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When a Game Teaches You

By Sophie Schiaratura | Published Feb 06 2014 06:58 AM in Production and Management
Peer Reviewed by (jbadams, dejaime, Aldacron)


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Grab your beer, your cup of coffee, or whatever… The tale begins here.

A year ago, we met some lovely people from a training center. They had this training course in programming and were looking for a game to help their participants learn programming more efficiently. They didn’t have a ton of money but the idea of making a game about coding was enticing.

There is no need to tell you how coding is important in video games development, and at Fishing Cactus, we really do love making games. After hours of reflection, we called those guys back. Challenge accepted!

Then we thought about it. How are we going to teach programming without being dull and boring? That was our first challenge, and also the beginning of the A team. As part of this team, Laurent Grumiaux and Guillaume Bouckaert thought about the game’s concept, and we can truly tell you that this game was mind-tingling before even being a real game.

The first good idea that came out from this collaboration was to invite programmers to join the team, which allowed them to act early in the development process. It turned out that many of them used to play Logo and Robot Rally as kids. That point helped to redefine the concept.

Step 1: Redefine the Concept


Making a game about programming is not that easy, and we didn’t want to create another “OkILearnedSomethingAndSoWhat?” game. Then we were reminded of a famous quote from Steve Jobs: “I think everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” The solution was so obvious that no one even noticed it until then: we wouldn’t create a game that teaches you to code, but a game that teaches you how to improve the way you think.

But how were we going to do that? With logic, of course! Nowadays, coding is one of the more desirable skills there is, and coding is nothing without logic. With this in mind, we set out to create a game that would help people grasp the essential skills of logic that the programming craft requires. Good! We have got a nice concept. The question now is how will we manage to do that?

The first idea was to create a character that has a job to perform in a futuristic power plant full of leaking toxic containers, industrial crates, and stubborn little robots. By carrying around those toxic containers, sorting them out and re-arranging them, the player will need to be smart and use programming basics such as functions, variables, the set theory, conditions, and loops.


Algo-Bot_old_prototype_wip-600x450.png


The player won’t control the character directly. He won’t make him jump on mushrooms by pressing a single button either. Instead, he sets up a sequence of orders for him: go straight, turn left, go straight again, turn right, etc. When the player is done creating his little sequence, he passes it on to the character, who will follow the given orders to move around the power plants. In a nutshell, the player manipulates sequential commands to order the character around in an attempt to reach the given goal of the level.

Step 2: Select Your team


We had a concept and a gameplay. All we needed was love, time, and money. We had to make this concept into a game. Joined by Jef Stuyck, Silouane Jeanneteau, and Christophe Clementi, our team 1.1 was now made up of a project manager, a game designer and three programmers. The programmers would tell you that they are all you need to create a game, but they are wrong. We needed a complete world. More than anything, we needed a hero. Then, we needed artists.

In game development, that is the moment when everything turns into chaos. Not because artists join the development, but because now you have a complete functional team with motivated people full of ideas. In that moment, nobody is a programmer, an artist, or a game designer, but everyone is the guy with an idea. And because it’s a game about coding, guess who think he knows best? Well, it’s like bombarding atoms with neutrons. It’s up to the project manager to make good use of this energy.

Step 3: Create a World


Even if you want to, you definitely can’t sell a game about coding starring a unicorn in a cotton candy world. Obviously, the robot was the perfect hero for our game. Inspired by Wall-E, Antoine Petit, our 2D artist, mixed futuristic shapes and retro styling into a robot with a real personality. Since there was no reason for Algo-Bot to be a 2D game, Cédric Stourme started to 3D model the robot and its world.


49e5a51e0f91b94e2577f433e0d51271_large.p


Speaking about the world, we imagined it as a huge power plant with a level of toxicity so high that humans can’t enter without dying instantly. The first mockups of this power plant were way too bright. You really don’t need that much light in a place where humans can’t stay. We had to stay realistic. Oh yeah, I hear you from here: “Realistic? With a robot in a futuristic toxic power plant, huh?” But yes, we had to stay as realistic as we could be within that setting. We now have a version of the power plant close to our idea: darker and more appropriate to the gameplay.

