Inspired By Her Game Dev Dad, 7-Year-Old Releases Her First Steam Game

Penny McDonald (Photo: Lance McDonald)

Penny McDonald’s debut game, Answer The Question, released on Steam this week to unanimously positive reviews. Also, Penny is seven years old.

Penny’s illustrious game development career began last week, though she’s been playing games since she was a toddler. She was intrigued by the progress of an ongoing project by independent game developer Lance McDonald, who is her dad. “Can I make a game too one day?” she asked him.

“One day” quickly turned into “today”. A nearby desk had a Windows 98 PC with Quick Beginner’s All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (QBASIC) on it, and Lance gave Penny a book to help her make sense of it all. Before long, she was working on her first game as a means of trying out some of the lessons she learned from the book.

Her game, Answer The Question, supplies players with an infinite cascade of maths questions, which they receive points for answering correctly.

“I tried to make an action game, but I wasn’t ready, so I made a different game,” Penny told Kotaku (as relayed by her father in an email).

After a few days of work, Penny completed the game and asked Lance if he could help her publish her game on Steam. “I thought that, if my family can have this game, why not other people?” said Penny.

A few years ago, Steam’s submission process might not have allowed for this sort of thing, but these days, Steam is stocked wall-to-digital-wall with far more slapdash stuff than a starry-eyed kid’s first game.

Penny McDonald working on her game (Photo: Lance McDonald)

Lance explained that he has a toolchain in place for porting Windows 98 QBASIC games to more modern systems and adding modern features such as Steam achievements, so prepping the game for its time in the spotlight was easy. “She also uses that computer to play The Sims a lot, so she’s comfortable with it,” Lance said.

The father-daughter team briefly hit a stumbling block, however. After an initial submission, Steam rejected Answer The Question. This was not an indictment of the game’s quality or lack of open-world survival mechanics that require players to hoard freshly-slain addition problems, but rather the game’s Steam page, which needed a better logo.

“Valve asked if we redesign the logo to please say ‘Answer The Question’ in full, for cases where the logo is present without context,” said Lance. “Penny came home from school the next day and drew a new logo, which they approved within 24 hours.”

As of now, Answer The Question is up on Steam and has 14 positive reviews. Most of the reviewers do seem to be aware that the game was made by a seven-year-old, but hopefully, that positive encouragement will continue.

“It’s fun to laugh at the reasons we do or don’t like games, and the arbitrary things we use to decide that one game is more valid than another,” said Lance.

“Penny’s game is a fun paradox in that it’s the complete opposite of an asset flip, being wholly hard-coded and running entirely on the CPU, but people will still probably find a way to dismiss it as ‘not a real game’ based on some silly technical reason.”

Penny plans to make more games, with the eventual goal to climb her personal Everest: Developing an action game.

“Yes, I do want to make games, and until I learn how to make an action game, I am going to make a game where you can think about the game in your head while you type what you want to do,” she said.

Lance, ever the dutiful dad, translated: “Penny means to say here that she wants to make a text-based adventure where the player needs to use their imagination in lieu of graphics.”


Comments

    How cool! For once, a good thing has come out of Valves openness.

    I recognise that book. I think my school library had it when I was a kid.
    Great work by Penny. It will be interesting to see what kind of games she's making in 5 or 10 years' time.

      I think I still have mine somewhere. Finding it requires a hard hat and a current Last Will and Testament first.

      actually have mine on my desk because my 6 year old daughter was reading it other day
      ill have to get her to show me the steam money

      Still have that sitting on the shelf. Along with my Usborne "Book of the Future", which is largely in the past now, scarily.

        I'm assuming that's a mid-80s book. Any predictions in it that raise an eyebrow now with the benefit of hindsight?

          Published 1980. :)

          Where are our moonbases, hypersonic trips halfway round the world and fusion plants?!?

          Also, no clue about the damage we'd be doing, it was all positives.

    This is super cool, and I put my $1 down to support it... but realistically this should of been a free game. I bought it to support a young kid but the cynical part of me feels like this is a dad who knows that by getting press, and charging $1, he is set to make a good chunk of change off what feels like it should of been a "look what my kid did, she released her first game"

      I do recognise that they could be putting the money into an account for her, and thats great, but im just alittle cynical

        Hey, it's okay to think that! But Penny often makes money from doing work online and she has her own bank account that it goes into. She makes YouTube videos sometimes as well. Besides that, I have quite a large following online already and I don't really need to rely on my daughter to help me expose my projects, from which I also earn some income (I make YouTube videos that earn me quite a lot more than my daughter's work earns for her).

        Your $1 will absolutely be going into her account for the future :) (well, whatever share Valve gives us of it, anyway!)

      No doubt someone will downvote you for this, but I actually agree. This strikes me as a cynical cash grab riding off the back of a feel-good story. It's great that this girl is interested in programming and started with a basically forgotten language, but go back 15 years or so and this would've just been somebody's 'My first program' example that never saw the light of day, not something sold for $1 USD.

      I don't want to sound discouraging or somehow diminish her achievement, but why is this being sold?

        My first thought was thar looks like qBasic. Nothing good can come of that.

      Well, it would have cost them US$100 to publish the game on Steam:

      https://store.steampowered.com/sub/163632/

      So he wouldn't be making any money before maybe 150 purchases at the set price. And it's not like he's loaded it up with thousands of achievements and trading cards...

    That's really awesome! she can do more than i can :(
    i hope her dad doesnt work at EA
    'Ok sweetie now we add micro-transactions'
    'What are those dad?'
    'how we love'

    It’s a dollar. All the ‘cynical’ people need to calm the hell down. I’m cynical too. We all are. It’s a dollar.

    Oh man, I read that book when I was a wee lad learning to program... Back when it was a new release... *Feels very old*

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