Mike V. Pickering
Joshua Tree, CA, USA
March 28, 2018
Gambol is a modern 2D platformer that's all about wall-jumping, ceiling-slapping, and speed. Player agency is key, with smooth, responsive controls, and a triple jump cooldown that is reset upon collision with any non-lethal surface (hence the "ceiling-slapping"). Levels are designed to be speed-runner friendly, with flow in mind, so that when you're finally familiar with a layout you'll be able to run through levels in a smooth, almost rhythmic way. To aid speed-runners, the amount of random elements, auto-scrolling levels, and other hindrances to speed-gamers, has been kept to an absolute minimum. The plot? Pretty much inconsequential. You play as a little orange ball whose only mission in life is to run, jump, hop, gambol, amble (but seldom shamble) on your way to finding the missing ball Blue.
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The Death of a Childhood Hero
During the summer of 2015, I was working on a few game projects, but felt increasingly discontent with my work, and believed that I was losing sight of what got me into game development to begin with: to make fun games that I could enjoy (and you know, hopefully others would enjoy too). I took a few weeks off from working on my then-current projects so that I could strongly consider my future in game development. While I had always wanted to make games that others would enjoy, I had only focused on what I thought others would want to play, rather than what I wanted to play. One of the major benefits of being a small developer is being able to put your own personal touch on your work, and not just make a homogeneous product that everyone will love; this is something that I had completely ignored up until this point. Slowly I began to feel motivated to get back to work, to create something personal, something that I could be proud of regardless of how it sold, something that would be mine. Right around this time I read some terrible news: Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo, Game Developer, and legendary software engineer, passed away at the age of 55. Iwata had worked on games such as Kirby, Earthbound, and countless others, influencing generations of gamers and game developers with his philosophy that games should be one thing above all else: fun. With his death I felt a new sense of purpose and passion for making games, and immediately quit all projects that I had been working on to pursue something new.
In late July of the same year, I decided to participate in a month-long Gamejam, and focused on making a game in a genre that I wanted to play. The result was an early build of Gambol, a simple platforming game with a strong emphasis on wall-jumping. Wall-jumping is a mechanic that I loved in games like Super Metroid, Megaman X, newer Mario games, Meatboy, N/N++, and many others, but it has always felt like it was either underused, or didn't have quite the right feel to it. With that in mind, I made it my main goal during the gamejam to create a wall-jumping mechanic that was as smooth and satisfying as possible. While rough around the edges, and using an entirely different art style than the Gambol of today, the underlying game was enjoyable enough for me to continue development on it, and I planned to release a full version sometime during the following year (time estimates are hard).
A Happy Accident
After a few months of development, I began to worry about the level design of the project. Was it a puzzle platformer? A fast-paced Mario-like? Beyond the fun wall-jumping mechanic in the game, there wasn't a whole lot of direction for where the project should go. I would make levels of varying types, and had more or less settled on levels that are primarily about wall-jumping to the top of any given stage, but aside from that I felt a bit lost. However, it was during this time I encountered an interesting bug. The double-jump that the player has was resetting when the player lands on the ground, or touches a wall, but it was also resetting when the player collided with the ceiling (as the game just registered it as a safe surface). This bug allowed the player to indefinitely hop along the ceiling, and it actually felt really fun to play with. So instead of fixing it, the ceiling-hopping bug became a fully fledged mechanic that level design is now partially based around.
You're in Control
Now, after adding a double-jump (later upgraded to a triple jump), ceiling-hopping, and buttery smooth wall-jumping, player agency slowly has become one of the strongest aspects of the game. Players can now beat levels that would look flat out impossible in most other games, and given how levels are designed with speed-running in mind, they can do so with great rhythm and flow after mastering a levels layout. The focus during development has primarily been on gameplay, with narrative largely taking a back seat. But even with that being the case, special care has been taken to avoid violence (aside from your gumball-like character getting squished or popped), as well as negative narrative tropes regarding gender, politics, or anything that could be considered a sensitive subject for players. Above all else, the one thing that I want players to get out of Gambol is simply this: fun.
HyperFunk Games is the (currently) one-man dev team comprising of Mike V. Pickering. As of this writing, Gambol is the first and only project for HyperFunk games, but this website (HyperFunk.net) will be the goto place for any future announcements and updates regarding our work, with games and their respective pages being sorted on this domain accordingly. Our sole mission in game development is to make incredibly fun, well-polished, responsive, colorful, upbeat, hyper-funky games. Stay awesome,I love you.
For any business or media inquiries regarding Gambol, HyperFunk games, or whatever else, shoot me an email or DM me on Twitter.
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