BEHIND THE SCENES

Meet Donovan, the teenage game designer

Gunman Taco Truck

Save your family's taco truck

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Donovan Braithwaite-Romero is a lucky boy. Most kids have, at some point, dreamed about making their very own videogame, but Donovan is living that dream. It helps that mum Brenda is an award-winning game developer with 30 years’ experience. And his stepfather John? He’s the John Romero, the driving force behind pivotal first-person shooters Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.

Donovan Braithwaite-Romero, youngest member of a videogame dynasty.

John had already been teaching Donovan to code when inspiration struck the nine year-old. He loved an iOS game called Gun Bros. and, well, loved tacos. So began the story of Gunman Taco Truck.

The pitch: a zombie apocalypse has gripped America. In your armoured taco truck, you escape to Canada, taking out the undead with over-the-top weapons. In between, you make delicious tacos to feed hungry survivors. Yum.

Clear the road of zombie baddies with your armoured truck. Then stop and make tacos.

Stepfather John provided the structure for the game’s development. “It was easier to constrain the design, otherwise he’d design forever,” says Romero senior. “So we talked about the things that would be in the game – tacos, enemies, trucks, weapons – and we broke them down on pieces of paper. Then Donovan could draw and describe, say, ten taco trucks, and our artist could turn them into pixel art.”

An example of how Donovan's designs got turned into real game assets.

His parents know a thing or two about game development, but they never overruled Donovan – they challenged him instead. “To get to the end of the game you have to beat the devil chicken to get to the devil’s son,” John tells us. “And the devil’s son shoots dark matter from its beak and lasers from its eyes.”

It’s the kind of stuff that may be considered too offbeat for a conventional game studio. “But we thought it was perfectly ridiculous,” says mum Brenda. “We didn't change anything.”

If Donovan could fully justify an item or mechanic’s inclusion, it went in the game. “We talk to Donovan like we do to other game designers,” says Brenda. “We don't just hear an idea and say ‘yep, that sounds fun’ – we ask him: why do you think it’s fun?”

The infamous devil chicken, as imagined at concept stage.

Gunman Taco Truck was finished and released when Donovan was 12. His favourite YouTubers and streamers spoke about the game enthusiastically, and his parents were careful not to lean on their renown to publicise the game. “We actually found people after the fact saying ‘Wow, we had no idea you were involved in this',” says Brenda.

Stepfather John Romero helped Donovan structure his ideas with design documents.

Though this sentiment may be gross to any 13-year-old boy reading, it’s still true: making games is bringing the Romero family closer together, and it’s lovely. “You can't really buy the kind of education Donovan got from it,” says Brenda. “Gunman was the most satisfying game I’ve ever worked on. To make a game as a family is unbelievably rewarding.”

And it’s only the beginning for Donovan: work has begun on a sequel, tentatively named Gunman Ice Cream Truck. “Once you get to Canada in Gunman Taco Truck, you realise that you can't make any more tacos here because it’s very cold,” explains Donovan. “You've run out of gas and stuff because it’s cold in Canada and there’s a nuclear winter. So you think: ‘How about I get some snow and make ice cream instead?’”

Donovan already has ideas for the sequel, Gunman Ice Cream Truck.

Donovan says he’s learned a lot about how “core mechanics can fit together” from his first game, and that development of the new game will “probably be a lot more organised and balanced. When I designed Gunman I had no idea about balance.”

And remember, he has school, life and generally being 13 years old to worry about. That’s why he’s loath to put a release date on his next game. “It’ll be in a ‘done when it’s done’ kind of timeframe,” he adds. He sounds just like his stepfather.

    Gunman Taco Truck

    Save your family's taco truck

    VIEW