February 20, 2014 8:35 PM | John Polson
[By Kris Ligman]
Released at the forefront of 2009's mobile game wave, Eliss is a title near and dear to many, including its developer, Steph Thirion. One of the first hit games on iOS, Eliss has returned with a new and polished update, Eliss Infinity, which introduces a new endless mode and has been optimized for the iPad.
"I wanted to make an endless mode for Eliss basically from the start," Thirion tells sister site Gamasutra. "I actually started development on a chaining mechanic prototype soon after the game's release. It showed a lot of promise, but it wasn't quite clicking. I chose to change my focus for a bit."
Thirion paused work on continuing Eliss to develop Faraway, which received a nomination for Best Mobile Game at the Independent Games Festival in 2012. While Faraway has not yet been released, Thirion says he was satisfied with its development at that point to shift his focus back to Eliss -- and in particular, emphasizing Eliss Infinity's performance on iPad.
"The game was perfect for the iPad, even though it was developed before the device came out," Thirion says enthusiastically. "When it was, I knew immediately that Eliss was meant for the iPad, but I had trouble justifying the update if I wasn't also improving the game in some way. And so it ended up being a larger overhaul."
Most of the game's overhauls were completed within a day, under an intense development schedule Thirion likens to a game jam.
"I had all these friends who were coming back from these jams telling me about what great things they had managed to make; how the process was very inspiring to them," says Thirion. "So I said 'okay, I'll just give myself one day.' I will commit to this and do it. It became like a game jam at home."
The Devil in the Details
Known for its understated pixel aesthetic achieved without use of textures, Eliss invokes the look of early computer games while also making the best use of Apple's multitouch devices. For Eliss Infinity's endless mode, Thirion rebuilt the game with a new engine, to allow for the right "rhythm" by which new objects appear on the screen. Players must group, divide, and position differently-sized planets and chain them in various ways, before Infinity's screen gets too cluttered.
"It's like music. It's not a completely rational thing -- you move notes around until it feels good," Thirion explains. "It was important for me that the endless mode have just the right tempo."
Coming out of a design background, Thirion favors the textureless approach of Eliss and Faraway in part for how it expresses the underlying machinery of games.
"Once you start programming, you start to see how these manual tools really drag you down. Code [by contrast] takes on a life of its own. There is a certain power to drawing with code; a certain beauty with simple polygons," he says. "Many players actually don't realize Eliss doesn't use any textures."
While Thirion says the aesthetic which made Eliss stand out in 2009's App Store has no doubt "lost a bit of its freshness in the last five years," he believes Eliss's enduring popularity -- and the buzz around Eliss Infinity -- speaks to its staying power.
"Trends will rise and fall, but these low resolution and pixel approaches are here to stay, for two reasons: it leaves room for the imagination, and it lowers the bar for creation. Having those two things is important," says Thirion.
Eliss Infinity is presently available for iOS on all devices. You can learn more about the game from its official website.
[Kris Ligman wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]