If you have kept up with my columns for a while, you know what a fan of Glitch I am. I have to admit that I've been terribly angry at the developer, Tiny Speck, for not bringing the game into a final phase yet. I wanted my little Glitch to stay as he was when I logged out; I didn't want to see him wiped over and over again after those pesky tests that help assure quality and playability. So I've been avoiding the testing phase for the most part. Isn't that just a perfect example of how mania drives gamers? We will do anything to avoid playing a favorite upcoming game for fear of becoming attached to our little digital selves or spoiling the fun of discovering new quests.
Well, we'll wait no more! As of today, the game and world is finally open to anyone. That means you get to jump in, nibble pigs, massage butterflies, collect random items you find on the floor, and generally exist in the imagination of a giant.
Sounds cool? It is cool. In fact, I need to explain just how cool it is. Click past the cut!
OK, do me a favor. Picture a developer. What does he or she look like? Dressed casually, possibly shorts all year long? A cup of coffee glued to a hand? A comfy existence in rooms so dark that they would give us mere mortals cabin fever? Developers are calm creatures most of the time, unless provoked during a midnight match of Gears of War. There are the few elite-class developers who go to all of the meetings and schmooze with the investors, but the common developer is a creature of quiet, intense concentration. In the basements are kept the coders, those mutant few whose superior eyesight and math skills allow them to literally craft worlds from lines of code. Occasionally, they are let out to have a smoke.
When I picture the developers at Tiny Speck, I see a team with the average age of 27. None of them wears contacts (only thick glasses, thank you), and they avoid Bluetooth headsets like gluten. They are achingly hip, not only listening to music that you have never heard of but making a game you have never heard of. The world they created seems to have been born from the world of hip, young art magazines, Looney Tunes (from the '40s and '50s, please), circus life, Mario Brothers, and the collectible toy market. I mean, look at their About page!
"The setting is enough to make the game stick out, but if you add on the tiny details and intricate interactions, you get something truly unique... something worth taking your time in."
You play the game as a Glitch, literally a tiny fragment of imagination within the mind of giants. It's a basic side-scroller in many ways: You control your character completely with the keyboard or with basic mouse-clicks, and you often find yourself bouncing and leaping around the hand-painted landscape trying to get to that extra bit of XP or munchable pig. The point of the game is not only to exist but to carve out a life. You can farm, keep livestock or pets, mine, trade and make money, and buy a house.
While that might sound ordinary enough, it isn't. I've heard some people say (with a sneer, I presume) that the game is just another FarmVille style game and doesn't equal much more than a cute click-fest. While collection or farming grind is a possibility, that can happen in any game. Name me a game and I will show you players within that game who want nothing more but riches and glory. The setting is enough to make the game stick out, but if you add on the tiny details and intricate interactions, you get something truly unique... something worth taking your time in.
Now, I'm not one for spoilers, especially for those special events that come along but once in the lifetime of a character, so let me choose my words carefully. At one point your character might need to go to a certain location to obtain a license to move forward with a project. So you go to the place and approach the counter. You are told by the NPCs there to wait in the waiting area. When you move back, you see a sign that tells you to wait. So you wait. Literally. A timer ticks down, and another NPC approaches you to help. This repeats several times, until finally you meet the right NPC and get your business done. The simple act of asking a player to wait, forcing him to literally wait, is so engrossing and charming that I literally repeated it just to see it happen again. There are a lot of those moments in the game, and each time I come across one, it makes me wish that more games thought a bit more out of the box.
The design and interactions that Glitch is coming up with are not really that complicated. Asking players to eat some garlic and then tasking them to kiss seven other players with their "garlic breath" is not that crazy an idea. It's the fact that activities like that are handed out to the players as often as a kill-ten-rats quests in other games. Glitch simply allows players to see something new almost every time they log in. Also, the game is seamlessly integrated with the browser. Players can shop for clothes or housing, update offline skill training queues, and check out what's happening in the game all while checking their email. Tiny Speck even released a new iOS app for players to stay even more connected.
Will there be complaints about grinding when the game is released? Of course. Will some players quickly lose the sense of wonder they had for the title and complain about having nothing to do on the official forums? Yes! They will do the same with Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Darkness, and any other title. That often happens when players allow themselves to get so sucked into a new world that they forget to look around that world. Glitch is paced differently, though. Its music, art, and writing are all designed to encourage a lazy sort of fun, a fun that's sort of like being tipsy at a ren faire.
I don't often dream of developing. Really, I don't. I enjoy what I do now, writing and attempting to get better at writing about games. Developers at studios like Tiny Speck make me think differently, though. I would love to be involved with an independent game that was not only original and fun but crafted well. They communicate with their community through modern channels like Twitter and allow the use of developer tools for players to put their own twist on the world of giants. Do you know how many independent developers I come across who do not even talk to their players? A lot.
For me, original design is becoming more and more rare. It's not an problem reserved for "AAA" gaming. The independent space is just as guilty of rehashing the same design concepts or settings. Boring development knows no budget. I'm happy to see a game that I think will increase the faith and make players smile, all while wearing the uber-hip badge of Indie Developer.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.