Why the Granny Coder decided to make her first iPhone game aged 77

Why the Granny Coder decided to make her first iPhone game aged 77
In terms of her biographical details, Marie Bila is a 77 year-old grandmother, who lives in small village in the Czech Republic with a cat called Jasmina, 15 chickens and goat Liza.

This year however, she's become Granny Coder, and is proving you're never too old to become a game developer.

On her blog, and helped by her three grandsons, she's been documenting the process of making her first game - an iPhone physics puzzle game called Gelex.

Not only is it an interesting read in terms of the development process, but her enthusiasm for the game she's making also makes it a delight.

We wanted to find out more...

Pocket Gamer: Can you provide us with some background information about yourself?

Marie Bila: My name is Marie, I'm from little village called Lhota in the Czech Republic and I'm retired.

I had lots of free time, and a few month ago my grandson Michal bought me an iPhone. It really amazed me, and when I realised you can make your own applications on it, and that even little kids can do that, I decided to use my free time and to try and create something by myself.

Have you done any programming before?

I've had lots of different jobs in my life, but the important job for my current 'game developer' career was probably working at University in Brno, where (apart from other things) I was involved in some IT projects and learnt basics of the C and C++ programming language.

I wouldn't call myself a programmer, but after this experience I know a little bit about how things work.

Have you played many computer games, and why did you decide to start making an iPhone game?

I'm playing games on my iPhone now and before that I've played a few PC games - like Luxor - I really love that one. I also like the Czech game Polda.

The first games I ever played were in the 1980s on the ZX Spectrum. I felt a need to create a game then, but at that time I had lots of other things to do. When iPhone came into my life, I felt that need again. And this time I have another reason for creating a game - I wanna do a game for my grandchildren.

What was the spark of inspiration for your game Gelex?

I had an idea about a 'physics Tetris' game a long time ago. That idea evolved in my head. It was influenced by games such as Luxor and Zuma and also by the movie Flubber.

And, of course, the game Tryptich is quite similar to Gelex and had huge impact on me when I've discovered it.

Why did you decide to make a puzzle game rather than things you're interesting in such as gardening and farming?

I decided on a puzzle game because I wanted to start with something simple. I know every detail about farming and gardening, and a game based on these things would be really complex and much harder for me to create.

And another thing, I want this game mainly for my grandchildren and they are not really into gardening and farming, so I guess they wouldn't like them in a game either.

What's been the most difficult thing so far in making Gelex?

Optimising the code. I've written some articles about that on my blog and I'm preparing another one. I'm still finding ways to improve the code, but it's really hard and takes lots of time.

What parts of the game do you still have to finish?

I'm working on the high score system right and I'm designing the main menu in my head. I want it to be more interactive. In other games you've just got some buttons such as New Game, Setting etc… But in Gelex, there will be other little things to do. They will be useless, but funny.

But there are still lots of other things to do like music and sounds. I don't have any of them yet. According to my plans I want to finish the game in a month or month and a half.

What do you think is the best bit of Gelex so far?

I love just playing with the bricks, hitting one with another and seeing how the physics works. That's what I really like in the game.

Do you think you will make more games when Gelex is finished?

I would love to. I already have some ideas about a new game and if I'm healthy enough to continue with game development then I don't see any reason to stop.

What does your family think about your new hobby?

I have a huge support from my three grandsons. Michal bough me an iPhone as I mentioned, then they gave me a Mac, because I had a Windows PC. One of them is studying IT at university, so he is my adviser sometimes. And all three of them are watching everything I create and give me feedback. They've also made the videos on my blog.

The rest of the family doesn't really care, but my grandsons are my biggest fans and my motivation.

Have you had much contact with other people making iPhone games?

As I mentioned before, my grandson Pavel helps me sometimes with some harder things about programming. He is really good at it, but he is not doing anything on iPhone.

I am also a member of some developer forums, but I am a passive member - just reading what other people say. And I have some contact with other iPhone developers through twitter. That mainly helps my motivation.

What advice would you have for anyone who has never coded a game but is interested?

If your dream or goal is to create a game, you should definitely follow it. It's not easy to create a game: especially in the beginning you will need to learn a lot, but it is worth it. Each time I create a new part of the game I am so proud of it and that feeling is worth the effort.

Many thanks to Marie for her time

You can keep up to date with the development of Gelex on her Granny Coder blog and via twitter.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.


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