Puzzling Probing: 0rbitalis Launched On Steam Early Access

By Alice O'Connor on April 17th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Round and round and round it goes

As a sceptic, I’m hesitant to believe in anything I can’t see. That’s why I schlep myself around in lead diving boots rather than trust in your supposed ‘gravity.’ I’m not closed-minded though, so I am willing to entertain the idea that it may be caused by marionette strings or invisible steel rods or something. Along comes gravity simulator 0rbitalis (yes, that is a zero) to assist my studies.

Out now on Steam Early Access on Wednesday at £2.09, the downtempo puzzler’s about plotting paths for space probes through gravitational currents, trying to avoid smashing into things.

Having played a fair bit at EGX Rezzed, I’ll be picking 0rbitalis up to continue investigating this so-called spacetime distortion. Each level’s simply about keeping a probe safely dancing around space until a timer ticks down, avoiding smashing into asteroids, stars, and assorted space oddities or vanishing off into deep space. The only real responsibility is setting a probe’s trajectory and power then launching it, at which point I found myself waving my hands frantically like a bowler hoping to will my ball to curve into a strike.

There’s an element of luck, to be expected given how complex gravity seems to be, but later levels demand careful planning. It’s awfully pleasing when this pans out, successfully slingshotting around a distant moving asteroid or curving perfectly into a stable orbit.

It’s certainly a pretty game, with subdued tones against a black uncaring void, and sounds quite pleasant too. Music and effects come from doseone of Anticon, cLOUDDEAD, Themselves, and Samurai Gunn fame, who I’m delighted to hear working in games more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do know creator Alan Zucconi and did crash in a spare bed in his hotel room at Rezzed after missing my last train back to London because a pub was in the way. I’m only more cold and ruthless after a good night’s sleep, mind. Look, see it for yourself:

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20 Comments »

  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    0rbitalis is a nice little distraction, and there is a buzz of satisfaction that comes with dropping a probe neatly into a Mickey Mouse orbit in a triple-co-orbital planet system with one sun.

    The probe launch point being in its own orbit, though, is a complication I could do without. There are already a lot of moving objects disturbing the gravitational landscape, and the launch point’s own motion turns what could be a cerebral game of orbital bowling into a much more unpredictable game where the information you gain from a failed launch might not be applicable to future attempts. I’d prefer the option to adjust the starting time of the simulation so you can at least start with known launch conditions.

    • AlanZucconi says:

      Thank you Lord Custard! That’s a fair point, to be honest. Gravity is indeed chaotic, thus predicting it over a long time is basically infeasible. However, on a smaller time scale the orbiting of the probe rarely cause orbits to exhibit chaotic behaviours. But yes, there is definitely that component and (even more disturbing), floating point errors and inconstant framerate might cause two simulations to diverge even if they start in the exact same condition! :D In the end, part of 0RBITALIS’ gameplay *is* about trials and errors… :p

      • Llewyn says:

        Surely trial and error is dependent on consistent feedback though? You need to try, and then refine based on what you learned from your earlier attempts. If that feedback varies each time then it’s potentially more of a guessing game than a puzzle game.

        Smingleigh’s description was enough to make me think of waiting for a demo or a sale to find out if it was that frustrating with less risk. But I’d completely skipped the bit about it being £2 until I went to check on Steam, and I see you’ve already got that low risk covered – got to be worth a try at that price.

        • AlanZucconi says:

          You raised a very interesting point! Usually people don’t have any feeling for gravity on a large scale. You know how objects fall, but not how they orbit. The first levels in 0RBITALIS are designed to have players experiencing how gravity works in a way they never knew. This is what I was talking about “trials and errors”. Levels are very short and the game is super forgiving providing a quick restart. You also have some indication on how to reproduce your previous launch. So yes, you can indeed get better at the game as soon as you have an idea of how gravity works and how objects will slingshots through the level. You *can* plan your orbits. Even though, gravity allows the generation of chaotic systems. But this is part of the gameplay: the player must understand under which conditions this happens, and try to use “safe” orbits.

          Anyway, I understand the game is quite experimental and this is also why the price is so low. I want to get the feedback from Steam and see what people will like. Have a go and if you think the game is too “unpredictable”, I’m more than happy to hear your feedback! :-)

      • jonfitt says:

        Trial and error where each error reveals some aspect of the solution is what you want. If 53 degrees with 92 power didn’t work, I want to try 50 degrees and 92 power. If I can’t repeat the experiment, I’m just shooting in the dark.

        That’s what drives me insane about Angry Birds. I’ve been playing parabolic shooting games like Scorched Earth or Worms for decades, but with the PC controls there was either explicitly a way to recreate a shot (Scorched Earth’s power/angle) or a way to observe the power gauge ala Worms.
        But then using something so useless as a finger to fling a bird and requiring precision in time and space to get the gold star is a recipe for frustration. If I can’t recreate the shot I want, I’m just playing Pachinko (Hi Peggle).

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        I understand that it’s about trial and error, and I enjoy the learn-by-failing kind of gameplay, but I do think it’s one too many variables, and adding an unwelcome time pressure. Since the probe launch point is often one of the fastest moving objects, it means that a tiny change in launch time can have disproportionate effect on the trajectory.

        But the biggest problem is that when the probe starts by orbiting a planet, it is moving in a more complex path than the rest of the elements of the puzzle! The sun is stationary, the planets are in a circular orbit, but the launch point is a fast-moving tightly-curled flat spiral bent into an circular loop*!

        I’m coming across as overly-negative because I have my game design hat on lately. I very much enjoy 0rbitalis, and I recommend it as a purchase. It costs roughly as much as a family sized bag of crisps, and it’s better for you, even if it doesn’t have the delicious tang of salt and vinegar.

        *: An epitrochoid, if I recall correctly. Words are fun!

        • AlanZucconi says:

          This is probably the best review EVER MADE of 0RBITALIS…

  2. Nettle says:

    I somehow managed to play this for two hours last night, but that was mostly redoing the same level over and over until I beat Simon Roth… Very worth the £2.

    • AlanZucconi says:

      I gave up. My scores are not even in the leaderboard any more… :D

  3. Ross Angus says:

    But I thought gravity was the weakest of the four fundamental forces (misses point completely).

    • AlanZucconi says:

      I knew one day someone would have said that. :p
      Yes. Is the weakest. But saying it would also make the trailer sound naff… :p

    • The Random One says:

      Maybe they’re saving the other fundamenteal forces for the sequels, like Darksiders.

  4. Fumarole says:

    Zerorbitalis?

  5. DrollRemark says:

    But how would lead boots help you if you didn’t believe in gravity?

  6. CelticPixel says:

    Brilliant, I love this little game.