Senior Caleb Davis has done something not every high-school student can brag about: at age 18, he’s joined his younger brother Josiah and father Brian in creating a game app, PaperChase, from scratch.
PaperChase, a paper-plane based game that’s about a week from being finalized and released via the App Store, is a family project that has spanned the last year and a half.
And it all started with a dare at Jamba Juice.
Brian, who has background in software development, had challenged Josiah to come up with as many new games as he could, but Josiah was initially not interested.
“He’s asked me that question before,” Josiah, a freshman at Jesuit High School, said. “I didn’t really take him that seriously.”
Brian, however, was completely serious.
“I said, ‘If I get you a Jamba Juice, you’re going to give me five ideas for games,’” Brian said.
Josiah agreed, and the brainstorming commenced. The Davises were so intent on fol- lowing through that they made a deal to not leave Jamba Juice until they had one good idea.
Then Josiah got one that stood out.
“It was paper-related but not like how it is now,” he said. “It was more like a paper airplane in a classroom, and you’re shooting at teachers and what not.”
Though the exact idea was later discarded, the paper-airplane theme stuck. After Caleb joined the project, the three began modifying the idea until it reached its current design.
PaperChase is a third-person, endless flying game that involves precise aiming and sharp turning. Players tilt devices to steer the paper plane, pick up collectables and avoid obstacles. The player can choose between chase mode (free-fly) and story mode.
The story mode contains nine levels (in settings like the city, harbor, subway and sewer) and two hidden levels, but only the free-fly mode will be included in the first free release.
While the game’s style of play isn’t original, Brian said it’s the storyline that sets PaperChase apart from similar popular games such as Temple Run and Subway Surfer.
“PaperChase is, of course, not the only game that uses aiming and by far not the only endless running type game,” he said. “But it is the only endless aiming game that is at heart an adventure story based in Japanese history.”
The game uses elements from the ancient Japanese tales of wolves, or okami. Once large in number, the wolves were supposedly hunted to extinction when the Japanese herding culture emerged.
The game’s story tells of the Wolf Spirit, Okami, who resides in a golden paper (which is kami in Japanese) that the main character Jonathan finds. Together Jonathan and Okami must work to stop Jonathan’s villainous uncle,Vincent, from attaining ultimate power.
To better understand the related Japanese history, the Davises even traveled to Japan, where they visited wolf temples and the mountains where the wolves used to roam.
Once they finalized their basic idea, the boys, under Brian’s supervision, got to work. They began by drawing everything in the game—including all the characters, the paper plane and so forth—out on paper.
Then they entered the second stage in which a German programmer created the first coded version of the app, using the design from Caleb and Josiah. The version was next sent to a developer, who took it to the prototype phase.
For the duration of a whole year, the prototype was just passed back and forth between the developer and the Davises in order to get the design right.
Once the prototype reached a certain mature stage, Brian showed it to various clients, one of whom wanted to invest in the game. After a presentation in the Bay Area made in front of a group of potential investors, the Davises got themselves a fat check of $50,000. “We felt like we just won the lottery,” Caleb said.
Next was the programming stage. The Davises turned to many helpers, including a programmer at Unity 3D, a 3D de- signer from Maya (a 3D design program), a topographics designer, a level designer, a character designer and textual designers.
The Davises all contributed as conceptual artists for the game. Brian, in particular, served as the manager and found all the technicians and programmers through a network of people that he regularly works with.
“So, yeah, you can say it’s a lot of work with a lot of people involved,” Brian said with a laugh. “We actually did blow through that $50,000 and had to ask for $15,000 more. But we’re so close right now.”
The Davises noted that they’d had many challenges like the lack of experience and knowledge for all the technical parts of the process that thwarted their progress.
For example, they had created a beautiful design and sent it to the developer, but what came back was a complete mess, and they had to start again.
However, now the three are just happy that they finished this project.
“We want to say we want to get into the App Store and make money, but it’s really the success that matters, the success that the boys can look back on and say ‘You know what? We created an app from scratch,’” Brian said.
For Caleb, the best parts of the journey were the lesson of hard work and the chance to spend time with his family. He said he plans on majoring in mechanical engineering in college, not software development, but he still found creating the app a fun side project.
“It was just an awesome experience that helped define our family as one that’s creative and programs—it establishes our family values,” he said.