, our goal as parents is to give our kids the kind of childhood we would KILL to have had. i can't imagine how different my life would have been if i had made a real working video game with my father at age 5. In fact, i can't imagine how different my life would have been if he hadn't left when i was eight months old.

But no matter. Some day, the ponycorns will get him.

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Game Designer


Mark Kreitler
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You did a great thing, Ryan! I bet it *was* every bit as great as Christmas, for her -- maybe even better.

Funny thing: I started doing this with my kids just last weekend. My daughter (also 5) is designing "Bubble Popper," and my son (7), "Crazy Tanks" (which may already be an iPad title...gotta check that).

You hit the nail on the head: letting kids see their work transformed into a product has tremendous value. Just as good -- creating games grows as they do, and opens doors into applied math, graphic and performance arts, literature, philosophy, name it. There really is something for everyone.

I admire the way you involved your entire family, and the extent to which you incorporated your daughter's talents. Whether or not the game makes any money, it's already paid for itself, I'm sure.

Great work!

Ryan Creighton
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i've already connected with a bunch of parents who are either doing the same thing with their kids, or who want to!

i was reflecting on game development just yesterday, and you're absolutely right ... the appeal (especially on small teams) is that it's so multi-disciplinary. You get to use both sides of your brain ... such a boon to a kid like me who had trouble focusing on just one thing.

No reason why, if you're into game development, it can't become a family business, right?

Joel S
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Awesome, I'd love to see more of this :]

Jason Pineo
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Hi Ryan,

Thank you for telling us about your experience taking Cassie to the jam. I tried out SMPA and it's pretty good! I'd love to know some details of your 'production process', namely, how much did Cassie drive the shape and flow of the game? How much was Cassie declaring "evil Lemon goes here" versus you asking "So, what bad guy should we have here"?

And now, to Cassie: Good job, that was fun to play and explore! Keep making more games!

Ryan Creighton
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Daddy's ideas: the concept of "ponycorns" (really a parody of the schlock we feed our little girls ... pink shopping princesses with cuddly puppy bows and kitten dresses etc etc), using rainbows as portals, all dialogue, the concept of keeping ponycorns in jars

Cassie's ideas: all NPC's (friendly or otherwise ... Cassie was keen to come up with enemies for Sissy to "fight", because she's preoccupied with the concept of "bad guys" in video games), all of the puzzles (the lemon/coconut solution, flipping the turtle over, distracting the tiger, and turning the dinosaur into a mouse), and certain interactions.

She was supposed to get into a heated screaming match with the tiger, but she refused to scream into the microphone because screaming isn't nice, and we ask her all the time not to do it. Then when we went home that night, she screamed at her little sister. It took some convincing, and a discussion about acting, to get her to shriek a couple of times for the v/o track.

i gave her a tiny bit of guidance on her illustration. At first, she felt that ponycorns were too difficult to draw, and it took some work to get her to even try one. The ponycorns' lumpy horns came despite repeated practice drawing pointed horns. i gave her the idea to draw a dinosaur. When what she drew looked nothing like a dinosaur, i said "don't T-Rexes have tails?" and she drew a "tail" on it. i thought it looked so charmingly unlike a dinosaur that i put it in the game!

i was really impressed with her writing. i wrote the titles out on separate sheets, and she re-wrote them very handily. She just had a tiny bit of trouble drawing a "3" ... we had to practice lots of them on a separate sheet, and even then, i had to Photoshop out her best one, because the rest looked somewhat like her dinosaur. ;)

Originally, the game was going to be a puzzle platformer. When i realized how accurate her drawing would have to be to make the game even remotely playable, i resigned myself to the fact that i'd probably have to do all of the drawing in her style, and include her in the project by incorporating one or two of her pieces. Luckily, a last-minute technology change to UGAGS (the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System) meant that i could compose the game entirely of her artwork, since graphic adventure games are a lot more forgiving than games with physics simulations.

In the end, i think every piece of artwork you see in the game is Cassie's, except for the dialogue font and the animated blue ring that appears when you click on the screen.

peter bushacker
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That is an awesome story. I also have a game design, but I am not sure of the steps to take to get a partnership or deal going to make it a reality.

Good job again!!! And keep making video games your story is a huge inspiration to me.

Evan Jones
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Awww. I hope I'm this awesome of a dad someday!

Please tell Cassie the entire internet loves her game. :D

Luis Guimaraes
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Awww. I hope I'm this awesome of a dad someday! [2]

Raphy Abano
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Great great read! I hope to do something that with my daughter in a couple of years. :)

Glenn Storm
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Flippin' awesome, Cassie! Way to go! :D

We're very much alike Ryan; right down to the same pink pony toys and tactic to combine game development and parenting. Our girls should make a game together. I'll start compiling Lilly's online portfolio.

Sarah Thomson
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Wow you are an awesome Dad! This was super heartwarming. What a lucky little girl.

John Byrd
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Enjoyable story, cute game. Misleading article title.

Alexander Jhin
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Great game but the graphics look like something a five year old would draw! =)

The voice acting is very charming, though some of the supplemental characters have inconsistent accents (I know a ton of lemon monsters -- none of them speak like that.)

Arnaud Lebesnerais
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This is a very inspiring story and experience. A perfect way to bring art and technology into our kids hearts and minds and nurture they creativity. Thanks for sharing that.

dwayne hammond
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I came across your game yesterday, and it was definitely a highlight of my day. After playing it, I immediately spread the word declaring it the "Best. Game. Ever". That awful lemon was just so, SO evil. :)

Tora Teig
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Here, you even got an article in a Norwegian newspaper :)

Ryan Creighton
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Thanks for sharing, Tora! i'll add that to the growing ponycorns press page:

Rebecca Phoa
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Terrific sir.