LET ME TAKE YOU BACK to a time before we were blessed by the existence of mobile phones, MP3 players, home computers, the Internet and more than three TV channels operating for longer than a few hours a day in the UK.
A time not that long ago when handheld calculators were introduced, the first digital watch was sold for $2,100 and the world’s first video game console was released to make the future a reality; the year in which Led Zeppelin released Stairway to Heaven, The Godfather won the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar and man returned to the moon twice (and for the last time); the year in which the US Senate got its act together and passed the Equal Rights Amendment to give legal equality to women.
It’s 1972. The landmark “video skill game” Pong is released. But arcade classic Juggle! is not… Why?
The reason’s simple: despite what Andy’s awesome flyers might lead you to believe, Juggle! isn’t real.
But what if it was, hmm, eh?
THE PAST PRESENT
For the past 20 years I’ve had this urge to make a series of games that never were – mainly to suggest lost archives now discovered; to create an emotional resonance akin to that experienced by, say, new-found Beatles demo tapes – but also the idea of recreating contemporary games and themes in an old style to suggest an alternative past and present.
Of course, I wasn’t alone with that desire and there are plenty of examples of that sort of thing around today. So here I am fashionably late to the party. At long last, after creating all sorts of unreleased olde skool oddities in prototype form, I give you Juggle! for the iPhone…
Juggle! also fulfils a desire to create smaller, simpler, minimalist games – microgames or even nanogames; amuse-touche, if you will. It satisfies the need to just pick up and play a quick game of something unapologetically pure and simple and challenging – a uniquely virtual toy-centric experience to get the adrenaline flowing, send your heart-rate rising and leave you glistening with sweat and feeling exhilarated in a very special way.
Moreover, as a team we constantly strive to expand our repertoire and this gave us the ideal opportunity to do something more sociable – something that connected with the real world outside the artificial: leaderboards, achievements, the means to issue challenges and the scope to share your exploits with friends and the world via Facebook and Twitter.
So, with all that in mind, the Juggle! Guiding Lights were established:
- Create the sense of a previously undiscovered arcade classic.
- Create the feeling of juggling for people who can’t juggle.
- This is a game about keeping objects in the air, no more, no less.
- The skill is in seeing how many objects you can keep in the air and for how long.
- Allow people to conveniently share and compare their performances.
These provide a constellation of considerations to help us stay true to our destination; reminders of our intentions should we ever face uncertainties or obstacles.
NEW BALLS, PLEASE
So what exactly is the game? Well, in keeping with the period, the “How to Play” is nice and terse:
But this isn’t intended to be a perfect simulation of a blast from the past or even the old made new. The aim here is to capture a sense of the time – a sincere artistic interpretation working within deliberate limitations and intended to evoke the era; taking that basic but distinctive style and embellishing it to enrich the essence.
The core constraints were as follows:
- The minimum building block is four pixels (but movement can be smooth).
- No diagonals or ‘loose’ pixels.
- No more than two colours: black and white.
- Keep the toyset to a bare minimum: a paddle; balls; playscape boundaries.
- Simple audio synthesis, preferably a square wave.
- Simple analogue input akin to a potentiometer.
These rules provide a grounding – and were made to be broken.
FROM TIME TO TIME
To further improve the sense of an historical find, I also wanted to extrapolate the concept through the years, in much the same way as, say, Breakout has evolved. Five key years from the previous four decades were identified:
The time of Pong and the like. Juggle! exists in its purest form.
Super Breakout is released; plastic overlays are used to create the illusion of – gasp – colour. Super Juggle! exists in an updated form.
Breakout evolved into Arkanoid and gained style, structure, a story and accessories. Juggloid! follows suit.
Arkanoid effectively evolved into the likes of Puchi Carat and the (quite dreary) Arkanoid Returns; big, bold, colourful Neo Geo styling is the focus here, with characters to jolly along proceedings. Juggle! 2000 sports new playscape features more like pinball and a split-screen multiplayer mode.
I couldn’t find an appropriate reference here but ‘contemporetro’ is ‘the thing’ these days and the likes of Rez and Geometry Wars have been influential in that style. Juggle! Evolved or Juggle! Generations features multiple modes of play, special challenges, achievements, leaderboards, etc, plus the scope to not only play along to your own music but to mix your own.
The intention was to start with the most basic version, make that as good as it can be and then extrapolate through time with subsequent versions, either in the form of updates or whole new releases depending on the scale of the changes. After all, if you can’t get the foundations right, there’s no point in building up…