Bips! – If PAC-MAN Ate Snake…

bips-394x150Bips! is a brand new game from Ludometrics, out now for Facebook.  So far so vanilla you might be thinking, but hold those there horses, cowboys n’ girls.  This is no regular release.  Bips! has a long and noble history, with a pedigree as long as Metal Gear Solid cut scene (one of our New Year’s Resolutions was to include more obscure gaming references per story…)

Bips! is a co-production with Denki, the world’s most bubblegum and sunshine games company.  Based on an original Gary Penn (TM) idea from days of yore (i.e. DMA Design circa 1779), the game was originally released on interactive TV, where it’s simple one-button gameplay was perfect for use with a television remote control.

This may all be of historical interest to the technical Tony Robinsons out there, but it may not yet be floating the boats of the FPS/MMO generation.  Allow us to explain a little more…

bonus-2-960x720Bips! is one of the simplest, slickest and most compelling games of recent years.  The premise is simple.  You start at the right hand side of an eerie dark arena, scattered with a few white and golden twinkles.  Your main character is a dot, who moves continuously, upwards at 45 degrees.  When you press the space bar, he/she/it moves down at 135 degrees.  You start at the left hand wall.  If you hit the safe areas of the right hand wall, you bounce and go back towards the left.

You use this simplistic control system to navigate around the screen, pick up tokens avoid baddies and complete challenges.  Couldn’t be simpler.

OK, it sounds peculiar, it sounds simplistic, but from such a stripped back and lean approach to fun, something surprising has arisen.  Something you’ll enjoy. Forget your preposterous prejudice against Facebook as a gaming platform.  Ignore your fondess for FPS fundamentalism.  Give it a go.

crazy-stalker-960x720Please don’t just take our word for it, take the word of EDGE MAGAZINE (the other authoritative games industry ‘bible’, though it is officially less funny than Scottishgames.net…)  Here’s what EDGE said when they saw the original concept prototype, waaaay back in <cough> July 1998…

Faster Worm Slow is possibly the simplest videogame Edge has ever seen.  In it, a solitary pixel glides across a dark Pong-like screen, its direction changed by a single button press to avoid a series of static blocks.  There is no scrolling, there are no frames of animation and certainly no texture-mapped, z-buffered 3D.  It’s as antiquated as videogaming can possibly get, and yet DMA’s designers have been spending time playing around with it (and other rudimentary concepts), to further its own understanding of what makes gameplay work.

From such auspicious beginnings do legends of gaming start.  We broke into the Ludometrics offices over the Christmas holiday and were waiting for Chief Person, David Thomson, when he returned to work (with a Venti Latte) early yesterday morning.  We had some probing questions for him (and a small box of biscuits).  Here’s what he told us:

Scottish Games Network: A 15 year old concept is it?  Co-production are they?  Explain yourself.  What the devil is this game?

David Thomson: We set out to make a 21st century arcade game on Facebook – something that reminded us of playing coin-op arcade machines from the 80s and 90s, but with modern attributes. The best description I’ve seen so far from a player is “Snake ate Pac-Man for dinner and then logged on to Facebook”.

SGN: This Bips! thing was originally created by Denki for interactive TV, how did Ludometrics come to create a version for Facebook?  Blackmail?

DT: TL;DR: they asked us and we said yes…

OK, a slightly longer version of the tale is that Denki, on account of being somewhat more famous than Ludometrics, are often approached about the various prototypes and pilots and games that they’ve demonstrated over the years. It was essentially a perfect storm of the right opportunity at the right moment, and Denki’s desire to see if their working methods could be applied to an external team.

Not only have I worked at Denki in the past, of course, but ever since I first met them back at the start of the century we’ve always had similar ideas and ideals about games. So it seemed like a great opportunity from both sides.

implode-960x720SGN: Denki?  Involved?  A likely story.  Explain how was Denki involved in the project!

Basically, their involvement was to let us get on with making the game. The analogy we’ve been using is something akin to music, where Ludometrics is the band and Denki is the record label. Sean at Denki was the producer helping us raise our game (pun possibly intended).

SGN: Hmm, ok.  Plausible we suppose…  So, did you find the companies working together advantageous?

DT: Definitely, not least from the point of view that the game wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

SGN: And what exactly are your intentions towards this game?  Are you planning anything formal, can you take care of it in the future?  How do you plan to take the game forward?

DT: Since we only just went into open beta, we’re looking at how people actually play the game and will be making changes from that aspect first and foremost. But the plan right now is to keep the updates coming, probably on a weekly basis at the very least.

We haven’t thought about other platforms as yet, since we wanted to make sure people actually enjoyed the game first! But if you like the game on Facebook you’ll be the first to know what’s going on.

SGN: We suppose you’re going to claim that everyone’s very happy and that you would work with Denki again in the future, huh?

DT: Silly question – of course!

SGN: And do you have any plans for other projects with Denki (or any other company)?

DT: There’s nothing specific lined up with Denki other than making Bips! a success. We’ve been working with Big Fish on a couple of PC download games, but that’s more a distribution relationship rather than a creative collaboration.

SGN: Facebook has suffered a loss of credibility as a platform for gaming. Do you think it still has a future?

DT: Anywhere people gather is a good place to offer games. The trick, as it always has been, is making sure people know the game exists.

SGN: Is this some sort of master plan to take advantage of emerging trends in the games business of the future?

DT: The main trend I hope to see is the total number of Bips! players increasing. Other than that, I expect it will be the same as every other year: some companies will fold, some new ones will start, a game or two no one saw coming will surprise everyone, and something completely unexpected will happen. You heard it hear first!

SGN: What’s next for Ludometrics?

Getting people to play Bips! is the focus for the immediate future. Other than that, you’ll just have to keep a watchful eye on us…

We thanked David, left the biscuits next to the kettle, made our excuses and left abruptly.

Now go and play Bips!  You can also keep tabs on Ludometrics on Facebook, online, or follow them on Twitter.

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