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Road To The IGF:  Bubble Islands ' Alexandre Renevey

Road To The IGF: Bubble Islands' Alexandre Renevey

January 2, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis

January 2, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis
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Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today’s interview is with Alexandre Renevey of dot-invasion, developers of retro-styled arcade puzzle game Bubble Islands.

The seven member team worked on the Flash game for seven months, and currently aim to have the game up on their site within a “couple of weeks”. The title features “10 cute and different characters”, and allows players to “challenge your opponents, connect your bubbles and preserve your island in a series of funny but competitive duels”. Bubble Islands also features four different game modes: Arcade, Puzzle, Score Mode and a multiplayer game.

The title has recently been announced as one of the finalists in the running for the Best Web Browser award in the competition.

We spoke to Renevey about the game, its entry into the IGF, and his fascination with retro gaming.

What is your background in the games industry?

Oh, this is probably a long story, so let me start with the most recent parts:

My first real involvement in the game industry - read: for money - started around two to three years ago in the online gaming area, with games using the Macromedia Flash technology. Something you have to know is that I’m "multi-media" - for example, I developed both the engine and all the art of Bubble Islands myself.

In 2004, I worked on the mini-game BurgerMan, a Pac Man-like game done for the movie Super Size Me. I was involved in the creation of graphics and pixel art.

Several weeks/months later, I worked on the game Chimbo's Quest, another Flash game where I again created the pixel art side of the game.

Then I worked on several free (but fun) projects, following which, in 2005, I created some animations and game engines for MTV Obsessed, which is a collection of mini-games similar to WarioWare.

Then I worked on several free (but fun) projects, again. In 2006, things were getting serious; I was involved in some mobile games - Gone Fish'in by Q8IS Mobile Inc, Aldaria, an RPG that will certainly never be released, and Beach Volley Mania by Fugitive Interactive.

I also created a fighting game engine in Flash and a lot of graphics for the game GangstaWar, where you were able to create 1,682,903,040,000 visually different fighters! Today, the game is offline, unfortunately.

I've also worked on several mainstream Game Boy Advance game graphics like Garfield and His Nine Lives by Lucky Jump Games/The Game Factory, and several others still covered by NDAs for Game Boy Advance and other handhelds.

And today, Bubble Islands is a finalist in the Independent Games Festival, woohoo!

When was dot-invasion formed, and what previous titles have you released?

dot-invasion was founded early 2005, and it was supposed to be pixel-only! At that time I loved everything related to pixel art - and I still do! I wanted to focus only in that area; unfortunately, except for handhelds or mobile phones, pixel art is too rare in the mainstream market.

Anyway, on released titles, I listed many of those above, even though many, many of those are more collaborations than self-released titles, and all my collaborations and works are listed here if you are interested.

What inspired Bubble Islands, and why did you decide to make it?

Actually Bubble Islands is an old project. I just noticed that I have a version of that game from 2003 in my archive CDs, though it was a really small version without any real game mode or precise character.

The game started to really evolve in 2006 - that's when I designed and included different playable characters, different game modes, and so on. My main goal was to make a visually cute arcade-like game, with smooth and cool animations. I like to have my games reproduce some kind of console and/or arcade feeling. I was raised with the Nintendo Entertainment System and arcade games, that's why I'm really nostalgic. I guess that Bubble Islands should be nice as a budget arcade game.

Anyway, Bubble Islands is inspired by some games, like the famous series Puyo Puyo from Compile, although I never played a lot of that series - I was playing Bust-A-Move, aka Puzzle Bobble, or even the good old Bubble Bobble. I found that the concept was interesting, and I read a lot about that game. So, Bubble Islands plays a lot like Puyo Puyo - you have to connect at least 4 bubbles with the same color to make them disappear. You can also perform combos, and if you play well enough, you'll create some parasite bubbles that will fall in your opponent's playing area.

Another game that inspired Bubble Islands is an obscure game running on Dreamcast (I liked that console a lot) called Plus Plumb, which had an interesting balance system. Today I don't remember exactly how it worked, but the result is that I decided to include some kind of balance system in Bubble Islands, and I think it's a nice twist. Basically, your island is slowly and regularly sinking (generally underwater), and when it reaches the bottom of the stage, it's the end - but if you play well, you have the ability to slow it down.

The idea was to create an additional challenge in the game, as well as an additional unique feature, so Bubble Islands is not considered like a clone of Puyo Puyo, and I think it's different enough today.

Unlike Puyo Puyo, you are directly controlling a character, so i think their involvement is important; in Puyo Puyo they were just avatars after all. Also, they have all unique features, like speed, drop speed, and luck that should give you an additional reason to try them all.

You also have the ability to unlock bonuses, like additional characters or additional game modes. I like to include that kind of bonuses to reward the player. There's also a series of game cheats, but... shhhh.

Why did you decide to go with a web-based game?

To be honest, Bubble Islands is a web-based game simply because I coded it myself; I don't know any other programming language than ActionScript so far - it's as simple as that. Bubble Islands was supposed to be a funny project, as I didn't have any deadline for it. Web-based sounded natural for me, since I have been involved in many web-based games already.

