Adventure of Chip - retro platformer with a twitch
As a form of counter-culture to high polished visuals in games, a resurgance of abstract graphics is going on for a few years now. It started off in the mid-noughties, at the beginning of the vibrant contemporary indie scene, with games like the notorious Dwarf Fortress that put ASCII/ANSI code to use for laying out an ever changing virtual landscape. Apart from the time before proper computer graphics were even established, games that used specified characters as a means of graphical presentation were lastly popular around the year 1990, with games like ZZT or the Kroz series. Back in the days, those games were mostly "slow" experiences: RPGs and exploration or puzzle type games.
Enter Adventure of Chip and its challenging pacing. It takes the visual aesthetics from ASCII/ANSI character games and combines them with fast paced retro-platformer gameplay of the likes of VVVVVV or Super Meat Boy. The self-description simply states: "A twitch platformer, inspired by vintage games of the past." With Adventure of Chip released recently, exclusively for iOS, Video Game Tourism talked to the man behind it, 27-year-old Daniel Jarin from Australia. Surprisingly, the brilliant Chip happens to be his first game.
Adventure of Chip mimicks the looks of text based ANSI graphics and has a color palette similar to those of the likes of BBC Micro or ZX Spectrum. What is your relation to those visual retro game elements and old school computers?
I grew up playing a lot of games on DOS, Osborne and early Apple machines and really enjoy their visual style. Our home DOS and Osborne systems ran monochrome/green monitors and many in-game objects were ANSI/ASCII characters. Whilst modern games of today look really great, I still really appreciate the minimal/focused styling of older games. I find their rawness aesthetically pleasing and can help push focus towards the gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay that is pushed by the graphics: The character itself moves in a stunningly dynamic way, although it is just portrayed as a static ASCII smiley face. It flickers, has different heights for jumping, can grind alongside walls and floors and tends to bounce around like crazy if you don't control it precisely. How much detail have you put into the movement mechanics and what was the basic goal that you wanted to achieve with the controls?
A lot of time was spent working on the controls/gameplay, trying different methods to see what felt ‘right’. The game is quite volatile and not very forgiving; often throwing/bouncing the player quickly around the screen, demanding accuracy. I aimed to make a twitchy and precise platformer on iOS, so I could play on the train between work/home and wanted the game to be quick/focused so replaying a level didn’t punish the player, encouraging another play. I really liked the idea of having retro style characters/objects infused with fast, responsive physics and found the overall result quite challenging and comical.
There is no tutorial, not even a basic help on the inputs available in the game. It's rewarding to figure out the details of the movement and which interaction with certain parts of the gameworld triggers which possibilities for the player. Acceleration seems to be a particularly mysterious part in all this. How do you balance out the game design in terms of not revealing too much to the player but at the same time avoiding a frustrating experience?
Yeah, I really wanted to avoid text on screen as much as possible, hopefully allowing the player to find their way through trial & error. Many games provide tutorials and guidance, whereas I wanted Chip to be minimal as possible, allowing progression to be a more intuitive process. Each world introduces new gameplay elements and the first level of each world immediately presents those elements to the player. I spent a lot of time trying to balance the learning/difficulty curve, whilst trying to keep each level respectably challenging. I really like how older games wouldn't sugarcoat the experience and push the player to achieve. Whilst I'm sure Chip is likely to frustrate, it's partly intentional, as it helps provide the feeling of achievement when finally beating a difficult level/segment. The speed and controls are quite twitchy at first, however find players are quick learn their subtleties - often encouraged by the fact they are just thrown into the game and left to fend for themselves, experimenting with the game world & objects.
The character spins around while jumping and bouncing, similar to the silverball inside a pinball machine. You also included actual flipper fingers in some levels of the game. Do you have a certain interest in pinball and its balance between random chaos and precise shots that you wanted to translate into Chip?
I didn't start with the intention of providing a pinball style of gameplay/chaos, however as the game developed I stumbled on those moments of chaos which I found very satisfying and comical. I do like the idea of 'controlled chaos', where things are on the edge and you have to fight for control and eventually did draw inspiration from games like pinball. I liked the idea of a fast/twitchy platformer, with levels designed like an obstacle course. Finding the right path/pacing provides a smooth and proficient experience and when not, the game will throw the player around, increasing stress on the controls/physics. I wanted to make a game which didn't involve any violence but had the player fight against the level and focused on adding game elements which helped towards that goal.
Why and how did you start making games and what are you currently working on?
When younger, I enjoyed making levels for Mario, Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, etc., and always wanted to learn the full process of making my own game; from the code, through to art & assets. Last year, after seeing Indie Game: The Movie I eventually realised it was something I just had to do and started reading as much possible whilst travelling between work/home, trying to get my head around coding. As I have an iPhone with me at all times, decided to learn on iOS, allowing me to test builds and research ideas on the go. Chip was the project I used to experiment and learn; from how to display/control sprites, to loading different level-maps and building a full game experience. The process has been thoroughly enjoyable and look forward to making more 2D games, as I find there's a unique quality of gameplay/experience provided by 2D. That being said, I just received my Oculus Rift Dev Kit yesterday and can't wait to also start exploring other coding and gaming opportunities.
Adventure of Chip is out for iOS, almost free of charge and also compatible with older devices.