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April 21, 2014

From arcades to the big time: Meet a gamer who gives back

Should it come as any surprise that a child of the 1980s, surrounded by Atari consoles and Tron, would grow up to become a game developer?

Christer McFunkypants Kaitila_350

Christer Kaitila, McFunkypants to his friends, did just that. And today, thanks to his own personal successes, he has found himself in a position where he can give something back to other developers and the community at large.

Recently, Christer released an open-source development kit for the creation of tower-defense style games. He is also the creator of the annual Charity Game Jam, where developers are encouraged to build games that include an option to donate money to children’s charities.

A dream come true

“Making video games was always a dream of mine. It originated from the Atari 2600 era, during which I was lucky enough to be a child. Growing up just as games got big was perfect timing,” Christer said.

In the early days, he created a “snake” style game inspired by Tron light-cycles for the TRS-80 Coco.

“That was back when there were no disk drives and I saved my source onto an audiotape!”

Seeing all of the money being spent at local video arcades – by teenagers just like him – made Christer realise that there are people out there who made a career from making games.

He wanted in.

During high school, he got a freelance job working on a game-like project and he was hooked.

After that, he started to dig in deeper, learning programming languages and taking on various programming gigs during and after university. But, he notes, that it still took about 10 years of building his portfolio of games before people were regularly hiring him to make them.

The tower-game starter kit

Late last year, Christer, working with Woot Studio, released the Tower Game Starter Kit, which is a free, open source – and cross-platform – tool to help game developers create their own tower-defense style games for Windows Phone, Windows 8 and HTML5.


“We wanted something simple, that could work well on a phone or tablet, and that didn’t require massive rendering performance. This starter kit was the result,” Christer said. “[We] wanted something to help developers get over the hurdle of learning how to make HTML5 games for Windows Phone.”

“We agreed that it would be nice to have an ‘example project’ that is the MVP (minimum viable product) showing a working, fully certified Visual Studio project that was ready to compile and get on the Store.”

Using this toolkit, anyone – even folks who do not have prior programming skills – can get started with game development.

“In the same way that anyone can use a paintbrush to paint a painting, anyone can use the kit, including first-timers. Naturally, the better you are at programming the better your game will be and the easier it will be for you to figure out what’s happening,” notes Christer.

“In fact, you could simply replace the levels, art and sounds and make a completely new game without touching a line of code,” he adds.

You can get a good overview about the toolkit in this introductory video:


So why not charge money for this toolkit?

“The goal of this project was to get more people making games for Windows Phone using HTML5,” said Christer.

“The performance and tools are amazing, and the cost of getting started should be as close to zero as possible. Charging money would have simply closed off this shortcut to the majority of game developers, many of whom are using it simply as a learning project.”


Additionally, developers can get Visual Studio for free, and as Christer notes it “works great for compiling HTML5 for Windows Phone 8.”

There have been dozens of games made using the Tower Game Starter Kit, including Tiny Tidal Tower Defense for Windows 8 devices (shown at right), which Christer recommends checking out.

One Game a Month Challenge

As if Christer wasn’t busy enough, he also runs a program called “One Game a Month” that simply challenges developers to publish one new game per month, twelve times a year.

Currently, there are about 8,000 game developers with profiles on the site – sign up is free, and all you need is your Twitter login.

“It is a personal challenge and I don’t bother enforcing any rules,” said Christer. “Make games, not excuses, and train your game-development skills in the same way that workouts make you stronger.”

Now of course not everyone can produce one game/month, but Christer thinks the Challenge is worthwhile: “Even making one game is an accomplishment well worth being very proud of. There’s only one way to get good at something – practice, and that’s what One Game a Month is all about.”

Giving back to the community

“I’m one of the many lucky people who are getting paid to do something that we’d gladly do for free as a hobby,” said Christer. “To me, being a professional game developer feels like being a rock star – I’m living the dream. You can do it too – there are thousands of people just like me, making games for a living.”

As we mentioned before, his success has prompted him to host an annual Charity Game Jam, where developers add “donate” buttons to their apps to help raise money for various children’s charities.

The next one will be held this coming November, and Christer will have more information on his Twitter account as the next Jam approaches.

You can learn more about his work over on his personal website.

Developers in North America that are interested in trying the Tower Game Starter Kit can also submit their completed work to this DVLUP Challenge.