Monday, 23 March 2015

Tiny Red Riding Hood: Dev Diary 01.

So here we go, a dev diary!  I'm going to try and document my first bash at creating a game myself.  Obviously I will have help along the way, I've already had help up to this point, but for the most part I will be flying solo on this.  So episode one of the dev diary - what I intend to do.


The major force driving this project is that I make something Willow enjoys interacting with, and can learn from.  Also I want to try and make an interactive book app that improves on what's already available.  What this app won't do is replace parent and child time.  There will be no narration, mommy or daddy will still have to read along with Willow and give praise when she gets interactions correct.

Things that I will be keeping in mind throughout the project:

  • Short and simple
    • As my first run at this, it needs to be short enough and simple enough for me to finish it before getting distracted or disheartened! 
  • Fun for Willow!
    • This is important as what I think might be fun is probably not entirely in line with what is actually fun for a toddler!
  • That it's a learning project
    • As much as I would love for this to be my first solo released game, this is my first go!  This is for me to learn and to try and make something fun for Willow, if ultimately I need to throw this one in the trash and start over, that's what I'll do. 

Vertical Slice

Looking forest-y! 
Normally I don't like this approach but there's a couple of reasons why I'm going this route:
  • Show and tell.  Brighton Indies meet up is in a week and a bit, I want something to show off!  It's really important to get a broader opinion on what I'm making and I know there are a few parents who attend so hopefully they might have some insight, or if their wee ones are of the right age they might help with some user testing!
  • Proof of concept.  Mostly to myself over anyone else, show that I can do this.
  • Test the waters with Willow.  I don't think there's such a thing as too young to try and teach Willow, but there may well be too young to get any meaningful feedback!  Will she engage with it?  Will it seem like she likes it?
The section of the game I will be making is what I'm dubbing a 'forest section'.  Story wise Little Red is pretty simple.  Mom sends you off to Grans, you meet the woodcutter or wolf (depending on the version) along the way, you get to Grandma's and the wolf has taken her place, you stop the wolf.  That's it.  Just the 4 beats.  As with the other Little Red Story apps I've played the meat of the 'game play' is in the walk from Little Red's to Grandma's house, or the 'forest sections', and there can be as many of these as I like.

For this vertical slice I will be making a game where you need to collect apples.

Where I am so far  

So far I've started on making the art assets having decided to go for the low poly look.  This means getting back into 3D, and how I wish I was using Maya!  Now Blender is pretty good, and considering it's free, it's actually very comprehensive.  I just wish it was more intuitive!  It took me such a long time to make a simple tree, but once I got my head around Blenders many hotkeys the following tree took a mere hour and a rock no time at all!

Perhaps foolishly this has encouraged me to attempt a 3D character for the game.  Now I know it's going to take me some time to make, rig and animate, but I've gotten much faster with Blender after only a couple of days so I hope that in a weeks time I can have a rudimentary character up and skipping.  As I've said before, this is a learning curve, I'll probably re-do all of the art as I get better.

By this time next week

  • A skipping Tiny Red Character
  • Forest section, apple tree and apples modeled
  • Sample level of picking either red or green apples
  • Some basic UI in place    

Wish me luck!


Monday, 16 March 2015

The Mother I Never Knew I'd Become

I've said before that one thing about becoming a mother that really excited me was the idea of making games for and with Willow.  I decided that the game I would start developing as part of the Unity and Cake meet ups would be my first attempt at an interactive book for Willow.  Obviously I'm really excited about this, it's something I've had in mind since before I was showing, but now that I'm doing it I'm finding it's not nearly as simple as I thought it would be.

Willow's already a gamer.

Little Red Riding Hood

When I was thinking about what games I would make for Willow, I had a grand idea of a woven fairy tale land where classic characters from different stories, fables and nursery rhymes would all live together in a big fantasy world.  But this would be a huge undertaking!  Firstly it needs a lot of writing, and not just taking the old stories and modernizing them or adapting them but also linking all the characters and weaving their stories together.  Secondly it would require a massive amount of art, far to much for just little old me at the moment.  And finally it would need skills to produce that I just don't have yet.  I still want to make this game, but not yet.  For my first solo project I need to start much smaller.