What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?

Well, the project evolved, evolved, evolved: I added different game modes, different characters, different backgrounds/areas, different tunes, etc. That's one of my particularities: when I work on a personal project, I keep adding and adding and adding. That's why I have many demos, but only a few released games (laughs). So yeah, I guess that the game is far above my initial expectations, but below the other ones I have in mind now. That said, I still think that the game is really enjoyable so far.

What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?

Obviously, it's not the most original game of the world, eh? So let's say it's eye candy, very addictive - at least that's what I think, I enjoy playing it, honestly - cute and funny, and offers many different challenges thanks to the different game modes. Also it's different enough than most Puyo Puyo-like puzzle games, in my opinion. The soundtrack is great, too.

Basically, if you have some time to spare, I think that Bubble Islands is a great game. Not too simple, but not complicated either - it's ideal if you want your everyday dose of puzzle-like challenge!

Also this is a nice occasion to say "thanks" to everyone that helped me and encouraged me on that game!

How long did development take?

I would say seven months "seriously", and two to three years "just for fun as a side hobby", but at this time the game was completely different. Seven months sounds like the real development duration of the current game, even though it wasn't full time.

What was the development process like?

Imagine a guy working on Bubble Islands instead of working fully on his paid works and that's exactly what happened. Well, I guess that except the current last bits, the development was really smooth.

What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?

Unfortunately and to be honest, I’m not too familiar with the actual independent development state. That's still a world I have to explore, even if obviously I have released a lot of independent games myself. But since it's driven by passion and not by money, I guess that everything is fine? Another thing: we have to keep 2D alive. No really, we have to. Also, most retro 2D games converted in 3D are crap, sorry.

Have you checked out any of the other IGF games?

Some of them, yes. I'm actually using a Mac though, so i wasn't able to look at all the .exe submissions. I don't own an Intel Mac yet, and I’m just too lazy to use a PC emulator, but I took a look at the games' web pages. Some of those looked really good, and as usual, inspired me for some other stuff.

Unfortunately, I’m inspired by too many things; I just need to discover a cute looking RPG game, and i want to work on a RPG! Or I play a great fighting game, and I want to create a fighting game, etc. It's endless!

I really need to learn how to focus on a single project.

Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

The screenshots of Aquaria look really, really impressive. When I saw those, I was like, ‘I want to create a game visually like that’. I'm always inspired by every nice thing!

Castle Crashers looks really fun - Alex inspired again - and I like its unique visual style. It was the case with Alien Hominid too.

Gamma Bros. is so retro, and I love retro stuff. That's something you should guess easily when you play some of my games, like Meteor Busters, or Forgotten Myths - a really nice NES-like game inspired by the mighty Kid Icarus from Nintendo.

Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

I played and loved so many games in my life. I'm not really sure about recent games though, because I don't have the time to play too much nowadays unfortunately. I cannot play 200+ hours on Final Fantasy like I used to do, but anyway.

Regarding mainstream titles, I’m in love with Loco Roco! Seriously, that was really a great game – though I only played the first level demo so far. But yes, that's the first game that made me consider buying a PSP. I loved the visuals, the soundtrack, the mood of the game. Also the game engine looked impressive.

Jet Set Radio on Dreamcast is another not-so-recent game to add in my favorite games list. That was an awesome game! Cell shading was a really nice addition to the 3D games.

Ace Combat 3 on PlayStation, but only the Japanese version of the game. The story was deleted in the US and Europe version, as well as many missions. Awesome visuals - they used the great engine of Ridge Racer 4 that was better looking than Gran Turismo - impressive design, where they created a complete parallel-alternate but still realistic world and a great soundtrack, with some kind of futuristic electro that fits that universe. Then came several new Ace Combat games, and even though they are visually impressive, they totally lost the parallel-alternate world idea to create "simply" a realistic one, with existing aircrafts.

Xenogears on PlayStation is the best RPG ever for me. It's really, really deep. That's the same kind of experience than the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is a masterpiece.

Silent Hill is my favorite game series. It's really, really creepy. Absolute masterpiece - it's a smart and disturbing experience. Definitely a whole new level compared to Resident Evil, but, the audience is different. Surprisingly, the movie from Christopher Gans wasn't bad at all, one of the best video game to movie conversion; I liked it.

GTA: San Andreas, and that's not because of the "Hot Coffee" mod. To put it clearly: what I like in that game is the ability to go everywhere. You are totally free, there's no loading, you can use vehicles, you can swim, you can visit some buildings/houses. This is freedom! Ooooh, I can see a mountain above the city, faaaar away in the background? Let's go there. With a bicycle. That's what I love in that game; I don't care about the violence, killing people or cops, I just care about being able to explore everything. I just played that game to go everywhere, and I loved that.

I also really enjoyed games like Parappa The Rapper, Siren and Vib Ribbon, as well as many, many older games. Eespecially on the NES, and some arcade games like Shinobi, Bubble Bobble, Final Fight and I still probably forgot to mention many games.

Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

Regarding the contestants, well, you did a great, great job! So good luck with your projects, really.

And regarding the fans: enjoy the games, and make them live!


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