Jul 142020

Last year, before I started working on my Frozen game, I started with something a bit simpler for my then-3 year old – a 2D Little Mermaid game. I wanted to make something very simple to teach basic 2D pad controls with minimal buttons required. On the plus side, no UI or text was required as she can’t read. Ariel is my daughter’s original favourite character, and some kind of swimming game sounded like a good idea. Also I hadn’t tried tilemaps in Unity before, and this was a good excuse to investigate. Here’s the end result:

The initial idea was to help a mermaid find her children who were hiding in a little maze, and bring them back to her. I’d picked up one of the Humble Bundles for creators that had some basic tile sets in, so I thought this would be easy. Unfortunately when I actually looked at the tileset it was completely useless – most of the tiles weren’t even square! Long story short, I eventually hopped into GIMP and drew my own, hence they don’t look very good!

But after making a simple maze, chucking in a parallax underwater background and adding a few simple fish sprites that moved back and forwards, it actually looked OK and I excitedly showed my daughter.

She takes the pad, goes straight up to the roof of the cave and says “Daddy, I want to go to the surface and see Prince Eric”. Except there isn’t a surface, or Prince Eric. But she does have a bit of fun swimming around looking for mermaids.

A couple of days later I’ve added some scrolling waves, some sky, and Prince Eric standing on the shore. “Daddy, I want Ariel to turn into a human and go into Eric’s castle.”

This game is going to be a little more involved that I’d anticipated. Oh well, it give me some direction, and it’s not like I’m not used to the whims of demanding designers.

Soon it had escalated. “Daddy, put in a giant penguin that goes up and down and has water spraying out of its head. And some monsters.” But finally I called it a day – after rescuing the mermaids you retrieve Eric’s castle key, do a little bit of platforming inside to grab your luggage, find the keys to chests containing other vital supplies, and then you sail off with Eric on a boat. Phew.

It’s not a technically great game by any stretch, I was just hacking stuff in quick. But it was pretty fun to make, and it was great for my daughter to see it being made (we mostly played it together in the editor, chucking sprites in and moving things around – she was obsessed with making the seagulls huge and green at one point). The only thing I’ve changed since is the music it originally had – after hearing the same jingly song from the musical on loop for hours on end, I just had to replace it with some generic background music.

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