Step 4: Make a Game


“Make a game” sounds simple enough. Everyone can make a game, but we wanted to make a good game, and making a good game requires a lot of self-investment.

First of all, a game needs time and includes hours of research and development. Focusing on this uncommon gameplay and writing this clean code that would bring the game to life became our daily routine. The deadline was approaching, and Algo-Bot seemed like nothing more than a seed, no matter how much time and love we gave it.


2f398e2c54197314b6f9e146dfac2c80_large.p


In most developments, being too self-invested in your project happens to be a huge thorn in the team’s foot. There is that moment you are truly living for your game, rejecting other ideas because you think that you are the only person who knows where this project is going. When you waste hours modifying the concept, trying to do the work of others… let me tell you this: you’ve never been so blind! So have a Kit-Kat and stop trying to be the man of the situation. Game development is a sports team for geeks. That’s the lesson we learned from this development. If Algo-Bot was made to teach others programming, it taught us how to communicate within our team.

And then we experienced the moment when you believe the game you dreamt of will never be developed for the simple reason that the client is out of money. Sure, the client can perfectly use this version. It’s playable, the learning process is quite effective, and the graphics are not so bad. But for you, it would never be more than an alpha version of your dream. So, like any good parent, you open your wallet until you run out of money yourself and then you cry… AND you launch it on Kickstarter.

Now you know the topic of my future article: How our Kickstarter failed :D Because obviously we won't meet our goal. One says that failure is the best lesson to learn :)

Article Update Log


27 Jan 2014: Initial release



About the Author(s)


My name is Sophie and I work for Fishing Cactus. I try my best to communicate about our games which is complicated when you are a 30 people indie studio.




Comments

Thank you Sophie for sharing your experience!

Great Article.

Thank you Sophie for sharing your experience!

Great Article.

Thanks Filorvy. It really was an interesting development. Next time I'll write an analysis about our Kickstarter defeat :P We had to cancel it and we learnt a lot from it. 

Nice article, but my question is why did you set your goal at $60k? The prototype looked good, but I didn't back it because of the goal price. The last two games I backed were $2500 and $7500. The game looks great and you have 555 backers so I'm sure you could get it backed, just not sure it can be for over $10k. I think that was the biggest negative for the game. You promoted it like crazy on multiple sites which was good and word of mouth was positive too. I hope to see the game and more from you in the future. 

I really loved "30 people indie studio" part :)

Thanks for sharing Sophie!  I'm sure lots of people would absolutely love to read about your Kickstarter experience as well if you want to write it up sometime in the future -- perhaps timed to gain some additional exposure when you decide to re-launch! :)

Nice article, but my question is why did you set your goal at $60k? The prototype looked good, but I didn't back it because of the goal price. The last two games I backed were $2500 and $7500. The game looks great and you have 555 backers so I'm sure you could get it backed, just not sure it can be for over $10k. I think that was the biggest negative for the game. You promoted it like crazy on multiple sites which was good and word of mouth was positive too. I hope to see the game and more from you in the future. 

Thank you for your feedback. I understand your point of view. But honestly the Alpha already cost us something like $100.000 and to add features such as a new friendly-user level editor, the possibility to code in-game, a story with 3D scenes, we needed these $60k. Trust me, there is still work needed :) 

I really loved "30 people indie studio" part smile.png

 

Yeah I know :) Honestly we totally feel like indies. We grown up too fast. I heard that Rovio said that they were a little start up with facilities lol 

 

 

Thanks for sharing Sophie!  I'm sure lots of people would absolutely love to read about your Kickstarter experience as well if you want to write it up sometime in the future -- perhaps timed to gain some additional exposure when you decide to re-launch! smile.png

 

Thanks you! Yeah let's hope the reboot we'll be more successful :) 

Failure is indeed the best lesson, but perhaps the objectives had to be more tangible. The majority of projects I read about fail because they set to achieve too high of a goal.

It would seem that game design and execution of its design got compromised by countless hours of brainstorming. Even though they are crucial, I'd say that management could have been tighter.
Just speculating out of what is expressed in the article, anyway.

 

The game is apparently fantastic. I wish I had the money to back it up.

