ROTOPO wasn’t BKNFR’s first game. In fact, years of development on games that may never see the light of liquid crystal preceded it. What always halted work other projects was that point in game development when the concept is proven to work just dandy, but the task of creating enough content is daunting. There wasn’t any money to hire artists, nor any time to sit around fleshing out detailed worlds, animations, and gameplay mechanics for even the most modest of game concepts.
So ROTOPO wasn’t the first, but it was the first game BKNFR decided to finish and release, because the scope was just right: Not too big that it could never get made, and not too small that it felt frivolous. Truly, it was conceived specifically for this narrow-minded purpose, yet the result would be quite dear to my heart.
I remember laying in bed plagued by the thought – how do we make something appropriate to our tiny company’s capabilities but not trite or stolen? The migraine of making 3D games is this: there’s a whole lot of shapes moving around – tons and tons of them – and cutting down the amount of work involves cutting out the shape-building. Procedural generation is one approach, but that can take a lot of work to yield satisfying results that don’t either feel too random or too uniform. So I wondered, how might one convince gamers to be grateful for just one damn shape at a time? What could be fun about a single shape?
And that led me to start pondering ideas for a puzzle game based around interacting with a single shape. One thing I knew from the beginning was that the game should serve shapes to the player one at a time, and the player would have to “solve” each one, and then it would explode revealing the next shape underneath like russian dolls. For whatever reason, this much was obvious to me from the start, but the rest took a bit of scrutiny and luck. At first, I imagined players clicking on each face of the shape, and.. and then something would happen. Oh huh, I thought, what about that mini-game in zelda where neighboring “nodes” flipped when you hit a switch. That was… kind of fun right?
Well it was enough to get my creative juices flowing, and the next time I met up with Fester I presented him the idea. “I know we’re working hard on super-kinda-going-nowhere game X, but what about a really simple one-off sort of puzzle game we could make in like, a couple days so we could finally put something out there? Basically it’s like that old shitty zelda minigame… (…)… yeah I know the camera would be a pain, yeah I know it might be impossible to reason through, but.. maybe.”
Eventually, Fester humored me enough to convince me to start building this ridiculous game.
Alright, all set up with a fresh project, gonna start putting some shapes together and.. ah wait a second. Could someone else possibly have had the exact same idea? It seemed unlikely, but a bit of googling later and I discovered, to my surprise, that indeed the game already existed. Someone had made it precisely as I had imagined. Thing was, it was just as awful (No offense random dude) as my worst fears. It was impossible to control, and impossible to wrap your head around. Most of all, it wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.
Dejected then, both because the game’s idea was not original and, perhaps even moreso, that it wasn’t a very good one, I shelved the concept and went back to other things.
But something about an endless series of exploding shapes wouldn’t liberate itself from my subconscious, and I started to see these things more vividly in my twilight hours (when i’m attuned most to the spirit world). What if… you walked on the surface? Well, it couldn’t be an FPS, which means it needs 4-direction controls, which would limit the number of shapes available (Who knows exactly how). Hm.. and walking on a tile would clear it.. but you can’t step on an uncleared tile and.. that’s it. Oh and i’d be forced to sit around trying out shapes to somehow miraculously find ones where a path to clear it actually existed.
Well now, If someone made the god damn zelda-flipping-switch-polyhedron-game then the walk-on-shape game certainly must be on it’s tenth iteration right? Lo and behold, this was not the case. I searched and searched but nope, nothing like this has been made.
Wow, great, but was it any fun?
Well, I’ll leave that up to you, but my first prototype, which just involved walking around cubes of increasing subdivision, was actually a pretty clear hit. My friends gave it a thumbs up, and suggested I expand on the idea. It only took a few days until I had something that plays nearly identically to the game up on ROTOPO.com now.
Something that seems like luck from the geometric lords was just the sheer number of shapes that worked out. I haven’t been able to prove it, but I think every closed polyhedron with tiled square faces has at least one solution from any starting tile. Perhaps there is a geometrist out there who finds that notion self-evident, and if that’s you, I’d certainly love to see a proof, but to me it’s a miracle.
I was ready to ship it after about a week of development. It hadn’t much polish, sure, but it was functional and I found myself playing it quite contentedly for long stretches. But, Fester insisted we go through the whole rigamarole of fleshing it out and adding content and making an in-game shop and all the rest. What started as a nice little idea turned into months of hard labor, but I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve come up with and I’m hoping you get a kick out of it too.