Hi folks! In the coming months, I hope to regularly post to this blog (maybe once a week?!). I’ll have a few posts about my recent release Egg Brain: Concentration, as I work on monthly updates and marketing. But mainly I’ll be doing a detailed step-by-step of my new project, Super Gravity Pong, launching in November for iPhone and iPad.
Impossible Pong and Egg Brain’s Gravity
The Gravity Pong concept predates Egg Brain. It came from a wonderful little game called Impossible Pong by Appnoxious. In Impossible Pong, you have a tiny paddle at the bottom of a minimalist arena, a white orb drops from above, the paddle always moves, and you tap the screen to change the paddle’s direction in order to keep the ball in the air.
Impossible Pong is blindingly hard, but I love the feel of the gameplay once you get into a good flow. It is reminiscent of Circle Pong and its copycats, but somehow more compelling, because instead of dealing with a linear movement of the ball across a circle, in Impossible Pong, you deal with the non-linear, gravity-affected movement of a ball in a physics environment. There is just something quite compelling about tracking the ball’s movement on its parabolic arc, and timing the movement of your paddle so that they intersect. A bit like that catching a frisbee in a moving speedboat.
Because I was so taken by the idea, I decided to incorporate it into Egg Brain: Concentration as a mini-game called “Gravity”. In Gravity, the white orb is replaced by a colorful, cartoon-faced egg. The paddle is made much wider, for easier, more mellow gameplay. And the controls are subtly different, as I talk about below.
Two lessons from Egg Brain’s Gravity
I learned two important lessons from developing and play-testing Egg Brain’s Gravity game. The first concerns the controls. My original design mimicked Impossible Pong’s one-touch controls, tap anywhere to change the direction of the paddle. But when I thrust a prototype onto my patient wife, she immediately reverted to a two-touch mode, tap left to make the paddle go left, tap right to make the paddle go right. And she was frustrated when this intuitive control scheme conflicted with the one-touch controls I had implemented.
Incidentally, this echoes some feedback I was given on my 2014 game Shmoober, which also had a single button that switched the little toaster’s direction. The feedback was: make it two separate buttons, left and right! In hindsight, I think Shmoober, Impossible Pong, and Egg Brain’s Gravity all fell into the trap of trying to simplify user interface, while actually making it more complicated. While reducing the left-right action to a single button seems like a simplification from the developer’s perspective, from the player’s perspective, it actually makes a more complicated, less-intuitive interface. In contrast, a two-button left-right scheme just feels right, and doesn’t require any learning on the player’s part. Despite multiplying the number of inputs, it actually reduces the complexity of the controls.
With that feedback on my Gravity prototype, I quickly saw the light! The released version of Egg Brain’s Gravity uses two-button controls, and the game is better for it. Super Gravity Pong will have two-button controls as well.
The second lesson I learned from making Egg Brain’s Gravity game is that odd shapes are oddly fun! Egg Brain’s Gravity trades the plain white circle for an egg shape. The choice was not deliberate: I used an egg shape in Gravity only because the rest of the game features eggs to fit a loose Easter theme (for a Spring release). In a physics context, the egg is interesting for two reasons. One, it has an irregular perimeter, meaning it’s interaction with the paddle (and walls) will vary depending on which part of the egg makes contact. Two, it has an irregular center of mass due to its larger bottom and smaller top. This leads to interesting emergent equilibria, such as a pogo-stick-like pattern where the egg remains upside-down, bouncing on its tip for several hits.
Super Gravity Pong: Main Idea
In Super Gravity Pong, I will take these lessons from Egg Brain’s Gravity and incorporate them into a full game focusing on the gravity pong concept. The main idea is to follow this notion of “odd shapes are fun” wherever it leads me. If we can have eggs, then certainly we can have beach balls, bananas, bats (with wings!), fish (that flop), and more.
And once we open up the possibilities for the object we are hitting, we also expand to possibilities for the objectives of gameplay. How many hits can you get without dropping? How long can you keep the ball in the air? How many can you juggle at once? Can you aim the beach ball to collect coins and tokens, or trigger buttons which affect other objects in the physics world? Can you aim the fish to land in a bucket? And so on.
Next week I will start iterating on the design of Super Gravity Pong, beginning with some experimentation putting different shapes into my pong physics world. Look forward to a full report next week! (Update: the next post is here). In the meantime, I leave you with a little audio soundbite of (a first draft) of Super Gravity Pong’s theme song (apologies for Leila chirping in the background!).