Category Archives: Development

Creating playable content for children

What could be easier than creating playable content for kids? The truth is that the task isn’t as straightforward as people may believe. While games are naturally the realm of the young, younger children tend to understand rules, goals and fun rather differently. True, children learn quite quickly about the basic concepts of life, however they understand them in a different way. Visiting the doctor, for example, is not a routine chore, but an adventure of its own. And things we may think as being exciting, such as going to the movies, can be seen as a tedious and way too long experience for toddlers.

So what is the key for a satisfying experience for young kids?

I believe there are few:

1. Gameplay has to be satisfying in short sessions, however there should be enough depth for further exploration. Levels, modes are good, but even better if each level or mode is playable as a shorter session or a longer one.

2. The gameplay has to revolve around something you can identify with – if not a character – even a concept can do. Creating a world of faeries is great, but remember there needs to be a specific faerie, such as the protagonist, that should be playable, so the experience is not detached.

3. There can a surprise element that can be explored and tested multiple times. For example, an egg which users knock on to see different objects hiding inside.

4. Interaction should happen in a limited number of ways. For example, touch and drag an apple to a basket, then touch and drag a sheep to the yard.

5. Consistency is key when a learning experience is sought after. There are lots of games where kids can touch many things and see what they do, but nothing is learned unless there is some overall theme and ruleset that’s causing things to act as they do.

Designing app menus for kids

Not everyone can read – and some level of illiteracy is especially common within our game’s focus group – 3 year olds. This means we need to make the menus as easy to navigate as possible with minimum frustration. Our main idea is to keep menu systems simple and have least amount of pre-game nonsense. No main menu, for example. Our players will jump right into the level select screen which is quite intuitive as it shows the levels in a visual way.

Children do tend to like the occasional mysterious icon, though – and we will be using these with care, for exploration of non-essential features and ‘power options’.

To sum up the basics, here’s a list:

1. Use as little text as possible.

2. Use icons and pictograms, but make them interesting and meaningful.

3. Avoid unnecessary menus, even if they are considered standard in the industry.

4. Jump quickly into the action.

5. Animation and button visual responsiveness can add fun and purpose when used carefully.

6. Some concepts, such as arrows or “i” buttons, don’t make much sense. Children do seem to pick up touch gestures easily (my 3 y.o. daughter really likes to pinch-zoom in and out to see how big letters can get in texts she wouldn’t be bothered reading…).

7. This has to do with in-app-purchases – make these list menus least abstract if you actually want kids to understand what they are buying (or trying to convince their parents to buy). Money is an abstract concept and while dominant in grown-ups lives I believe we could spare our kids another couple of years before they have to decide whether they would ask their mom to buy them 400 bonu-credits as in-game currency. Purchases such as tools, badges or furry animals are more kids-friendly and promote more satisfaction and less addiction-based buying.

Creating levels for Burning Things

The process of building and editing levels for Burning Things, our upcoming game for Iphone and iPad, incorporates three steps:

1. Creating level story and theme

2. Illustrating the level sprites (characters, buildings, trees, etc)

3. Building the level using the level editor

We had to create our own level editor to unleash the creative power and transform it into fun and intuitive play for… remember? this game is designed for kids.

This means each level has to be fun for any age between 3 and 10. Sounds challenging? Not too challenging if we can dynamically position any element on the course of the fire truck and scale the difficulty so the far reaches of the level are for the more skillful players, while younger players can enjoy the calmer early stages.

The Christmas Conundrums: Should you release your app for the holiday season?

Every year, the holiday season is a great time for selling pretty much anything. As such, it also holds the potential for a massive increase in app sales. However, the situation is more complex. Christmas-targeted games and apps seem to flock the App Store, creating much competition.

What should you ask yourself when choosing a launch date:

1. Is your app Christmas-related?

If the answer is a definite yes, then the choice is clear. If the answer is not a definite yes, keep reading.

2. Can your app make it to review sites and ‘editor’s picks’ sections?

Your app needs to be interesting and appealing in order to make it into any Christmas shopping list. The top 10 lists are usually controlled by larger publishers so in order to get anywhere near the top 10 you have to deliver something extraordinary.

3. Is your app family-oriented?

Family-oriented apps have a better chance being downloaded as people gather together. In case you have nothing to talk about with the sister you meet only once a year, a good alternative to talking would be playing something together.

4. Would you buy your app during Christmas break?

Take yourself as an example – what do YOU like to do with your smart-phone or tablet during the holidays? Play games? if so, which games? What’s special about them? Does your app have what it takes?

5. Would your app actually do better if released after new year’s?

If your app is a killer business app, for example, maybe it will do better when people get back to their offices. If it’s a commuter’s paradise – hold your horses till the working people commute again.

We are hoping to see Cavernous being released for this coming Christmas 2010.  Stay tuned to hear if the decision was worthwhile.