Our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition received a ton of great submissions from a number of talented game designers. Taking first place in that competition was Wouter Visser's Gimme Friction Baby, a strikingly simple arcade-style game of skill involving a moving turret and expanding orbs. Now, just over two years later, bitforge has come and updated the game for iPhone and iPod Touch users. ORBITAL is the new incarnation of Gimme Friction Baby, adding some slick visuals, tweaking the physics just a bit, and adding a new gameplay mode along with multiplayer support!
Explaining ORBITAL takes some of the spark out of the experience, but I'll be nice and give you a quick rundown. The basic idea is you have a turret at the bottom of the screen that's constantly swaying from left to right. Tap the screen and the turret fires, sending a ricocheting orb out onto the play field. The ball has only a little inertia, and when it comes to rest, it expands until it touches a wall or another orb. The inflated object is stamped with the number three and your turret begins swaying once again.
Tap the screen again to send another ball flying. Try to aim your shots to bounce off existing orbs while keeping it above the (sudden) "death line" just above the turret. Whenever contact happens between orbs, the counter decreases by one. The shot you just fired then expands to fill its space, and you're ready to fire another shot. The goal is to eliminate as many orbs as you can. You get one point for each cleared orb, and the game ends instantly once you touch the death line.
The key strategy in ORBITAL is making efficient moves. It takes three hits to eliminate an orb, but each shot creates a new orb to eliminate. You can see how the odds are stacked against you! This forces you to adopt a different kind of strategy with each shot you let loose. Smaller orbs take up less space but are much more difficult to hit. Large orbs are easy to hit, but good luck fitting anything else on the screen.
Every game begins the same, and yet every game is different. That's amazing replay value.
Analysis: When you're starting with a concept as solid as Gimme Friction Baby, you know you're going to have an awesome final product on your hands. Bitforge handled Wouter's original game very well, keeping almost everything intact while adding better visuals, tweaking the physics a bit, and introducing multiplayer and a new mode of play. The core idea is the same, but even if you mastered Gimme Friction Baby, ORBITAL is a new horse to break in.
First and foremost on my comparison list: ORBITAL plays faster than Gimme Friction Baby. Much faster, at times, as shots travel with more force and ricochet with less oomph. This lends a decidedly stronger arcade feel to the game and drains some of the thoughtful strategy away. I kind of miss the carefully metered pace of the original, but this arcade style is much better suited to the mobile platform.
Two modes of play are available for the solo player: gravity and pure. Pure is essentially Gimme Friction Baby with the above mentioned tweaks to the physics. Gravity, however, is a different show where the orbs have a weak gravitational pull on shots you fire. This is useful for shimmying between objects to take out tough-to-reach orbs, but it tends to keep things closely-packed, creating more numerous small orbs to deal with, which can be tough.
Multiplayer is a blast, and if you have anyone nearby who can play, I highly recommend it. Play either gravity or pure mode against your friend and you end up with a shuffleboard-style experience where both players fight to clear orbs and block their opponent on the same field. Player one starts with a shot, then the screen shifts upward (or rotates, depending on the orientation you have selected) and player two takes his or her turn. Orbs persist across turns, and whoever clears an orb gets the point. This kind of multiplayer game is the best kind, as it's not really player vs. game vs. player, it's player vs. player with the game acting as a mediator.
ORBITAL has that "just one more round" appeal to it, beckoning you to keep popping orbs until someone snatches the iPhone out of your hands. Of course, if that happens, you can always start up a two player game, which is a win-win situation! ORBITAL is a game of skill, it's a game of strategy, it's a game of reflexes, and it's a game you will keep front and center of your iPhone for weeks on end.
Jay - I've seen Gimme Friction Baby clones come along, but none of them have captured the soul of the original while creating something entirely new as bitforge has done here.
Pure mode remains true to the elegant simplicity of the original, while adding some very rewarding particle effects for eye candy. And, as John mentioned, the physics have been tweaked ever so slightly. Yes, the shots you fire are at a faster velocity, but they slow down faster as well. The net result is a projectile distance almost exactly what you would expect from the original, but with a shorter duration. This speeds up the game slightly, which will be welcome to those who complained that Gimme Friction Baby was too slow.
Gravity mode is just awesome. It takes the core gameplay of Pure then adds gravitational forces on the orbs. The end result is a game that expands on and improves Gimme Friction Baby in a way I've never seen before. Higher scores are now possible as are unbelievable shots that arc around hulking orbs in ways that will thrill and excite your inner child. Now if only bitforge would support replays (and sharing them, too!) of amazing shots (or entire games) this little app would be unstoppable.
But they didn't stop there(!) Have you ever played multiplayer Gimme Friction Baby? Of course you haven't, but now you can! Sure, you'll have to play against someone using the same iPhone, but here's hoping bitforge takes this feature online. I can't wait to play against some of my friends over the Internet.
Very rarely does a game come along that just grabs a hold and excites my inner child. ORBITAL is that rare find, and I just can't say enough good things about it. Thank you, bitforge, for this wonderful implementation of one of my very favorite casual games. And thank you also for honoring the designer of the original, Wouter Visser. Wherever he may be.