Created by Zach Gage, Halcyon is the new iPad game from the creator of synthPond, Sonic Wire Sculptor, Lose/Lose, Bit Pilot and Unify, games and apps we loved on CAN. Halcyon is the result of months of Zach trying to figure out what would make a good iPad game. Although it took a lot longer than expected, Zach says it was about getting used to what the iPad was as an object, and how it was comfortable to use. I asked Zach few questions about his new game:
FV: What was the inspiration behind Halcyon?
ZG: One way to look at Halcyon is that it’s what Unify would be if it had been developed for the iPad instead of the iPhone. Unify looked at what could be done in a casual puzzle game with multitouch, and that resulted in managing two pieces at the same time. Halcyon builds on that and says, “okay, we have a much larger screen now, what if instead of managing two pieces, we manage and entire system of possibly more than 100 pieces?”.
FV: How did you achieving this?
ZG: I borrowed management systems of drawing lines like in Flight Control, but reduced them to the simplicity of control in a game like Tetris. In Flight control you have to manage pixel perfect collisions, meaning a plane can be in hundreds of thousands of unique positions. Tetris (and other similar puzzle games) work so well because a piece can be in one of only a few unique positions on one axis. In Halcyon pieces can only be in up to 9 positions on the vertical axis, so instead of making dozens of tiny tweaks to individual objects, the player has to make one tweak to dozens of objects. This puts the emphasis on understanding the system as a whole.
FV: How would you describe the game?
ZG: You take on the role of the Halcyon- a greek mythological bird that calmed the wind and seas during the winter solstice. You play as a conductor, untangling and calming systems of currents. To make this work, I decided that I wanted the game field to be extremely minimal and function as both a stringed instrument and a playing field. This meant removing any heads up display entirely (although there is one in the screens below because it’s endless mode, there isn’t one in the normal game).
FV: You also refer to it “as a marriage of a generative musical instrument and a game”?
ZG: As you play the game (or if you watch the video), all of the sounds are generated based on a chord. Each string has notes that relate to that chord and are strummed whenever you touch or when a piece moves up or down them. The background music is generated based on that chord whenever new pieces appear in the playing field (this is why the music speeds up or slows down when the field gets heavier or lighter with pieces). Additionally, as you start to do worse and pieces get closer to collisions, the chord shifts to a minor version of that chord, and than and even more minor one, subtlety changing the entire system and all the notes you are playing. This constant shift and unshift creates a very dynamic soundscape.
FV: Tell us a little about the levels, modes, etc..
ZG: Halcyon will have 36 levels when I release it, along with two endless modes (Aggression and Harmony).
These endless modes are very different than the ones in Unify or other puzzle games though. Aggression and Harmony are named for the type of AI that governs the experience. In both, the AI watches how you behave in the game and judges your skill level. In Aggression, the AI makes the game increasingly more difficult, attempting to push you to a place out of your skill level where you will lose. In Harmony, the AI attempts to keep you engaged by incrementing the difficulty, but also tries very hard to keep you from losing.
The game has been submitted to this years IGF and
we hope available in the AppStore soon is now available in the AppStore.
Zach Gage is a designer, programmer, and conceptual artist from New York City. Inspiring thought and discussion by broaching serious topics with humor, his work explores the increasingly blurring line between the physical and the digital. http://stfj.net/
Developer: Zach Gage
Posted on: 26/10/2010