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Unknown Pleasures 2009: Blush

Off-road Velociraptor Safari. Jetpack Brontosaurus. Minotaur China Shop. Their names are legend. In fact, the names by themselves would be legendary, but Flashbang Studios devotion to webgame randomness has won our hearts. Like, totally. Their plans for 2009 are interesting to say the least. In a Wedding Present 12-singles-in-one-year-esque move, they plan to release 6 new games in 2009, each with an eight week development window. Madness. First up is a little baby called Blush. We chat to the Flashbang Hivemind and show off the first video footage beneath the cut...

Told you so:

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Blush (First Test Footage) from Flashbang Studios on Vimeo.

RPS: Blush seems to star another of one RPS' favourite things: Crystalline Attack Sperm. Care to explain what's going on with this one? How's it going to work? What's it all about?

The Flashbang Hivemind: Did you know that the sperm created by ferns in their haploid gametophyte phase are multi-flagellated? It turns out there are different types of sperm with different roles, too. Some sperm actively destroy sperm from other males, like linebackers, while others sprint for the finish, like Spartan messengers. True story. But we digress.

The gist is that we're fascinated by weird physics-based mechanics. Matthew (who not coincidentally runs the excellent physics game blog fun-motion.com) created a physics squid test for TIGJam, and we liked it so we kept going with it. It was concrete and something we could wrap more ideas around, like a filthy piece of dust at the center of a fantastic snowflake.

The name of the game this time is simplicity. When we actually sat down to brainstorm concepts and prototype them, we realized that we've never actually completed a game in 8 weeks. We've been close, but there's always been creep because of the mind-expanding high concept subject material. Also, we have very little self control. Jetpack Brontosaurus really got away from us in terms of scope and complexity whereas Minotaur China Shop took only a little extra time and was 100% to our vision. On that scale, Raptor Safari was just about right. It was the baby bear's porridge of raptor game production. So, our goal with Blush is to undershoot in terms of complexity. We intentionally chose a project with super small scope. The design is: you're a physics squid, you battle enemies, you make their parts yours. More parts allow you to battle bigger enemies. Mix in sexy production, points, leaderboards, and achievements, and voila! A Blurst game!

RPS: Your games have been strongly identified with dinosaurs and mythological creatures. Are you worried about the response?

The Flashbang Hivemind: We find the question "is this Blurst enough?" silly. By definition, anything we do is Blurst. Whether it's a game about a donkey that involuntarily time travels or an abstract squid phsyics game, our special sauce is well-tuned physics-based gameplay hooked into systems that breed depth and replayability. It's true that Blush doesn't have the title-grab appeal of a Raptor Safari or Minotaur China Shop. But, hey, 8 weeks right? Making a game that's conceptually ambiguous, abstract, and is a bit psychedelic seemed appealing. We just wrapped up two iPhone games, and our some of our guys were looking to stretch their minds a bit with shaders and things again. Besides, two months from now we'll be doing something else. The short production cycle is violently liberating.

Plus, we're terrified of the internet. We made a promise, Mr. Frodo, a promise. When you break promises to the internet it punishes you with images you can't unsee and comments you can't unread. Occasionally it tricks you into re-watching old music videos. Punishment is a great motivator and a great rationale for simplicity of concept on this first official 8-week outing.

RPS: Tentacle Physics - is this a step towards the inevitable octopus arm-wrestling game (or similar?)

The Flashbang Hivemind: A giant squid ragdoll volleyball game would be a great step forward for humanity.

RPS: 6 games in a year. For real? Explain your thinking behind this. Any hints about what sort of areas you want to explore?

The Flashbang Hivemind: The thinking is: der dah der der der. For real, yes, but the thought that went into it was minimal. It seems clear that we can do it, that we want to do it, and that we're beholden to no one financially. What we want to see is an oiling of the machinery. We want to get to the point that we can, as a team, shove crazy concepts down a well-greased waterslide of production and have them pop out, naked and sputtering, in a mere 8 weeks. We've determined scientifically that 8 weeks is about how long it takes for us to get bored working on the same concept. Making six of our games in a year seems like a crazy goal, but that's what makes it so motivational. Nobody's done it before. When we pull it off, we'll have traffic we need to make the whole thing self sustaining. We're going to order ice cream cakes for each game launch.

The more serious response is that Flashbang was a bit of an iceberg in 2008. We had a few prominent game releases that caught everyone's attention, but there was also a huge amount of production going on behind the scenes (to horde some of this "money" we keep hearing about). We actually launched 12 projects total, in 2008, and much of the proceeds dropping right into our cash pile. The intern occasionally rakes it back up all nice and pretty. Almost half of these projects were things like training games for corporate clients; the kind of stuff they don't warn you about in school. But we're coasting now, and rejecting all contract work, so we figure we should be able to pull off six games with all of the company above the water line. The trick is that most of these projects happened in parallel to our Blurst stuff, so we need to figure out how to avoid the "you can't make a baby in 1 month with 9 women" problem. Our solution? Post-birth assembly.

We're actually going to cheat a bit, too. We're working out a deal where our friends over at Infinite Ammo will launch something as a Blurst web game sometime in 2009, which gives us a little breathing room.

As for areas to explore: It will be whatever takes our fancy, tempered by specific production goals. With Blush, we're trying to massively undershoot on the complexity scale. In the past we've tried to make things that are ambitious to a fault. So we have that datapoint. It's a bit like learning to ride a unicycle: Most people have a tendency to fall either backwards or forwards (backwards is usually scarier--the head is where the brain is!) To actually learn where that stable midpoint is, though, you have to fall in both directions. If Blush turns out to be too simple, then yay -- we've succeeded!

After Blush, we'd eventually like to do some multiplayer stuff, some expressive build-y kinds of things, and some weirder more concept driven ideas. Really, it will depend on what we're into when each 8-week cycle spins up. We're spending two weeks every cycle to prototype ideas, and these prototypes will roll over and mature as time goes on. It's like collecting minutes on your phone; eventually you can call grandma and read poetry for a solid 20 hours without worrying about the bill. We look forward to it every year. It's safe to say we'll be lazy and do a sequel of something sometime, too. Something popular.

RPS: Finally, bar your exploring an ADD-model of development, what's exciting about games development in 2009?

The Flashbang Hivemind: What excites us personally is the number of layers we see peeled back. Games like Braid, World of Goo, Portal are on the lips of every game developer. This is huge. People have noticed that games that unabashedly explore novel mechanics and do so in fierce, uncompromising ways are a viable answer to the creative stagnation of the industry. It's become a movement, really, taking a novel mechanic and exploring it thoroughly to cut away the fluff. So we're past that now. What's the next layer after that?

Blush will be released on March 1st 2009. Other games will follow in the remaining months. Like, 5 more. No, really. For real.

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Kieron Gillen


Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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