By Johner Riehl, "Family Game Guy" and founder FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com
As those of you familiar with our viewpoint know, we’re staunch supporters of the notion that families should play videogames together, but we’ve recently come across a few examples of families making videogames together that we thought were worth highlighting.
Here’s a look at three different reasons why some families have come together while actually creating games for home consoles, computers and smartphones.
A Chance To Be Like Dad
David Hamblin is a lead artist for PlayStation Home. One day, Dave was doing some drawings at home for a project when his 12 and 16 year old sons decided they wanted to help.
"I was drawing the bosses at home, and my sons wanted to have a go," Hamblin said, "My youngest son Jake just went crazy and came up with pages of really cool designs."
After huddling up with other members of the development team, they all loved the idea of a child's drawings on a pad of paper coming to life in the game. The result is Scribble Shooter, a top-down, shoot-em-up that is designed to look as if you’re playing the game on a notepad, with hand-drawn enemies. The game is available now via PlayStation Home.
In making Scribble Shooter and highlighting the contributions of his kids, Dave worked as hard as he could to keep “as close to the spirit of the original drawings as possible. There was very little tweaking needed, really. I just had to create the frames of animation by loosely redrawing Jake’s original a couple of times.”
All the end-of-level boss characters in Scribble Shooter are based on Jake's drawings, and he also helped with the development of other enemy characters. In fact he came up with so many character ideas that not all of them made it into the final game.
Making this game together turned out to be a great opportunity for Hamblin to work with his sons, but also establish the groundwork for potential careers. Jake now wants to become a concept artist or character designer when he grows up, and would love to work in the entertainment industry on either films or games. Hamblin’s oldest son Luke is already off to university this year to study mathematics. At least for now, he’s eschewing a career in games: He wants to become a teacher eventually.
Kids As Inspiration
Caryn and Wade Teman have two daughters, Morgan (10) and Avery (7). They’re also the co-founders of Herotainment, where they’ve developed an online game called Herotopia, a very cute, free-to-play online game that was designed based on the types of games the Temans like to play.
“Our inspiration for creating Herotopia came from watching our own kids play online games,” the Temans told us in a recent interview. “We noticed that the popular worlds for kids were primarily about mini-games and virtual shopping. We wanted kids to get something more out of a game experience. In Herotopia, our core mission is to combine fun, safety and education.
Each location in Herotopia features famous landmarks and allows parents and kids to “travel the world” together to discover hundreds of fun facts about real cities and cultures. Throughout the course of the game, players must work together to decode riddles and find hidden objects throughout the world.
There are 25 mini-games in Herotopia, such as one in virtual Beijing called Confucius Challenge in which kids and parents must work together to answer trivia questions. Kids can also challenge their parents to see who knows more about world geography in a game called Herography located near the virtual Louvre museum.
Morgan and Avery have been very involved in the creation of Herotopia throughout the development process. In addition to being some of the first able to test out new features, their voices are also featured in the game, with Morgan as the voice of Ally Kazaam in the Power Puzzles game, and Avery providing audio for the Yuck Mouth superpower.
A Chance To Work Together
Keith Phillips and his family have always loved playing games on their phones. Phillips is a potter by trade who sells many of his wares on Etsy, and recently created a utility App for Etsy sellers called SimpleList. After that experience, he recalled how his dad had taught him to program when he was younger, and decided creating a videogame app along side his kids Greyson and Iva would be a great family project.
The result is Redneck Jellyfish, a game based in the ocean that is centered around the concept of building rather than destroying. In the game, Gus Hickey is a Jellyfish and his job is to build new coral in the oceans. He does this by picking up seeds with his tentacles and dropping them on coral heads. The game features a variety of ocean life, such as sea urchins, barnacles, crabs and giant clams. Each of these sea creatures can either be helpful, or act as obstacles, in ways that mimic real life.
Although the family as a whole worked together to come up with the concept of a jellyfish who gathers coral, it was the kids who came up with many of the game’s creative aspects, such as making the main character be a redneck. Dad Keith took the lead on the programming, and also to help facilitate ways to bring Greyson and Iva’s creative visions to live.
“My son Greyson is the voice behind the crazy sayings of Gus,” Phillips told us. “Both kids also came up with ideas for the different jobsites. Greyson came up with the Gulf Stream jobsite, while Iva was learning about fault zones and underwater vents in school, so she definitely wanted a volcano level. We kept getting more and more ideas for the game, like eating plankton and shooting fart bubbles at the crabs. Iva Greyson came up with pepper plankton, that gives you a speed "power up" to help battle the current. Eventually I had to say 'enough'!
Phillips points out that although it was a great family project, and that collaboration was fun, it was “not always ‘sweet as a pickled peach,’ (as Gus Hickey would say). There were some creative differences in the process, and we had to compromise on a few things. That’s part of learning how to make large projects like this work.”
The result, however, has been a game that has proven fun for others to play, as well as being a great family project. Phillips promises that his clan has more in store, but not to expect anything this summer. “In the summer, we’d rather play outside.”
Playing Together Can Lead To Great Things
All three of these families prove that games can bring families together in more ways than just playing them. The key advice from speaking with all three of these family-oriented game developers is that parents need to get involved, stay involved and have fun.
Even before they made games together, the Hamblins loved to play games together, too. “We have played loads of games together over the years,” says Hamblin. “Our current favorites are Sing Star and Just Dance, but we also enjoyed playing on Wii Play and Wii Fit. Jake and Luke like playing Guitar and DJ Hero together, too. Luke plays lead guitar, Jake plays the drums and they make me play the bass … but they are way too good for me … I can't keep up with them!”
“There are so many great games for the family to experience and share together that they would be missing out on some wonderful experiences. Games can be fun, but there are also games that can allow you to be creative - like Little Big Planet or Spore. Just think of computer games as one more form of entertainment, so just like sitting down to watch a movie together, why not try a game of Buzz and make it a family quiz night or have a Sing Star competition,” Hamblin suggests.
Having two young daughters who are already technology “experts,” the Temans are very careful about how they use the Internet. “Our advice would be to stay involved with your child’s Internet activity all the time,” they told us. “Make sure you know which games your children are playing, as there are many that are not age appropriate or are violent.”
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