The world of game design is tough. You have to keep functionality, integrity, and entertainment value in balance for a great concoction. Now, try mixing in the imagination of a child and their wild ideas - maintaining that balance is a whole lot trickier!

Joure Visser is the developer for a game called Play With Gilbert, in which players play as cat who explores and collects fish, which has evolved for the better from his daughter's suggestions. In an interview with, he talks about the challenges of designing with his daughter's requests, the bond formed over the game's development, and where Play With Gilbert will go in the future.


Play With Gilbert was a creation made by you for your daughter, and is ever-evolving with her feedback and requests. What sort of things does she ask for? How do you take these requests and translate them into your game?

Early on, I determined that my Xbox 360 controller would be the input device. The first problem I faced was creating a control scheme/layout that she was comfortable with after seeing her struggle trying to work two thumbsticks at the same time, which is a lot to ask for a kid her age. I was able to create an effective enough control scheme where the camera would turn with the character, making her be able to control Gilbert using only one thumbstick. While I wasn't a big fan, I noticed she was able to instantly move the kitty around and she started exploring. Mission accomplished!

What challenges have you faced in turning a child's desires into a game? In following someone else's design ideas and mingling them with your own development experience?

Development went pretty smooth in most ways. I roughly know what she'll like (in general), but there have been times where I thought she'd love something and she didn't, and something I put lesser thought into would turn out to be something she loved. She loves slides, for instance, so I added a few more of them and I want to add even more, longer, more extravagant ones at that.

The real challenge is trying to implement something which is really just out there. She wanted a flying kitty, but I never intended that kind of freedom. So, while I'm currently overhauling the game, I am prototyping these kinds of features to see if I can at least have something along those lines in there.

I currently have two ideas in my head for two different powerups: a jetpack/rocket. These will allow for more forward thrust to cover longer distances. I'm also thinking of a glide mechanic so you can glide down and reach places you might not otherwise be able to.

The biggest challenge so far, though, has been making sure she is able to reach the win states in every level. As long as she was capable of doing that, I knew that it was doable and therefore, in theory, would make the game have the correct difficulty, at least for my target audience.


Have you had to turn down any of your daughter's requests?

Constantly. While I will always try to listen to her requests ("Can the kitty drive the car, daddy?"), most of the time I won't be able to purely because of my own limitations, or because her request is at stake with any sense of gameplay, balance, etc. However, I was testing a new jump feature one day and it ended up propelling the kitty towards the sky, hitting the invisible ceiling and making it look like he was flying. The obvious question followed: "Can you make the kitty fly, daddy?".

Obviously, it's possible, but I've had no experience, yet, with flying characters at the time. However, as I mentioned above, I am at this very point in time testing a possible rocket/jetpack feature because I know it'll make my daughter have fun, and while testing I can see some fun possibilities with it. Another idea I want to prototype is giving the kitty a wing accessory which lets him/her glide down gently. In other words, she made me think about power-ups. So, in this case, I had to turn her request down initially, but I am able to surprise her soon with this new ability. :)

As your daughter grows older, have her suggestions and playstyle evolved? Does she make more detailed requests? Is it tricky to try to fulfill the new requests?

It's one of the reasons that Play With Gilbert (Gilbert) is still evolving. While I want to keep the same entry bar for other kids her age, I do feel the lack of more challenging gameplay elements, and I see a lot of fun new ways to re-use existing assets.

As long as there's new thing for her to discover, she'll come back to the game - certainly once I'm done with the new revamp that I'm working on. For instance, the entire character movement has been updated. The two thumbsticks are back, yet the character can still be controlled through one thumbstick. On top of that, the character moves so much more intuitively now, too, making Play with Gilbert all that much better a game to introduce kids to platform games.

What are some observations you made of her style that helped influence design?

Well, I decided to make Gilbert an open world sandbox type of game because she loves to explore and just run around. She was new to games so simplicity was key. I wanted to avoid anything overly complicated. In the end, as long as she could get the fireworks to play, I was happy. Her love for animals was also a major influence. Other than that, I would say I just wanted to create a world that wasn't overly cartoony, but still bright and cheerful.