Thank you for your feedback. I understand your point of view. But honestly the Alpha already cost us something like $100.000 and to add features such as a new friendly-user level editor, the possibility to code in-game, a story with 3D scenes, we needed these $60k. Trust me, there is still work needed smile.png

I pray you mean a hundred dollars ($100.00) and not a hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00). If you already have put $100 into it, so what? That doesn't justify wanting 600 times more for it. Most licenses to publish are $100. The game looks great, but I don't feel that warrants wanting 600 times more than what you put in or plan to put in.

 

If you haven't, look at other indie games on kickstarter. Here are the two I backed for examples of how you can make good games without wanting a fortune to get it backed. 

 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/terncraftgames/neo-victorian-skirmish-squad

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/501263634/worlds-quest

 

Thank you for your feedback. I understand your point of view. But honestly the Alpha already cost us something like $100.000 and to add features such as a new friendly-user level editor, the possibility to code in-game, a story with 3D scenes, we needed these $60k. Trust me, there is still work needed smile.png

I pray you mean a hundred dollars ($100.00) and not a hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00). If you already have put $100 into it, so what? That doesn't justify wanting 600 times more for it. Most licenses to publish are $100. The game looks great, but I don't feel that warrants wanting 600 times more than what you put in or plan to put in.

 

If you haven't, look at other indie games on kickstarter. Here are the two I backed for examples of how you can make good games without wanting a fortune to get it backed. 

 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/terncraftgames/neo-victorian-skirmish-squad

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/501263634/worlds-quest

 

I really meant a hundred thousand dollars. And we need 60,000 dollars more to finish it. We have to pay the 6 months of development necessary to finish it :)

 

Those games look nice but it's not comparable.

 

Did you saw our KS page and the features we'd like to implement? It's not a single person's work. Also, it is developed with our own engine which is itself constantly in development, so, have to managed it to. I'll also add that it's a 3D game. 

 

We can't develop it for 100$ it would ruin us! We have families to feed. Hope you can understand that :)

Failure is indeed the best lesson, but perhaps the objectives had to be more tangible. The majority of projects I read of fail because they set to achieve too high of a goal.

It would seem that game design and execution of its design got compromised by countless hours of brainstorming. Even though they are crucial, I'd say that management could have been tighter.
Just speculating out of what is expressed in the article, anyway.

 

The game is apparently fantastic. I wish I had the money to back it up.

 

Thanks so much! You can vote for it on steam if you want to help :) 

 

http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=183642128

Thanks so much! You can vote for it on steam if you want to help smile.png

I've been voting for anything that isn't mmo these days, voting up a good game will definitely be a good change!

Although my initial impression was "Portal" but isometric ( kinda http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3Zxk8q_0yk ) , seems your project is more education oriented as original funder is that "training center".

 

Actually this is not a problem but your way of education orientation is more like "education = boring" fashion, imo.

 

If you ask me, assets are fantastic and base idea is not bad. But you have to change the way game is played if you want to entice people. Sorry if being harsh, but now game more looks like a Flash game with fancy graphics.

 

Classic fashion video games (ie non-MMO) has a serious advantage of giving product itself as perk, so it is rather easy to raise funding if people are convinced of game. If I were you, I'd head into a portal direction, not a ripoff ofc but include elements from there and combine with programming sequences. (My initial raving is algobot having a wrist computer to overcome some obstacles by solving soft-puzzles, and a story about saving power plant from collapse/meltdown whatever)

 

And I think another problem is kickstarter video is definitely fancy but not promising much. I get an impression of lack creating hype (what I get is there will be a level 324623498, sounding like Super Mario) . I have expectations from Don't Starve and Starbound for example, they are constantly developed to keep hype and demand.

 

Although doubt what I propose is possible without major engine overhaul, but imo this is the direction you need to head.

I really meant a hundred thousand dollars. And we need 60,000 dollars more to finish it. We have to pay the 6 months of development necessary to finish it smile.png

 

Those games look nice but it's not comparable.

 

Did you saw our KS page and the features we'd like to implement? It's not a single person's work. Also, it is developed with our own engine which is itself constantly in development, so, have to managed it to. I'll also add that it's a 3D game. 

 

We can't develop it for 100$ it would ruin us! We have families to feed. Hope you can understand that smile.png

Them being 2D and yours being 3D doesn't mean they aren't comparable. 

