Interview with the team at Colto

The team at Colto talks to us about developing educational games with Cocos2dx.

0. Tell us a bit about yourself and team.

IMG_7430I’m an Australian married to an Italian with 2 children, living just outside Milan, Italy. I have a degree in Project Management from the University of NSW. In Australia I had a 10 year career in Business Development before moving to Italy 12 years ago where I taught English, got married and started a family.

As a Teacher and parent in Italy, I became fascinated with the potential of touch screen devices to teach young children and started researching the subject and blogging for the Huffington Post on parenting, teaching and mobile games.

In 2013 I was looking for a games programmer after developing an educational game with a team of freelancers which won seed funding and an invitation to attend a 3 month accelerator program in Tallinn, Estonia. I contacted the Professor of the Masters degree in Computer Engineering at Politecnico University in Milan and asked him for his brightest graduate and he introduced me to Davide Jones, Colto’s CTO.

Davide and I attended the 3 month intensive mentoring program in Tallinn then set up an office together in Milan.
Roberto Casanovi, Colto’s Head Developer, was a university colleague of Davide’s and he joined us at the end of 2013 to help develop a prototype educational game. Roberto is also a talented music composer and has created the music for all of Colto’s recent games.

In 2014 we started putting a full team together for Colto to develop educational mobile games for kids on iOS.
Our first recruit was Martina Dell’Acqua, Colto’s talented Artist and Game Designer who had recently graduated from a Masters degree in Product Design for Innovation at the Politecnico University in Milan. A Marketing intern who was finishing his Masters degree in Engineering Management at the same university also joined us in 2014 and we constituted Colto as an innovative srl in Italy.

Today we have the same team except for a new Marketing Manager, Mohmmed Sief, also graduating from the Masters degree in Engineering Management at Politecnico, and a marketing assistant currently studying Masters in Communication at the Milan University.

1. Tell us where you came up with the idea for this game. What were your inspirations?

In 2010 my two kids were toddlers when Apple announced the release of the first iPad that led the way to the tablet revolution. The following year we brought home our first tablet and I was struck by how intuitively our 2 and 4 year old sons navigated the touch screen and how drawn they were to touch screen games. They couldn’t get enough of the tablet, instantly called MyPad!

As a Teacher, I recognized the huge potential tablet games had to become learning tools for kids. My logic was ‘if kids are going to play, they should play quality games that stimulate their brains.’

When I founded Colto, I wanted to create high quality educational Apps that were engaging and fun for preschoolers, but non-addictive, designed to be played in bite size sessions of 10-15 minutes in the car, on a train. I wanted to create games that were imaginative and open-ended where preschoolers explore and discover learning. I also wanted parents to enjoy Colto’s games by being able to easily move their kids on to other activities after playing. I wanted to create ethical games that contained no in-app purchases or third-party ads. Colto’s mission today is to create games that kids love and parents trust.

2. What version of cocos2d-x did you use?

IMG_7431
We started using cocos2d-x 2.2 in our first game, Eli Explorer. Since then we have released 4 other games and we switched to a newer cocos2d-x version for each of these games. We used 3.2, 3.3, 3.8.1 and we are currently using 3.9 in our latest project.

3. How did you decide to use cocos2d-x instead of Unity, Unreal Engine or SDL?

We decided to use cocos2d-x over other engines for four main reasons:

a. it is completely free. This was a huge plus, especially when we started our business and a single Unity Pro license was very expensive

b. it is completely open source and this saved us countless time. The possibility to track every single issue, bug or crash down to the openGL call offers a lot of advantages when you need to optimize and fix your code

c. it is designed for 2d games and offers amazing tools to create great 2d games. We’ve been using Unity alongside cocos2d-x for demo projects and regardless of all the effort Unity put into their 2d development cycle, I still find cocos2dx way easier and more powerful

d. it offers a code-based approach to development, which is something really valuable for the engineers at Colto who love to read, compile and debug code.

4. What features did the engine offer you that made development easy? What do you wish the engine did better?

Compared to other engines, cocos2d-x offers an easy flow to create great 2d games. Especially on iOS, it is extremely easy to setup to support all screen sizes and handles memory in a very straightforward way. Once you understand the principle you cannot fail. Undoubtedly, the task I had the most problems with was compiling a project for Android devices with Android Studio. The need to constantly recompile the code via console is a huge drawback. I also wish I could compile and export games for consoles but I recognize that’s a daunting task.

5. What tools did you use besides the engine?

We are currently using TexturePacker to create the atlases and Particle Designer to create the particle effects. We use www.icanlocalize.com to localize text and strings in different languages.

6. What 3rd party libraries did you need to use?

IMG_7433
We tried and experimented with many analytics tools, from Flurry to Google Analytics, Mixpanel and Appsflyer. Apart from Google Analytics, we did not use any other 3rd party library.

7. Did you create the art yourself? What tools?

Our team Artist uses Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create all the assets.

8. Did you create the music yourself? What tools?

Luckily for us, one of our programmers is also an extremely talented musician and composer. He created the music for all our Colto games, trailers and promotional material. For sound effects we collaborate with a freelance sound designer from www.fiverr.com. Since our games are designed for young kids and often contain a lot of voice recording in different languages (up to 12 languages in a single game) we used VoiceBunny to record the audio for a very reasonable price, remotely and online.

9. Will you continue to make games in the future?

We are currently working on our next title which will be released in May. We are also looking for partnerships with big publishers for young kids and have 3 other apps planned for 2016.

10. Do you use SDKBOX? If so, what plugins are you currently using?

We are not currently using SDKBOX because by the time it was released, we already had our own implementations.

11. Lastly, any advice for those also making games on how to get to a release point?

IMG_7434If you are at the very beginning of your first project, try to focus on simple tasks and goals. Focus on one platform and one market and ship the game as fast as possible. Give yourself a time frame and a schedule and stick to it. Do not strive to create the best game ever made, but the best game YOU ever made and apply this principle to every other game in your career.

Last but not least, always remember that developing a great game is simply not enough. Many other factors such as the game’s revenue model, marketing, making your game visible and known, engaging users, tracking how they play and improving the user experience, and others, are equally important. No game is good if nobody is playing it! Learn the basics of SEO and ASO and get yourself known!

Take a look at all of Colto’s offerings: Art Gurus, Shape Gurus, Star Gurus, ABC Gurus and Eli Explorer.

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