The Toronto Independent Game Jam is a weekend-long project where local game developers congregate and produce a fully playable game in the short timeframe. Over the years, the event has seen plenty of really intriguing games from a lot of really talented developers, but the stand-out title this year was a spectacular little game from a spectacularly little developer.
Cassie Creighton may only be 5 years old, but she's already produced her first indie game hit. With the help of her father, she designed a silly point-and-click adventure game called Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure, which has already caused quite a stir online. It seems everyone's interested in playing a game made by a first grader.
The interesting thing is that beyond the sheer novelty, Ponycorns is still a solid game. Sure, it may be a little silly, but no more than anything by Ron Gilbert. It's as deep as any other casual experience, and its crayon-on-construction paper aesthetic is no less appealing than the latest cardboard-brown shooter. The game is defined by her youth, and in the best way possible.
Cassie's not the only kid to make a really good game recently. Owain Weinert connected with PopCap Games through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to bring his own videogame fantasy to life. Allied Star Police was released as a free download on the iOS and carries all the polish you'd expect from the world's premiere casual games producer, but the game was almost entirely Owain's design.
The game plays like a revved up version of Plants vs Zombies, but with a theme that's straight out of a presentation the 10 year-old showed the development team. "The whole team fed off of his energy and were astounded about how he coped with his own challenges to smile through and come to PopCap and work with us," says producer Tysen Henderson, recounting just how much his team learned while working with Owain.
"These days I find myself concerned about accessibility, replayability, platform, monetization and a variety of other polysyllabic adult worries," Henderson remarks. "But, it was an absolute pleasure to be able to transport back in time with Owain to being a kid again that loves games and wants desperately to create his own world."
Kids are doing more than just designing now too. Bubble Ball was another youth-made iOS hit but this one was also programmed by a youngster. At only 14 years old, Robert Nay developed and released his first game to the tune of 2 million downloads, beating out Rovio's Angry Birds for a few weeks as the number one free app on the marketplace. The game's simple, Incredible Machine-inspired design was an instant hit with players and - like the rest of the games - proved that kids know how to deliver engaging experiences that are just plain fun.