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Play to Cure: Genes in Space - Development

An account of the groundbreaking mobile game 'Play to Cure: Genes in Space', from the initial pitch phase through development to final release. All told from the perspective of developer Guerilla Tea.

Play to Cure: Genes in Space is a ‘one of a kind’ game that pushes the boundaries of the serious gaming genre. By playing the game, you’ll in fact be analysing genetic data ‘beneath the surface’ of the gameplay.

The game centres around the collection (or harvesting) of a mysterious substance known as Element Alpha. This fictitious chemical found in deep space is actually inspired by neutronium, and has significant benefits within medicine, engineering and construction.

Once you install the game you’ll become a base level employee at Bifrost Industries, the leading processing organisation in the Element Alpha industry.

From here you’ll be thrust into deep space in your harvester vehicle, collecting Element Alpha and trading it in for credits. Spend these on spaceship upgrades and progress through the ranks at Bifrost all the way up to the revered Galactic Legend

How it all started…

We first heard about the project in summer 2013 and we were put forward as a potential developer; with huge thanks to Colin McDonald at Channel 4. We were invited to pitch for the project and set about coming up with a solution to the brief…

The task was to come up with a proposal for a mobile game which is not only entertaining to play, but simultaneously analyses genetic data to find anomalies, ultimately helping to potentially find a cure.
Hours of research from Alex our CTO allowed for a far greater understanding of the science underpinning the project. This gave us a springboard for coming up with a creative game concept which closely fitted the outlined brief.

We spent a lot of time writing and experimenting with different ideas and directions, but one in particular we kept returning to was a space exploration game. We could put the player in charge of a futuristic spacecraft exploring the galaxy. Running with this, we decided to centre the gameplay around collecting a mysterious substance from deep space, which would later be named ‘Element Alpha’. This would add some intrigue but most of all would tie in very nicely with the method we were using to analyse the data.

Our pitch effort culminated in a gruelling 24 hour shift in the office, fuelled by pizza and energy drinks to create the best possible game proposal. We submitted this and several days later travelled to London to present our game to Cancer Research UK. It went extremely well and we returned home to wait on a decision…

It wasn’t a long wait before we got a phone call with the good news. Time to get started.

What Genes In Space does…

If you can imagine the genetic data as an area (or graph) containing many dots, forming a pattern. We have taken this data and basically imagined it as the Element Alpha deposits, distributed around an area of outer space. Players control a spacecraft, guiding it over the Element Alpha to collect it. In a sense, the spacecraft is flying ‘over’ a graph, and we are recording the position of the spacecraft in order to analyse the data.

This is however not the whole story. The player also analyses the data in a different way prior to flying through space. We included a Route Mapping section where the player must place markers on a representation of the Element Alpha deposits in order to plan the best possible route. This effectively doubles as the genetic data, and we then compare the marker locations with the route the player actually flies through to provide accurate data back to Cancer Research UK.

The huge challenge with building this game came down to the fact that we were very constrained in terms of the behaviour of our core gameplay. The most important aspect is of course the ability for the player to analyse data. However, the game needed to be fun to keep players coming back for more. We decided Genes in Space needed a little more intense action. Since we couldn’t tamper with flying over data graphs, we decided to include a section where the player would enter an asteroid field. They would be able to shoot or avoid these, and wouldn’t necessarily enter the asteroid field each and every time they played. This helped us create a bit more tension. Every time you play you’re faced with the risk of stumbling upon an asteroid field and if so you have to concentrate on making it out in one piece…

Using Video Games in new ways…

Since the beginning of Guerilla Tea the four founders have shared a common interest; in that we want to use video game design and development effectively within other disciplines. This project is the absolute epitome of this, and it’s been a massive challenge for us, but ultimately the rewards have been huge. Genes in Space has had significant interest from the gaming and mainstream press even from the initial announcement. It’s certainly one that has upped the stakes in the serious gaming sector and moved our company to the next level, all for a massively important cause.

You can help the fight against cancer for FREE on iOS or Android devices:

For iOS:

For Android:

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