ORBITAL


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Rating: 4.8/5 (48 votes)
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Mobile Monday

JohnBOur 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!

orbital-iphone.jpgExplaining 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.

orbital-iphone2.jpgTwo 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.

JayJay - 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.

17 Comments

I'm excited. Buying this one, for sure.

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I may very well have to buy this one...

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It took me many months to get over my Gimme Friction addiction. Now it's back with a vengeance. I was actually trying to contact Wouter to see if he wanted to collaborate on an iPhone version. I would have done it for free just to see it on the device. But apparently he's gone off the grid. When I first saw Orbital and the various other clones out there, I was upset that they ripped off Gimme Friction. But at least Orbital credits the original for the idea. I imagine they probably tried to find him too.

Anyway, Orbital's take on the game is very good. Sometimes it feels a bit over the top with all the colored particle sparks flying all over the place. But probably only because I'm used to the pure black and white simplicity of the original. With the changed physics, it's definitely a much harder game than the original, though gravity mode tends to be a bit easier, and is a nice twist on things.

I still feel kind of bad paying $2.99 for it, knowing that Wouter is probably not seeing any of that, but beyond that, it's worth the cash.

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Just bought it - by some miracle I was just thinking today how cool it would be to have it on my iPhone and then I ran into this!!!

Have been playing the webversion for a loooooooooooooong time now and have wasted countless working hours on it...

Tried it on for a bit just now and it looks fantastic on the phone! The Gravity mode is something that looks amazing - I love the little matrix indicating the gravitational 'warp' of the playing field. The idea in itself is masterful.

Playing the Pure version is exactly what is mentioned in the text on this page: it's A LOT faster which has the pro and con against the original. It looks great and I like the ridiculous robotic voice.

What would be nice is adding the original gameplay as an option so it becomes more of a thinking/meditational exercise which I tend to use it for sometimes... :)

Anyway, I'm happy with my first paid iPhone App!

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I can confirm that Giovanni from bitforge did try to contact Wouter Visser back in early July about the game.

I do hope Wouter surfaces again someday soon.

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Fantastic app. I'd been looking for a good single-phone multiplayer game, and the implementation here is delightful. When I first heard "multiplayer Gimme Friction Baby" I was confused, but this works surprisingly well. And while I thought I'd grown out of gravity mechanics a few years ago, the new mode is also quite fun.

Not sure Orbital is the best name (for one thing, it's not the first Orbital that's been reviewed here), but I'll live.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

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Oh, also, JohnB wrote:

Orbs persist across turns, and whoever clears an orb gets the point.

Are we playing the same game? I didn't see any sort of point system in the multiplayer mode-rather, it's all about who loses first. Is there an option I'm missing?

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Thanks for pointing us toward this, guys. This is a great game -- though I'm a little disappointed to realize it hasn't been released by GFB's original author.

In any case, in case the current designers are reading this, the one thing I'd like to see in an update is a local record of personal top scores and a running average count -- a la Drop7's.

Thanks for the great game.

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Easily the most enjoyable game app in my library. Well done to all involved in taking a great game to new heights.

Well worth the $2.99 but only those who purchase it know any better, otherwise it gets lost amongst the plethora of ever growing apps available. May I suggest a Lite version, I'll bet this game would do well...can you afford not to.

I really like the audio track however the continuous loop gets old fast, perhaps some more Orbital inspiring sound tracks please.

Left ya positive feedback on iTunes. ;)

All the best.

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Grasa Total August 19, 2009 1:51 PM

Pure Mode seems *very* unforgiving... but I can't tell if the puck's total travel distance is actually farther (which it feels like) or if it's just that it's much harder to aim.

I would love a 'puzzle mode' that was closer to the original's pacing. For that matter, why not go all the way and have Puzzle Mode include a beam of light coming out of the cannon to show where the shot is going to hit?

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why not go all the way and have Puzzle Mode include a beam of light coming out of the cannon to show where the shot is going to hit?

That's a great idea! I'd maybe call it 'Practice Mode,' and it would have a separate high score list, of course...

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I really cannot overstate how much I love this game. I wasn't sure at first but I was literally going to play it for a few minutes last night and ended up at nearly an hour.

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Okay, admittedly so, this game was hard for me to 'get' on the App Store, yet your review straightened out my confused brain. Now, I simply must try the game. Thank you for a great review!
Isabella

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I've tried to contact Wouter for 2 years now with no luck. We were working together on the bonuslevel project before he suddenly disappeared. He was so motivated by the project that I really don't understand what happend. I've even tried to find his home town from his IP address, I called people found in the phone directory in the netherlands with no luck. I wish to know what happened to him.

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Orbital Addict September 21, 2009 12:02 AM

5 IN A ROW! WAH WAH WEE WAH!

My happiest gaming moment EVER.

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Debra Hamel January 5, 2011 4:59 PM

I was very excited to learn that there was a Gimme Friction Baby-inspired game for the iPhone, but I'm afraid I'm pretty disappointed. As you say in your review, the increased speed eliminates much of the strategy of the game. Now a lot of it is just luck. Plus I'd be much happier without the whiz-bang graphics. Distracting, unnecessary. The new game is okay, I suppose, but it's missing what makes Gimme Friction Baby magical: the zen-like simplicity, the ability to plan your moves and watch them play out (without having what happens on the screen obscured by the stupid special effects).

Note there are two modes of play: Classic and Gravity. Classic mode preserves almost everything about the classic Gimme Friction Baby gameplay experience. The only thing different is the effects. -Jay]

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Debra Hamel January 5, 2011 9:39 PM

Well, it's the speed and the special effects that are the problem. Because of the increased speed, you can't plan your shots as well. You just have to hope that you're quick enough on the trigger finger. And the special effects actually obscure what happens when the balls hit. So not only can't you plan your shots as well, but you don't even get to see clearly how good your shot was. It would be like playing pool and having a fireworks display obscure your view at the moment of impact.

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