“You Only Get One”; while it sounds like a variation on some horrible hashtag, this was in fact the theme for the 28th Ludum Dare competition, a challenge to create a game within two days. Alan Zucconi’s entry ORBITALIS (spelled with a zero rather than an ‘O’) took this theme and created a game that emulates one of the greatest tenants in video game design: easy to learn, difficult to master.
The player controls a space probe; one click sends it into space, with the objective to keep it moving as long as possible. Once the probe has been flung around space for a set period of time, usually around 15 seconds, the level is completed. Navigating around stars and planets, with pulsars, comets and nebulae to come soon, the player must find a flight path that will utilise the gravitational pull of this cosmic debris to keep the probe flying. This is easier said than done, because after that first click, the player has no more control over the craft than a real person has over the Hubble space telescope.
The design of the game is minimalistic, and while that is usually a boon to an indie game, it can be rather difficult visually to differentiate between what is an object that will end your game should you hit it, and what can be navigated around – especially as the flight path and the larger planets are in the same tint of red.
While this game is impressive for something designed in 48 hours, and admittedly is still in Early Access, it still has flaws that need to be addressed. I felt that many of the 50 levels were very similar, and my mental plan a trajectory that would allow me to complete the level in one click. It quickly descended into trial and error. Happily, the quick refresh time between game overs meant that this was not frustrating, but I suppose it does defeat the ‘only get one’ premise.
Hardware wise, and perhaps this is just an issue with my mouse, it seemed that actually performing the click to launch the probe, as well as the click to get to the next level, required noticeably more force than with other games. This is a game I would love to see on a touchscreen interface, but one that I found a little lacklustre playing with a mouse and keyboard, minus the keyboard. However, Zucconi has demonstrated the game being played with an MCMC (an abbreviation for ‘my custom made controller’) that allows rotation, a push-pull mechanic and a button press. In an interview with indiegamer.com, Zucconi justified his choice of his own custom controller: “Standard driving controllers usually try to replicate the experience of driving a car. With my controller I want players to feel a new experience, not to relate with something they have already experienced. Mechanically, there are indeed similarities with controllers based on steering wheels. During the design of the MCMC, however, I got inspired by the amount of bizarre sci-fi controllers that can be seen in movies such as Pacific Rim or anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion” – perhaps I am using the wrong controller.
But all of my quibbles must be taken with a pinch of salt. While the game at this point was not to my taste that does not mean that when it comes out of the Early Access stage it will not be good. If you want to give this game a try, its 48 hour version is available on Newsground, so I would recommend taking a look. However, I feel ORBITALIS will fly by me, as unfortunately this indie game did not have the necessary gravity to pull me in.
Adam Smith, Games and Tech Editor