For the team at Bumpkin Brothers, an accident as seen as an opportunity. Richard Bawden explained to BeefJack today how a coding bug paved the way for the creation of When Ian Fell In The Machine.
As a lover of process, my absolute favourite development that comes from brainstorming is when crummy ideas that you’ve put little thought into or simply don’t have enough legs, lead to surprise ideas. And while that isn’t what happened internally at Bumpkin Brothers, the principle of recycling and re-evaluating still applies.
The team’s latest release was in fact an unintended result; a loose offshoot from the studio’s 2010 puzzle game for PC, The Machine. After a bit of probing, details were relayed to BeefJack concerning the coding bug and the uncertain conditions that led to When Ian Feel In The Machine transforming into a fleshed-out concept.
“When Ian Fell In The Machine (WIFITM) was originally more of a platform game,” said Richard Bawden, game designer and programmer, “but the player controlled the platforms rather than the character. He was meant to stick to some platforms but in testing the stick mechanic would sometimes break. When it did we noticed two things. Firstly, the player would try to move the device to control him; and secondly, they smiled.”
Bawden says that the team was indirectly inspired by Rube Goldberg in connection with their work on The Machine, which carried over to WIFITM, for, as Bawden expressed, “‘Bumpkin Lore’ states that the machine Ian has fallen into is the same machine.” Development of the game’s setting, however, came from examining the Industrial Revolution, with Bawden adding specific mention of Jethro Tull as having bigger influence than Rube Goldberg, followed by Tim Burton. Using these facets in conjunction with gameplay hazards to then create a stressful feel was of primary importance to Bumpkin Brothers.
“The question we were trying to answer when we started work on Ian was how can you make a platform game without traditional controllers. It was important that Ian had a tangible weight and that the player felt in total control. What is interesting is that even though you’re always in complete control, when stress is introduced by nearing your high score or trying to decide if a golden coin is worth the risk, you lose control. There’s a rewarding feeling when you overcome that. We noticed during development that players would die more often when close to their high score so we added a goal line that showed you exactly where it was. That goal line is probably the most dangerous item in the game.”
Another observation came from the game’s Hard Mode in its original form, which Bawden tells me had to be tweaked. “Initially the level layout was quite easy and the blades were fast, but we found that players then started to blame the game for their mistakes. So we slowed them down and made the level harder. It’s quite rare that they will catch you up and we know you’ll always have plenty of time, but the looming threat is enough to increase the stress levels.”
Speaking on future plans, Bawden shared with me that the team is in the process of “finding [their] voice,” adding, “We’re working on a new mobile title called Blasted Bugs, and we’re also bringing Tribloos to GameStick. The next project we’re working on will be the first where me and Andy (Yates) can have the same amount of input as each other, so we’re really excited about that. We’ve been planning it for ages and acting out the gameplay in Andy’s kitchen, so we’ll be glad to finally get something on screen and show it to the world.”
If there’s one lesson to be extracted from all this, it’s that a mistake only remains a mistake if you see it as such. That, and signs that dabble in reverse-psychology are irresistible.