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Interview with Alberto Gomez the developer of Tako's Japanese

Tako Japanese, an Interactive educational game/app dedicated to teach Japanese in a fun and creative way, I interviewed Alberto Gomez a Spanish programmer and game developer who worked two years to get it done.

Abdurrahman Khallouf, Blogger

March 26, 2015

9 Min Read

Tako Japanese, an Interactive educational game/app dedicated to teach Japanese in a fun and creative way, I interviewed Alberto Gomez a Spanish programmer and game developer who worked two years to get it done.

I've stumbled upon this app accidentally while browsing Reddit. The trailer was interesting so I gave it a try; and I loved it! Why don't we start this interview by introducing the App to the readers? How do you describe Tako Japanese?

Hi! First of all thank you for looking at our game and for this interview.
Takos Japanese is a game that teaches the player how to read and write in Japanese in an original and fun way. We do this by taking the player throughout guided lessons, which include minigames, different challenges and a new way to write Japanese in a virtual board. Thus we want to make the player feel that they are having fun while learning.


How many members were the team during the development process?

At the very beginning we were only 4 (2 programmers, 1 artist and 1 musician), but with time we added another programmer and a marketing/PR person to the team.


Indies usually don't approach educational games. What inspired you to make a game about learning Japanese? And why Japanese specifically?

The decision was hard as we were all gamers and we wanted to make a real game rather than an educational one. But we thought that we could do both so we started thinking about how to make learning a language fun.
All the idea comes from Julio, the artist of the team, who lived in Tokyo for a year and he thought that there should be something better than books to learn Japanese. He thought that today’s technology should be used for this matter and making a game for it would make it much more amusing. So when he came back from Tokyo he sketched the first ideas for the game.


You mentioned in your Blog that the idea started as a platformer game using Construct 2, then you decided it’s not good enough as a learning mechanic. You went all the way down and started from scratch. How much time did that cost you? And do you think you would've done it faster if you planned it before? Or to put it in other way, do you regret the time wasted on that phase?

Well Julio was by himself, and as an artist he didn’t know how to program, so he looked up for tools that helped him to make his idea a reality. He started with Construct 2, but then I met him at university and we thought that a platformer wasn’t the best idea for teaching a language. We thought that the player should be able to practice Japanese calligraphy so we should make a way for the player to draw on the screen. We decided that Construct wasn’t a good option for this, it was better to code all the algorithm and tools that we needed.

I think that it cost us only about a month thinking about how we could make a game that was good enough to teach you Japanese. We did not regret the time wasted, as it was time spent thinking on a better way of doing things.


You used Adobe Air, and decided Construct 2 is "not flexible enough", can you tell us more what did Adobe Air give you that you didn’t find while using construct?

Well I coded my first games in ActionScript 3 and FlashPunk (a framework for making games in flash). I already had this knowledge and I searched for tools that allowed us to write the code once and then deploy to most of the mobile platforms. Then I found that Adobe was starting to take a step into mobile with Adobe Air, so that gave me the possibility to code in AS3, the language and  API that I already knew and also deploy to Android and iOS without even changing a line of code. It was perfect, as I didn’t have to learn something completely new. Later on I switched from using FlashPunk to using Starling as a framework, as it was supported by Adobe and it was incredibly fast on mobile.


The app is available on Play Store, App Store, and Amazon. Which platform did you find the best in terms of dealing with, and in terms of business?

I have mixed feelings about all this platforms. As a developer the best to deal with is Amazon, as it’s easy to set up, do testing, reports are faster and much more.

For business, surprisingly Play Store is doing really well for us. Usually people say that Android is a horrible platform for premium apps but we found out that is nothing like that, at least nowadays. We have a very low pirate rate and many sales so we are happy with it.

Apple, well, I only like the presentation. App Store looks much cleaner than the other stores.


I never used Air to develop personally, from what I hear it’s good with dealing with multiple platforms. How hard was it to export the app to 3 different platforms?

