A Particularly Brief History

A lot of the blog posts that we’ll be writing are going to be based on our development experience of Particulars, the arcade avoider with a particle physics twist. We’ll be giving you guys as much detail about the development process as we can (without spoiling the game, of course), and be asking you guys to actively participate through playtesting and the open dialogue of the internet. Yet the first part of this story is missing, for Particulars has come a long way from its initial speck of an idea.

So what exactly is this game? Where did it come from and how did it, amongst several other contenders, become the prime candidate for Throw the Looking Glass’ first game? Find out this and more, right after I spin up my pocket-LHC…

Particulars first appeared in my mind around April 2010, as I was looking to make my first foray into flash game development and was meandering around the idea of partial, rather than absolute, player control. I’d been playing a fair bit of Tilt to Live (if you have an iPhone, get this game. It’s quite awesome). At some point memories of my favourite physics subject, high energy physics, melded with these thoughts, and BAM. Particulars was born.

The original thought was simple: an avoider involving particles and antiparticles which actively attract and repel each other. Specifically, the player would have to avoid antiparticles which would annihilate them while being attracted to said antiparticles (which in turn are attracted to the player). It’d be set at the beginning of the universe, more to explain why there were so many antiparticles than anything.

As it was my first game, my main aim was to get something out the door rather than to work on deep gameplay or any narrative. So it’d be a very simple arcade game, where particles would appear slowly at first and then speed up until the player died. A score would be given, and there’d be a high score system.

I thought I’d be able to finish it in 2-3 days. A week later, Particulars was released.

The Original Particulars

Brown Trousers Time in the original Particulars game

“But wait, isn’t this the game you’re working on right now? How can it already be released?” I hear you cry. Hang on a moment… we’ll get there.

Particulars did pretty well considering it’s lack of polish, short play time and stalwart refusal to explain itself to anyone who didn’t know what a quark was, and was even featured on Fire Hose Games’ blog. And that, as far as I was concerned, was it. I was considering making a sequel (called Matters, which is still a distinct possibility), but Particulars itself was done.

Until the Blackberry Playbook.

Earlier this year, Blackberry was offering developers a free Playbook (an iPad-like tablet) if they developed an app for it before it was launched. And you could code them in flash. I decided to remake Particulars (the old code was rubbish and pretty impossible to work with), with an eye to make an engine that would be suitable for the sequel without having to work out all the new gameplay that came with it. I plugged in Box2D, which I’d been working with a fair bit in other projects, and coded away.

A month or so later, Particulars for the Playbook came out. By the time it was finished, I realised this was a completely different game to the original, and one that was worth exploring further. The simple alteration of not allowing particles to overlap meant that the particles started forming crazy new structures while giving the player new skills to learn (such as flinging particles) and strategies (such as ‘forting’ – surrounding yourself in a fort of particles to protect yourself from the onslaught to come). I’d added some powerups as well, which proved to be promising (if not completely balanced).

Particulars for Blackberry Playbook

Adding Collisions for all particles meant that large, ominous structures of antiparticles were possible.

Around this time, Chris Ackad (our resident UI expert) expressed an interest in building an XNA version of the game. It didn’t take me long to realise the potential of the game, but I wanted to make sure that if we were to build a fully-fledged version, we’d give the sort of value in terms of story and education that I’d been wanting from a game. Plus I’d want to use it to build a game development company, market it to make a profit and use that money to make more games that give players value.

A month or so later, and here we are. Since then, we’ve done a fairly big redesign of the UI and added some new particle types, done a lot of groundwork for story and started work on a level designer. The addition of these new particles have created new and exciting interactions and structures, which we’ll certainly be exploring as we move forward.

Particulars Current Build
The addition of Electrons, Strange Quarks and Charmed Quarks add new levels of interactions.

This history is far from complete, and we’ll be surely adding new and exciting gameplay to add into the mix. I’d love to hear your thoughts, in particular any particles/objects/powerups you’d like to see in the new version.

P.S. As I write this, I realise that there’s a lot of basic (and at times, not so basic) particle physics that we’re using in this game that I’m not explaining. How’d you all feel about a few posts that go through the aspects of physics that we’ll be covering?

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