As a visual-artist-turned-game-designer, I don’t come up with game concepts based on mechanics. I don’t prototype games using programmer art or boxes or borrowed sprites. I don’t play other games and decide to make something based on them. The only way I can get myself excited about making a game is by firing up Photoshop and drawing until I end up with something that looks like a video game to me.
Basically, I make mock-ups and I let the images tell me what they want to be. There’s nothing planned out or technical about what I do, it’s just a feeling I get from what I’m seeing. Sometimes a pixel turns into a tile which turns into a set of tiles which tells me “oh. I guess we’re in a factory of some kind”. When I end up with tiles, I’ll lay them out to look like a level, and then populate the room with sprites. Most of the time, how the sprites look and how they’re placed in the rooms tells me where to go with the gameplay.
As far as I can tell there’s nothing conscious about this process, it’s purely visual. I might draw a factory worker (seems like a logical choice) but at some point mess up a color, decide I like that particular shade of green better, and turn the poor dude into a monstrous blob. Great, now it’s a monster factory? Yeah ok that works. Good setting for an arena shooter! Ok so who’s killing these things? and why are they doing that? Who the heck would own a monster factory? To answer those questions I’ll just keep drawing until everything becomes clear.
So how did Irrupt come to be?
Back when Andrew and I started making Irrupt, it looked like this:
But here’s a secret: If you flip that picture 90 degrees counter-clockwise, you’re looking at a platformer where a lil’ ninja is jumping to reach an exit.
When I made it, I was digging the color scheme and the patterns, but not the layout so much. So I played around with it until, for whatever reason, I started rotating the thing around. It clicked immediately: Blocks are falling down and the player is like a rocket that has to avoid these falling obstacles and get from right to left. This is an iOS game, this is something that you have to hold in your hand and interact with. It was obvious!
Excitedly, I showed the mockup to Andrew. At the time, Andrew was very interested in taking on something different from the flash games we’ve been making together so when he saw it, the first thing he said was “iOS.” Some people would call that sequence of events a coincidence, some would call it luck. I just call it Sets and Settings.
As we started prototyping and coming up with gameplay ideas, the story started unfolding itself to me: It’s in space, the falling blocks are asteroids, you have to escort astronauts from one spaceship to another. I was thinking about that scene in Sunshine where the crew has to get back to Icarus II after having explored an abandoned Icarus I. With those things in mind, the original mockup didn’t seem to do it for me anymore. So it became this:
Better. I have a huge boner for 70’s scifi airbrush illustration so it felt like a perfect fit. Popping colors, hard shapes, and just a tiny bit of dirty noise. Inspired by the works of Chris Foss and Shusei Nagaoka, I started exploring this style more and more.
Definitely getting there, until I started doing the menu screen. Which originally looked like this:
Except that there was no reasonable explanation to have a big structure in the center of the screen which would switch over to two similar looking structures at the edges. It felt jarring to me. And that feeling was what finalized the look of Irrupt.
Now, every screen you end up on is a configuration of the same thing. I spent a lot of time making sure that there was a visual flow, and for every transition an elaborate animation will play. It feels like you’re playing with a toy when you touch a button, almost like a Rubik’s Cube on speed is angry that you’re poking at it.
We’ve just submitted Irrupt to the App Store. I can’t wait for people to start poking.