It’s as hard a pressing one button! Really there almost nothing else you need to do.


Let’s get back to the app itself, first thing I noticed is the good polishing. Good art and sounds, multiple modes and mini-games you even mentioned a Japanese teacher recorded the pronouncing. How did you manage polishing the app so greatly? Do you have a lot of experience? Or what’s your secret?

As a team we really criticize our work. It took us lots of redesigns and feedback until we found out what was a good balance between fun and education. 
The only experience that we had was with flash mini games, nothing else. We all learned through the 2 years process. Our only secret is to work really hard and have faith in what you are making. If you believe in your game, you shouldn’t quit, just try to find easier ways to make it a reality and keep working on it.


Every development has problems, what kind of problems did you face during the development\release?

Japanese itself was the biggest problem. It is a really difficult language and we wanted to make it look easy. It took us very long to make it feel as easy as possible, and we still aren’t sure if we have achieved it yet haha :)

Apart from the language, as I told you before, we had almost no experience and wasted many hours on things that right now we could do in minutes.


Most Indies seem to struggle with this problem. Do you have any advice how to avoid it or at least keep it to a minimum?

I think that there is no magic formula for this. My recommendation is to read and watch lots of articles and videos from other developers, and try to understand what knowledge you can get from them.


What methods did you use to promote your App?

We contacted all the press that we could, and we went to some major Japanese events here in Spain. We also make some posts in Reddit to reach people that could be interested in learning Japanese, and we kept our social networks very active.


Going to Japanese event sound like a brilliant idea for your app, how did that benefit you (as a team) and your app?

It was really nice to see lots of people playing your game and giving you feedback. Most of the time you just need to watch how people play, and you will instantly realize what things you can do better.


Most of the benefit that we got was feedback and future buyers.


Did you fund the project on your own or did you use other sources of funding?

As we were all students, we managed to work on the game on our spare time, so we didn’t had or need any money for developing it and we didn’t look for funding.


If I don’t ask this I think the readers will. Two years sound like a long time, financially speaking do you think it was worth it?

We have only been two months in the market and we have already recovered what we spent on marketing the game, so we could say that is hasn’t been bad. I know that 2 years is a very long time for developing an educational game, but as I said we were all students and we could only work in our spare time. 
Was it worth it? Absolutely YES! We learned so many things in the process of making the game. We became a great team, we won a prize that took us to San Francisco and we spent there 2 weeks learning from the best mobile companies in the industry (http://blog.chartboost.com/chartboost-university-introducing-the-class-of-fall-2013/), we were nominated for other prizes and are now able to say that we are a team that finish what we start. We are proud of our game J


I have to say - even if it’s a bit late- congratulations! Can you tell us about the whole thing and how did it add to your experience?

The experience was a life changer. We talked to many professional developers, they gave us feedback and spent time with other teams like ours, and we could compare how different game development was in each country. We made lots of new friends and contacts, and we had the opportunity to make a better game.
I would like to encourage to every game developer to apply to every single contest that they see, because you never know. (In fact today we got selected for Indie Prize – Casual Connect in Amsterdam)

Final question: what are your future plans after this great experience? Any particular projects you can tell us about?

We are currently working on big updates for the game and also planning a new game. We are experimenting with Unity, but we don’t know yet if we will focus on PC or mobile, so I can talk much about it.


Finally can you tell us about yourself, what made you a game developer? What kind of games are you into? What other activities do you enjoy?

Since I was a kid I was curious about technology and videogames. I knew I wanted to be a programmer since I was about 15, and since then I’ve been trying to program games. I started with Game Maker and then I moved to ActionScript and Flash.

I love sport games because I’ve practice many sports in my life. My favorite sport games are Tony Hawk 2 and Dave Mirra BMX. I also love action games like XIII, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and right now I’m really enjoying Nuclear Throne by Vlambeer.


In my spare time I love to play basketball, although I’m not really good haha

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