You've gotten feedback from other players - an older audience (some of which are enjoying with their children) - and you've stated you'd like to revamp the game to incorporate that feedback. Will the target audience change with this revamp to allow parents to enjoy the game with their children? How so/not?

I am currently working on Gilbert 2.0. This will feature all new levels made from the ground up with more verticality and a lot more traditional gameplay in mind. You will now have to collect the correct number of fish to be able to unlock new areas, and each new area is also filled with fish to collect. I got inspired a lot by Mario Odyssey, so expect some influence from that game to work its way into Gilbert.

I also am adding new accessories, some in the form of powerups. Think of a jet pack or cute angel wings that will make your kitty glide down in grace. Well that's the plan. Besides the rocket, I am still prototyping these new mechanics.

I'm entertaining the idea of giving the kittens a lot more personality and their own names, as well as see if I can play around with funny little symbols and icons to visualize their mood or emotions. Maybe do so through spoken text dialogues, and give them random points of interest in a map. So, they might switch from playing ball to go meet up with a friend or just roam around, for instance.

The idea is to re-build on the foundation of the original game while completely revamping the entire game at the same time. From what I've seen so far in the new map, she's having a blast and that's without half of the new changes being implemented yet.

The thing with having a community is picking out things that should've been obvious, but because I am human, I didn't pick up on them. It's also because my daughter was at the helm and I didn't intend to sell Gilbert at the time. I will always try to listen to people as much as I am able to, but I will also always follow my own vision. That's why I prefer a fluid and organic approach. I can always change my mind, or work an awesome idea into my game thanks to feedback.

I am certainly not changing the game's demographic or target audience; I am simply noticing them and I am doing my best to also cater to them as well. I am just not sacrificing what Gilbert is at its core just to cater to a larger audience. Instead I am adding that layer into the game in a way that young and old can enjoy them.

I was surprised to see the number of older people playing the game, and it felt like I made a mistake. I still feel I have, but I am inexperienced in this area, haha.


What do you find that children value the most in their games?

I can't say much about other kids - age also matters - but for my daughter I noticed she valued freedom the most. So, some of the new levels should be more spacious. That, and just being able to interact with things. So I am trying to do a bit more with that too.

I also noticed that, despite adding more gameplay, features, etc, she will more often than not simply ignore all that and just have fun. Running around without a goal in mind and just do stuff. I want to keep that ability in the game as much as possible.

Is it easier to develop for children or adults? How so/not?

In my case, so far, I haven't felt much of a difference. I mean, Gilbert was never planned. Unlike my main project, which is a more mature adventure game, I haven't felt that much difference. I do like to hear about other parents opinions and how their kids enjoyed the game.

I think that if you have fun making the game and it's an honest game, people will enjoy playing it. They will pick up on your dedication and the care you put into it. As long as they had a good time, I'm happy. That is the end goal.

Do you feel you've grown closer to your daughter over the course of making the game together? What has this work done for your relationship with her?

A ton. I hope I can keep doing this and bring her onto the next game I'll make for her. I got to learn a lot about the kind of person she is. Little things that'll go on to define her personality in large or small ways. It's also funny to discover certain traits that she got from me. Just simply observing the way she goes about things, I see myself in a lot of things she does when I was smaller.

Luckily, I have a strong relationship with her, and having done this has added another layer to it. I used to do stuff with my mom a lot when I was growing up. My dad had to work a lot. He'd gotten into an accident when I was 5. He's been disabled since then. While I have a strong bond with my dad, we missed out on so many things because of that.

My daughter is turning five in a few months, and I'm glad I have a bond with her. While I work long days, I do take time off here and there to spend time with her and my wife.

I urge every parent to do something with their kid to try and get them involved a little bit with what you do, if possible of course. I make games. It's easier for me to share with her. I guess maybe that's a perk of being a developer and a father. ;)

You can purchase Play with Gilbert on Steam here! You can also follow the developer on Twitter and YouTube!