 

Most games aren't a single person's work, but requires teams as did both the games I posted. One was done by a friend (who has won awards himself) and the other was done by a team in the northern part of my state. I truly hope you get the game made.

 

Just please tell me that you all have primary jobs for income and are working on this as a team in your free time. I always get worried when I find teams have families and don't have a steady job while working on games.

Although my initial impression was "Portal" but isometric, seems your project is more education oriented as original funder is that "training center".

 

Actually this is not a problem but your way of education orientation is more like "education = boring" fashion, imo.

 

If you ask me, assets are fantastic and base idea is not bad. But you have to change the way game is played if you want to entice people. Sorry if being harsh, but now game more looks like a Flash game with fancy graphics.

 

Classic fashion video games (ie non-MMO) has a serious advantage of giving product itself as perk, so it is rather easy to raise funding if people are convinced of game. If I were you, I'd head into a portal direction, not a ripoff ofc but include elements from there and combine with programming sequences. (My initial raving is algobot having a wrist computer to overcome some obstacles by solving soft-puzzles, and a story about saving power plant from collapse/meltdown whatever)

 

And I think another problem is kickstarter video is definitely fancy but not promising much. I get an impression of lack creating hype (what I get is there will be a level 324623498, sounding like Super Mario) . I have expectations from Don't Starve and Starbound for example, they are constantly developed to keep hype and demand.

 

Although doubt what I propose is possible without major engine overhaul, but imo this is the direction you need to head.

 

 

Thanks for the feedback! Most of what you recommend to add in our game are already in our To-do list. Has we said before the problem is that Algo-Bot is now too educational, and we'd like to make it a real puzzle game with well-hidden coding basics. That's the reason why we run the Kickstarter. To create a sotry, to make the gameplay more appealing, etc... 

 

 

Just please tell me that you all have primary jobs for income and are working on this as a team in your free time. I always get worried when I find teams have families and don't have a steady job while working on games.

 

Sorry to tell you this but we make games for a living.

 

I really meant a hundred thousand dollars. And we need 60,000 dollars more to finish it. We have to pay the 6 months of development necessary to finish it smile.png

 

Those games look nice but it's not comparable.

 

Did you saw our KS page and the features we'd like to implement? It's not a single person's work. Also, it is developed with our own engine which is itself constantly in development, so, have to managed it to. I'll also add that it's a 3D game. 

 

We can't develop it for 100$ it would ruin us! We have families to feed. Hope you can understand that smile.png

Them being 2D and yours being 3D doesn't mean they aren't comparable. 

 

Most games aren't a single person's work, but requires teams as did both the games I posted. One was done by a friend (who has won awards himself) and the other was done by a team in the northern part of my state. I truly hope you get the game made.

 

Just please tell me that you all have primary jobs for income and are working on this as a team in your free time. I always get worried when I find teams have families and don't have a steady job while working on games.

 

 

How on earth you expect them to make a full 3D game for 10k is not only unrealistic, but absurd. The game showed polished visuals, which for a video game kickstarter is essential when you do not have a famous studio or name behind you. I think it lacked a clear pitch that it is a puzzle game, and also the trailer didn't show enough gameplay. Showing the play through of a level would have been great, and maybe concepts of the features you would like to implement. I have a team working for a kickstarter and we are going to have to ask for quite a bit of money because content creation is labor intensive, and labor is not free.

 

I backed algo-bot. I have nieces who I am trying to get into games that are mind-benders :) Algo-bot would have been perfect for them.

(notice in my brief description I didn't say a word about coding :) )

 

Lastly, http://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter/ is a great resource!!

 

I wish you guys the best of luck!!

 

-Joe Andresen

Redwood Pixel

redwoodpixel.com

How on earth you expect them to make a full 3D game for 10k is not only unrealistic, but absurd. The game showed polished visuals, which for a video game kickstarter is essential when you do not have a famous studio or name behind you. I think it lacked a clear pitch that it is a puzzle game, and also the trailer didn't show enough gameplay. Showing the play through of a level would have been great, and maybe concepts of the features you would like to implement. I have a team working for a kickstarter and we are going to have to ask for quite a bit of money because content creation is labor intensive, and labor is not free.

