Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure may be one of the weirdest anomalies in gaming lately -- it's a LucasArts-style point-and-click adventure game that was actually designed by someone who wasn't even alive when any of those games were released. 5-year-old Cassie Creighton designed the game with her father, Ryan, at a Toronto game jam, and when it was published online, it started spreading like wildfire around the blogs and Twitter accounts of game developers and fans, leading all the way up to its current status as a finalist at this weekend's IndieCade Festival.
Dad Ryan Henson Creighton does enjoy all of the attention that his daughter's game is getting, but he told me at IndieCade that he's far from an innocent bystander. "People think that I'm some sort of oblivious dad," he says, "that sort of slammed it together using GameMaker or something, but we actually spent a good chunk of our money building a framework."
That framework is called UGAGS, which Creighton originally designed for educational games, and while yes, Sissy's voicework, graphics, and plot were all designed by Cassie, her dad did most of the technical work with his own engine. "Sissy's Magical Adventure was the fourth game we've used it on, and we're using it on a fifth game called Spellirium. So we're not new at this."
"There's a thread on Gamasutra," recalls Creighton, "where somebody mentioned that Ponycorns was entered into the IGF. Somebody said if that game wins, forget this, I'm quitting, so much BS, blah blah blah, they're going on like this. And someone else said just because a game isn't technically complicated doesn't meant it's not artistically valid." That's what make's Cassie's game so magical -- it's powerful, and funny, and intriguing, and it was created by someone who didn't need to write a line of code.
Does this mean Cassie (who wasn't able to make the trip to IndieCade) has aspirations for more game design? In case you forgot, she's 5. "She wants to be a firetruck," Creighton says.
But he does say that he's trying to instill some interests in math and the sciences in her, even if he's doing it in his own Ponycorn-y way. When he heard that some schools were holding back math and science lessons from girls until later in development, he went to his daughter with the news and a good helping of sarcasm. "I started telling Cassie, 'Listen, girls don't take to math, and they don't get good jobs and they don't get paid a lot of money.' And she's like, 'That's terrible,' and I said, 'I know, right?' I said, 'You know what else, they won't teach you math in kindergarten, they won't teach it until grade one.' She's like, 'No way!' I said, 'You know what we're going to do? There are secret symbols involved in mathematics that they will not teach you. Do you want me to show you?' She's like, 'Yes!' So now you ask her what she wants to do, and she's like, 'Math!'"
She's also become a gamer. "She's a big Minecraft fan," Creighton says, "and she plays a lot of things on iOS."
The company's next game, Spellirium, isn't quite as abstract as the Ponycorn Adventure, but it does have some adventure game elements, combined with a word-building mechanic. "When you go to solve a puzzle, instead of rubbing items together and trying everything to see what works," Creighton says, "it brings up a letter grid, kind of like Boggle, and you make words, spell words out of puzzles."
To shear a sheep in the game, for example, you have to try spelling words like "shear," "trim," and "cut," or to then dye the wool, you need to spell words having to do with "red." Creighton also mentions "a two-headed monster, where you have to spell palindromes" to defeat it, and there's a maze where you move as many spaces as letters in the words you spell.
Spellirium is due out next year. As for Cassie, we really hope that firetruck thing works out the way she wants.