For the last couple of months my eight-year-old, Jewel, has been asking me questions about how game development actually works. I told her about C++ and coding, and how everything that moves and interacts in the game is considered an object with its own little bit of code.
She also kept pulling down my books on game development and looking at them. I don’t know exactly how much she gets out of leafing through Game Programming Gems 6, but she likes to do it.
And then, over the long weekend, she asked if there was any way she could make a game with me.
Now, I was not going to pass this up, but I wasn’t really prepared for such a request. I’d heard about game making software, though, and thought I might be able to teach her something using one of them.
The most famous of these is, of course, GameMaker, so I downloaded it. I knew it was potentially powerful because Daniel Remar uses it for everything he does. The free version is very limited but I figured it would be enough for our purpose. I’d also heard you could do simple stuff without coding, which is good. I got it installed and running.
And then I made a game with my eight-year-old daughter.
We followed a simple tutorial to make a game called Catch the Clown, where you click on a fast-moving clown that bounces around the screen. She quickly picked up on the concept of creating resources in the resource tree, making game objects, and having multiple instances of the same game object. GameMaker uses an event/action system that is mostly graphical – you click on an event on the left side and then drag actions to associate them with the event on the right side. Most actions only have a few parameters, so they’re easy to understand. Since I was learning along with her, it went a bit slowly, but she was mighty tickled at the result – and she had done a significant bit of the work herself. She was a little disappointed that she couldn’t put the resulting game online (the free version doesn’t support that) but after I left to go do something else she fired it back up and started making changes on her own.
One of which was to go into my shared music folder and select Gangnam Style as the new background music for the game.
She also started pulling in resources from my games Inaria and Planitia and decided that instead of catching the clown by clicking on it, she wanted to move another character around on the game screen using the WASD cluster. I quickly figured out the “key down/key up” events and showed her how to do it for one key and she had the rest of the keys fixed and up and running in no time.
Now, I don’t know how far she’s going to take this. As much as I’d like her to follow in my footsteps, if she doesn’t it’s okay. Because I’ll always have the weekend where my daughter and I made a game together.
And if she does stick with it, in just a few years she’ll be ready for Unity.