I don't know why but when I think of children's stories the first one that comes to mind is Little Red Riding Hood, so I'm going to start with this one and work up to the big world.  I thought I knew the story pretty well but wanted to do some research, so I brought Willow some fairy tale books (thanks again to everyone who gave us gift cards for her birthday) and downloaded a bunch of Little Red story apps.

Turns out Little Red Riding Hood isn't nearly as warm and fuzzy as I remembered...

Nerfing the Brothers Grimm

So I always thought I wouldn't be the type of mother who won't let their child fall over, eat dirt or grow up with the same stories that I did (yes Willow is going to know all about the Thundercats).  And whilst she will happily eat floor fluff (as hard as we try to stop her), and has had more than a few tumbles leaning to walk, we get to Little Red Riding Hood and suddenly I'm reaching for the bubble wrap and thinking about how I can make the ending less horrid.

For those of you who don't remember how it all ends (spoilers) the hunts man hears the wolf snoring (after a heavy meal of Grandma and Little Red he needs a power nap), so he cuts open his big belly to retrieve Nan and Red.  They then decide to stuff the wolf with rocks and sew him back up so in the future they'll hear him rattling before they see him.  Lovely.  

Not what we want...
 Now as a story at bed time I an see that this is totally fine.  We can make all the noises and rumble Willow's tummy, and when it comes to all the bits that are a bit nasty, well that's left to Willow's cute and adorable imagination.  My problem, and why I feel I need to nice it up a bit, is that when you're putting this into a game, and asking the player to interact with the story points, suddenly you've got a cross between Surgeon Simulator and Cooking Mama World: Hobbies and Fun.  Which isn't exactly what I want.

I'm not saying that it's all as bad as say the original story (before the Grimm's lightened it up a bit), or Todd McFarlane's vision of Little Red, but it still doesn't sit well with me.  I'd rather not have both Grandma and Little Red cut out of the wolf.  There must be a better way of telling the story.   

And A Better Way to Play

Whilst doing research into story apps I came across a lot of criticism for interactive story books.  One article in particular quotes author and critic Nicolette Jones as saying "I’ve never seen a picture book-app that does something that a book doesn’t do better" and having looked at 6 different Little Red Riding Hood story apps on iOS I would have to say she might have a point.

On the one hand I'm really disappointed with the apps available.  The interaction really doesn't add anything.  If all you're doing is moving the character across the screen or selecting a fork in the road you might as well be reading a 'chose your own adventure' version of the story.  But there is opportunity here.

Of the apps I played, the Nosy Crow version was by miles the best.
I always had it in mind that the interaction in the story would be more involved and teaching areas such as numbers, colours and letters.  Like when your little one is watching kids TV and the cartoon character on screen asks if they can see the white sock?  It doesn't matter if Willow interacts or not, the cartoon will continue by congratulating the audience on finding the sock.  This is where an app has the advantage, not only will the story wait until the child has located the sock but next time we read the story it could be a shoe or a flower that needs to be found, or this time a red sock not a white one.

Making the App

So here's the tricky bit.  Not only do I need to figure out a 'better' way of ending the story that doesn't involve cutting up the wolf, but I need to come up with interactive learning games within the story and decide how it all will look.  The games I think will be the easiest part, and the most fun to test with Willow.  How the game will look is proving to be the hardest part.

First Red doodle

A part of me knows that I'm doing this for Willow, well and for me, so how it looks needs to only appeal to us.  And she doesn't care.  She's fascinated by anything on our mini magical colour boxes, but I am my worst critic and I'm finding this part really challenging.  I can't make my mind up if it should be magical like the setting of a Ghibli film, or clean and contemporary like the Toca Boca games, or crafty and homemade like Lumino City.

At least I know Red is going to look like Willow.  

I have no idea what the forest should look like.
Right now I've a bunch of ideas for endings and lots of interactive games so I can start getting the mechanics and interface up and running (least I'll have something to show at the next Unity and Cake meet up!).  For now I'll keep hitting my head against my artistic block and hopefully something will fall out that I can use.

Next I suppose I should start worrying about Kings who murder princes and Children pushing witches into stoves...