 

 

 

I backed algo-bot. I have nieces who I am trying to get into games that are mind-benders smile.png Algo-bot would have been perfect for them.

(notice in my brief description I didn't say a word about coding smile.png )

 

Lastly, http://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter/ is a great resource!!

 

I wish you guys the best of luck!!

 

-Joe Andresen

Redwood Pixel

redwoodpixel.com

 

Oh thank you so much Joe! I felt like my explanations fell on deaf ears.  

 

Thanks for the feedback about communication and for the resource. It will help for the reboot.

 

So, you backed the "For you niece pack"? ^^

 

Don't hesitate to share with me your KS page a soon as it's live smile.png

Cheers,

Sophie

Just please tell me that you all have primary jobs for income and are working on this as a team in your free time. I always get worried when I find teams have families and don't have a steady job while working on games.

 

What you're talking about is basically hobbyist development, with perhaps the idea of becoming a full-time indie in the future if successful.  Serious indie development is quite often a full-time or near-to-full-time endeavour with much larger budgets, and honestly I think it's good to see a small studio who are actually asking for an appropriate amount of money so that they can work on their (very polished looking) game full time and get it completed as promised within a reasonable time-frame.

 

You're right that there are a lot of people asking for a lot less money to develop games, but all too often they actually underestimate the amount of money they need and end up slipping on their promises; features end up being dropped or delayed, and the release date is pushed back -- often because instead of asking for enough money to actually cover the development costs they've managed to raise a smaller amount but find themselves still having to work a day job to make ends meet.

 

Personally I think the funding goal for Algo-Bot was very reasonable, and I'm convinced that if they're able to secure that amount of funding Fishing Cactus should be able to develop exactly what they're promising, and without unreasonable delays or having to drop features.


Just please tell me that you all have primary jobs for income and are working on this as a team in your free time. I always get worried when I find teams have families and don't have a steady job while working on games.

 

Hold it there boy. You are starting to sound like grandma. Gamedev is not a hobby unless one is planning to construct a demo.

Just wondered if you sought for "classic" funding rather than crowd one which I believe more achieveable.

What you're talking about is basically hobbyist development, with perhaps the idea of becoming a full-time indie in the future if successful.  

I don't differentiate between a hobbyist or indie. To me an indie (assuming indie still means independant developer -- as it can be applied to any industry) is someone that makes and publishes something (in this case a game) without the financial support of a large publishing studio (like Electronic Arts). 

 

By the time I finished college I realized it is better to be a "hobbyist" (as you put it). The risk of being a full-time game programmer far outweighs the reward.  While working a 9 to 5 job and working on games in your free time gives you the same reward chances without the same risks of not feeding your family or paying bills or losing your job due to not recouping what you put into the game.

Hold it there boy. You are starting to sound like grandma. Gamedev is not a hobby unless one is planning to construct a demo.

Boy? Where I'm from, that is considered insulting and borderline derogatory.  I'm 32 and haven't been called boy since I was 13.

Just wondered if you sought for "classic" funding rather than crowd one which I believe more achieveable.

 

What do you mean by classic funding? Doing it by ourselves or asking help from government or something?

 

Just wondered if you sought for "classic" funding rather than crowd one which I believe more achieveable.

 

What do you mean by classic funding? Doing it by ourselves or asking help from government or something?

 

 

Both/either government incentives and/or private funding by a company/institution etc. It is apparent that self funding is not an option.


Hold it there boy. You are starting to sound like grandma. Gamedev is not a hobby unless one is planning to construct a demo.

Boy? Where I'm from, that is considered insulting and borderline derogatory.  I'm 32 and haven't been called boy since I was 13.

 

If you already have put $100 into it, so what?

That sounds insulting, along the innuendo that these professional game developers (and perhaps all) should work on unrelated full time jobs because they aren't fulfilling your expectations.

Also, it is developed with our own engine which is itself constantly in development, so, have to managed it to. I'll also add that it's a 3D game.

If I may, what specific reason you had to choose and build an engine, instead of licensing one such as Unity or C4? Did the game have very specific needs that weren't met by any?

Note: Please offer only positive, constructive comments - we are looking to promote a positive atmosphere where collaboration is valued above all else.




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