Today I felt like writing about one of my greatest professional experiences.
It all started one day when the CEO of the company I was working for had closed a deal on a project that consisted of building 10 mobile games for kids, and he had chosen me to be the technical leader of the project.
I remember I was finishing a small project at that moment, so I was going to be free a few weeks before the new project’s kick off, which was really convenient. And my previous leadership on a fullstack project had gone pretty well so the CEO thought it was a good opportunity to give me a chance at something bigger.
Then one day in late November 2014 the head of HHRR and the CEO called me into the office meeting room to tell me the news and to talk about the new project.
The client was an electronic manufacturer that sold tablets, among other things. And they had released a tablet for kids called TABI, which was designed to resist heavy use by the little ones.
So the idea was to start selling the tablets to kindergartens so teachers could have technological aid when teaching their 4-6 year-old students. And in order to do that, they wanted to provide educational games that would already be installed in the TABIs.
Creating a game from scratch is no easy matter and it requires multidisciplinary teams.
We started off as a team of 2 developers, responsible for getting requirements from the client, designing the game, managing the people involved and, of course, developing the games.
On the side of the client, there was a team of teachers who would propose the educational topics for the games, the project director, the director’s assistant and the design team.
And after 6 months we became a team of 6 developers in total.
Each week we had 2 creative sessions with the all the teams in order to come up with ideas for the games we were working on and for the upcoming games.
During those sessions I wrote down all the ideas and requirements that we generated and we also defined the course of action for the following days. When I got back to the office I sent a minute to recap all the things we talked and to have clear actionables with assigned owners.
Usually on those sessions I was accompanied by someone else from the dev team. When we had enough definition and data, the dev team gathered in the meeting room to pull together a game out of all the ideas and requirements we had obtained.
This was the game design phase, which for me was one of the most enjoyable parts about building a game (and software in general). We used the board to draw prototypes of the different screens, discussed about game mechanics, storyline, technical aspects, mobile limitations, necessary assets, user experience and a lot of different aspects that are very important for every game.
And the greatest thing about all of this was that we learned a lot along the way. After each game we created, we gained a lot of knowledge and transferred that knowledge from one game to the other.
For me having the possibility to lead a team of game developers and propose a workflow for building games that integrated multidisciplinary teams was awesome and challenging at the same time.
At the moment I knew that the technologies we were going to choose for the first couple of games would probably determine the stack for the rest of the games. And it was both a short term and a long term decision, since more games had to be built in the future months.
I tried some of them and Phaser was one of the most opinionated, well documented, object oriented frameworks out there. And I was looking for an opinionated industry proven way of building games because we didn’t have the time to build or use a more complex game engine.
And luckily it turned out really good.
You can learn more about the Phaser experience here.
First Batch of Games
Simple drag and drop mechanics for sorting residues into the correct bin and catch the residues mini games.
Drawer game to generate funny avatars that can speak out loud any text.
Drawing game that teaches how to write letters and numbers.
Typewriter game to write letters, articles and create photo albums.
After half a year of building HTML5 mobile games and 5 games later, an opportunity presented to challenge our status quo and change the technologies we were using.
And let me be honest, working with HTML5 was awesome but I still felt that the overall quality of the apps could be improved. There was a reality, HTML5 Canvas and WebGL performance on mobile had it’s moments, especially for games that had heavy use of physics.
Turns out we were finishing the game design phase for a new game when the good news came. A new designer specialised in animations would be joining the design team, and he had a lot of experience designing for mobile games. By having more capacity for creating animations we could also improve visual quality.
So I felt we could take advantage of this new addition to the team by starting to build the upcoming games with a more robust engine for mobile games. One of the guys in the team had tried out Unity in the past for a small project in his previous job and he was very excited he could start a new game with it. So between he and me we learned Unity and started to build the next game with it.
And it paid off.
Second Batch of Games
Drag possitive or negative charged magnets to move a magnetized car toy through a racing track to reach the goal.
Kind of tamagotchi for plants with quick minigames to resist plagues.
Simple agenda for toddlers with fun minigames (like a jumper) to teach the concept of time.
Fun minigames involving device movement to explain different renewable energies.
Snake-like game for collecting people of different ethnicities to foster peace.
The main phase of the project ended when we finished the first batch of 10 games.
After reaching this milestone, I made a trip to Europe and when I came back I switched to leading a small team that would build the TABI Web Platform, that integrated the whole universe of games and provided useful tools to the teachers.
But that is another story that could very well fit in a different post.
All in all, TABI marked my career and was one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve been involved.
It was a pleasure to contribute to the education of children by developing games, which makes it even more fun.
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