January 23, 2012 1:30 PM | Lewie Procter
In similar vein to Hard Lines, Spilt Milk Studios are again taking an existing game concept that hasn't been brought to the iOS market to their standards, although this time round it's Breakout/Arkanoid getting the revamp treatment.
I caught up with Spilt Milk head honcho Andrew Smith to see if I could find out a bit more about Smash The Block, and here's what he had to say for himself, including details of the upcoming beta:
What the hell is Smash The Block?
It's essentially inspired by Arkanoid and Breakout, so it's a block breaking game: Bat and ball, break the blocks. I don't really want to be known as the guy that does cool riffs on classic old games, the other two projects we're working on are original. It's a neat idea, it's very quick to iterate, it's something a lot of people are familiar with. Similarly to what we thought with Hard Lines, we thought that there wasn't a decent Snake or Tron game on iPhone, I don't think there's a decent modern version of Breakout. There's a lot of games that are basically just Breakout, with one twist or something, but we want to do a proper update, like we did with Hard Lines.
What makes Smash The Block extra special then?
So Smash the Block is at its core a game inspired by Arkanoid and its ilk, but as with Hard Lines I feel that a simple graphical update is not enough. We're hoping to really add a ton of character - as evidenced by the 'cast' of blocks we've announced - because that's the kind of thing that raises a game from 'fun distraction' to 'emotionally investable' for the audience. You'd be hard pressed to create rabid fans of a game made up of squares, but put faces on them and voila, you've already made an important step. We're taking it further than that naturally, but you can see the logic.
Beyond that, we're adding a powerup system not unlike that found in Mario Kart. One part of the 'usual' Arkanoid-style games that has always frustrated me is the powerup system. Even the best ones like multi-ball fire off as soon as you collect the powerup, which often makes you panic and feel less than pleased about it. So to fix that, we're enabling players to collect a powerup (up to 3 at a time) and then fire them off as and when they want to. It just seems more fair, and more fun. It's often what happens when I design a game - systems get tweaked based on what disappoints me in other games!
We're also going to offer a multitude of different modes to play, and aim to support it with a lot of content post-release and really just do everything we can to make it different from the admittedly quite large amount of game-mechanically similar games.
So are you thinking neon style graphics?
No, not initially. One of the key things for Smash The Block is working in loads of customisation in from the start, we're not going to force it, it's designed that way round. We're going to have skin packs that completely reskin the game, and you can earn them in game. The basic game will be 16-bit-esque pixel art, like a step from Hard Lines. A neon version would be cool though, and I think what we'll do is homages to famous games, characters, pop culture references and just good looking stuff. It's quite exciting, because I get to work with a lot of different artists. I know quite a lot of guys from the industry who would happily do something like 20 assets that are at most 16x32 pixels, it's not like it's a huge ask for them, and they can craft something that looks really unique, and fill up the game with unique content.
What's the plan for the beta?
With the Smash the Block Beta, we're taking a bit of a new approach (at least for iOS). We're hoping to really involve our fans in a big way during the game's development. Right now it is playable and smooth but the presentation is functional, and a lot of gameplay elements are not even slightly polished. We're taking a risk, and I doubt very much if anyone will think it's the dog's bollocks quite yet. We're kinda taking the PC indie model popularised by Minecraft, and extending it onto iOS. But without the bit where we make money from it before launch, which is a shame.
That said it will definitely become akin to canine testicles over the following weeks, and the Elite Beta Agents (I couldn't resist) will be able to follow a new game from very early in its development, with access to builds almost as frequently as us in-house devs get. It's a logical next step for me, as I've always tried to be very open with my development.
Initially we'll be opening up to a select few, but again we hope to expand it to more users just as soon as we're more confident in the game being great. I'm also planning to do a new diary, with tons of insight into the development of the game based around the Elite Beta Agents feedback. Add to that the fact that we're going to encourage the Agents to tweet with the hashtag #SmashTheBlock - not only about the good bits of the game, but the bad, and even pics of it in action!
And when do you expect to be ready for release?
Smash The Block is due out when it's done, which will be before the end of March, with any luck.