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Releasing your first game at 12 years old

We speak to Donovan Brathwaite-Romero about the making of his first hit Gunman Taco Truck and living up to the family legacy

Brenda Romero is one of the longest-serving figureheads for women in games, and designer of the classic Wizardry RPG series. Her husband John is the man who helped pioneer the first-person shooter with titles such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake.

That's quite the intimidating legacy for the couple's children to live up to, but Brenda's 12-year-old son Donovan took his first steps this year with the release of post-apocalyptic action game Gunman Taco Truck, a project he has been working on for two years.

The game puts players in the shoes of the last Mexican alive. Set in a post-apocalyptic United States, the objective is to drive across the country, blasting mutants into taco fillings which can then be sold to survivors to raise money for fuel and truck upgrades. Only by doing this will players reach the sanctuary of Winnipeg, Canada, where their family taco business can thrive without competition. It's a quirky idea that's well in keeping with the output of the burgeoning indie community that's developed over the past decade.

donovan

Donovan Brathwaite-Romero

With such avid games designers as parents, it was perhaps inevitable that at least one of the kids would inherit such creativity, and Donovan tells GamesIndustry.biz his stepfather John was particularly influential.

"He was the main inspiration," he tells us. "Whenever I found games and started playing them, I was so fascinated by the whole concept of game making.

"I took so much inspiration from both of them. And then there's my dad with a lot of other things. So I had a lot of inspiration."

Gunman Taco Truck may be his first release, but it's not Donovan's first attempt at games design. When he was just eight years old, he wrote up the design for a title called All Time Is Lost, before moving on to what would later become his debut game. However, releasing it was not necessarily Donovan's plan from the beginning.

"My mom filmed me pitching my game and we posted it online to Facebook," he explains. "People kept asking if we would make it... so we did. Then John got a folder with loads of pages with categories like weapons, monsters and so on and I got to drawing."

Donovan set about designing every aspect of his game, with freelance video game artist Paul Conway brought in at a later stage to help reimagine his drawings and refine them for production. But it was John Romero who helped start the project in earnest.

"Every weekend we did coding lessons," Donovan explains. "The most useful thing I learned was probably functions and how they work. I also learned about design documents."

Stepfather John Romero taught Donovan about games development and coding with lessons every weekend

Stepfather John Romero taught Donovan about games development and coding with lessons every weekend

The process not only helped Donovan realise his vision for Gunman Taco Truck, it also changed his view of games design and development.

"Before I started, I thought the design would be the hardest part because I didn't even know what happened with the code. All I knew about it was: you did the design and then it's out - I thought it was kind of like that. But the design part turned out to be really fun. I would be like, oh my god, I get to design another thing today.

"The coding part it was actually the hardest part because we had so many delays. It just took so much longer than I thought. Like when we moved to Ireland."

As with any independent developer, Donovan had to learn important lessons that extended beyond just games design. A healthy work-life balance is essential, especially when you have both school and family commitments.

"In the early part of the project, I would come home from school and do some design doc work, then go and play video games," he said. "After we moved here, it was almost every day I was coming to the office, and I still do come to the office super-often, so I balance it out with family time and other things like that."

After two years, Gunman Taco Truck is finally available through Steam and on mobile, and has been receiving rave reviews. Donovan says his proudest accomplishment is not only designing the game but also seeing it come to market.

With the game now released, the young developer is able to look back and reflect on the biggest things he has discovered about the industry in which his mother and stepfather made their names.

"I learned a lot about the game-making process, even about employees and stuff," he says. "It was interesting to see how long it takes for something to get from one stage to another. I also learned a lot about coding, and more obvious things like how to test properly. 

"It was a really fun learning experience. And now that it's getting out there, I'm expected to do some publicity. So I really am happy with the product right now."

So is this a start of a promising career in games design? Donovan does, of course, have school to finish but with the support of his family there's nothing to stop him following up on this first success.

"I don't really have plans for a game at the moment," he says. "But if I were to make another game I'd definitely use the things I've learned: designing things, helping out with artistic things, and making sure stuff I want in the game gets in there.

"I would consider doing Gunman Taco Truck 2 but I don't want to churn out the same things. So if there are no new things to do with the game I'd rather just make a new game."

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