I Am Level : Concept, Prototype and Game
There’s always a great debate to be had about when is the right time to talk about something you’re working on. Some people would argue that it’s as early as possible, others would say you should hold back until you have something particularly solid and tangible to show, like a gameplay trailer.
Ultimately, it depends a lot on the person, and the context. And the context you find me in at the moment is somewhere between these two stages.
This is ‘I Am Level’, and here is the story so far.
Stage one – First attempt (Nov 2012)
I first came up with this concept at the start of 2012, shortly after becoming a freelancer. It’s a simple premise. It’s a ‘Pinball Platformer’. You bounce a number of balls around a level, collecting… whatever, and trying to reach the exit. Next level. Simple. Here’s a video.
The first prototype
At this point I was in a ‘marketing’ mindset, and basically ticking boxes that I thought would give the game the best shot of success on mobile platforms. Simple, bite size levels, casual gameplay, etc. Whilst it definitely worked, and everyone who played it nodded and said ‘Yeah, I can see that working’, there was simply no excitement, they’d hand it back after a couple of levels and nod.
This muted response led me to initially abandon the game and throw it on my rather large pile of other abandoned projects. But the choice to skin the prototype in the style of a ZX Spectrum game would, however, prove critical to the rebirth of the project, because it put me in mind of some of my favorite games of my youth. And thus, the mashup began.
Project Rebirth – Jet Set Pinball! (January 2013)
At the start of 2013, after finishing a particularly lengthy contract, I began to realize that whilst I’ve put tons of little free experimental / indie games out, and made lots of games with clients and industry teams, I’ve never actually released anything truly significant of entirely my own devising. And the time for me to do that feels long overdue.
The decision to return to ‘I Am Level’ was a simple one. I had a new direction I wanted to take it in, and I was desperate to see if it would work. It started with this screen…
100 points if anyone can tell me where that placeholder face image is from
No longer are you constrained to a single screen, this game was now ‘Jet Set Pinball’, a mash up of Jet Set Willy, and a pinball game. The player navigates using a combination of the pinball toys (bumpers and springs etc…) and tilting their mobile device. The aim of the game is still clearing screens, but more than that, it’s about the fun of exploring. Discovering what’s in the next room, trying to make it into uncharted territory… I mean, did anyone who played Jet Set Willy seriously try and collect everything?
Springs thrust the player upwards, paddles punch them left and right
So I began adding rooms, creating new toys, and basically having a whale of a time recreating the look and feel of the ZX era. It was clear after, well, not very long at all, that this was the direction this game was going in!
The art style ‘Retro Impressionism’ can is very flexible. Here’s a grassy burrow
And so began… the production phase
Stage 3 – Strip it down, build it up (March, 2013)
Once the giddy excitement of realising that this concept has definite legs had subsided (which every developer gets with every project, whether it’s a delusion or not!), the task became one of production. Whilst it was nice to play around with recreating the ZX style, I was getting maybe 2 screens done a day tops, and editing them would be a real pain if they were already decorated.
So the first stage of production was to strip out all the graphics, just have a single tile set, a single baddie type, and a single collectable type. The game now looked like this…
One Baddie type, One collectable type
This meant I could do the whole game flow much more quickly, and by the middle of April, the Map looked like this.
The target number of rooms is 75
It also made it much easier to add toys and features, which are still going in even now, as and when I come up with them.
The name of the game now is finishing the map, adding more toys, getting towards feature complete.
It’s a pinball platform game. So there are a few pinball tables hidden amongst its many rooms.
There’s a big question mark over the graphics at the moment. When I eventually get round to putting them back in, will I go back to the ZX style, or opt for something else? Whilst that style makes me go all gooey, I am well aware of the fact that it will make the game very niche.
But ultimately, I think I have to stay true to myself here. This game is very personal to me, it’s born from my own personality and experiences, so whilst I am more than open to being convinced otherwise, I figure that if I get excited by the look of it, then someone else might too.
It’s simply not in my nature to compromise my own vision for the sake of making the game more palatable for a wider audience. While I’m happy to do that for clients, I don’t see anything morally wrong with it, it’s not right for this project.
The reason for this post
As I said at the start of this post, I had a long discussion on a forum about when is the right time to show a game off. I always do it too early, it’s one of my many flaws. I get excited too quickly, and assume everyone else will be too.
I’ve taken some advice from some very media savvy individuals, who have informed me that my biggest flaw is that I have an aversion to talking about my own work. It makes me feel like a douche. Self promoters… not a fan. I want my work to speak for itself.
But on this occasion, I’m going to make an exception. This is my first real roll of the indie dice, and I’d hate to mess it up by being shy and afraid to talk about it. I’m going to champion this thing to the death! So here it is… this is my thing… If you like it, please share it. And if you want some more info, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Watch this space for more information about ‘I Am Level’!