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Inside the IGF Student Competition: Impulse
Inside the IGF Student Competition: Impulse Exclusive
December 4, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

In a new series, Gamasutra sister site GameCareerGuide is looking at some of the games submitted to the 2009 IGF student competition.

In this Q&A, we learn about Impulse, an action and puzzle game with an emphasis on magnetic and explosive forces, built by students at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Here's a description of the IGF-submitted title, along with a discussion of its creation:

Game title: Impulse

Impulse Development Team:
Andrew Williams: game design lead, level design, developer
Mike Thomas: technical lead, game design, developer
Dominic Holt: game design, developer, art
Joseph Plourde, game design, developer
Paul Solt: particle effects, game design, developer
Andrew Ray: music and sound, game design, sound developer, art
Ben Solt, art

Game description: Impulse is a student created action and puzzle game with an emphasis on magnetic and explosive forces. The player takes command of a ball and uses direct and indirect means of control to navigate the environments. Throughout the levels, the player will encounter explosions, black holes, and magnetic platforms that have been combined to create an entertaining experience.

School: Rochester Institute of Technology

Tell us how Impulse came to be.

Impulse started off focused on explosions, but not in the sense to blow you up. We wanted to use the force of the explosions to propel a ball around. This idea eventually shifted to forces in general, through input from various team members on the design.

That's when we started to look at magnetism as one of the other means of moving the ball. Through talented engineers on our team and a lot of usability testing, we managed to build the game under a tight 10-week schedule.

What was your goal in developing the game?

Impulse was built as a school assignment for a class called "Foundations of 2D Graphics Programming." The course definitely teaches you graphics programming, but more importantly, the only assignment is to build a 2D video game. The course is 10 weeks long, and you have to meet a minimum level of technical requirements. However, fun is a huge part of the grade, so we worked really hard to create a polished 2D video game that people enjoyed and we could be proud of at the end of the course.

What do you think is the game’s greatest asset? What sets it apart from other games in the IGF?

The game has two really important components to it.

First, the very core of the game is the physics. We spent a very long time building and tweaking this part of the game in order to get it to "feel" just right for the type of controls we gave to the player.

The controls are the second component that makes our game fun. We allow you to, for the most part, indirectly control the ball in the game. On the Xbox 360 controller, you can move the analog stick in any direction and press 'A' to explode off in that direction. This is on a short cool down that we came up with while balancing.

The other set of controls is based around magnetism. By holding down the left or right triggers, you can positively or negatively charge your ball. Some of the platforms are magnetic, so depending on the charge of the platforms and ball, you can attract or repel around the level.

The only direct control we give to the player comes when you are magnetically charged to any platform. Once magnetized to the platform, use the analog stick to roll your ball around the sides. In short, the way the physics feel, while controlling your ball, is what makes our game uniquely fun.

What drew you to focus on "magnetic and explosive forces?"

Well, the initial thoughts were on explosions because I heard our professor loves when things blow up. Magnetism came out of discussions after that point.

What games (or non-game things) influenced this game? How or why?

A major influence on how we teach people to play the game was Portal. I loved how they taught people to play and have fun! So, when coming up with the level design for the game, I focused on making the beginning super simple. I just built the levels up from the first one to continually teach people to play our game as they progressed.

What was the most difficult part of developing Impulse?

Actually finishing the game was quite difficult. We worked hard on the project for about seven weeks, but figuring out what features we wanted and what had to be cut was crazy since we had lots of ideas. Even though we had worked very hard for an extended period of time, we had to work even harder to close the project down and finish what we set out to do during the final weeks.

We were still building features during the last week of development, but we did manage to focus on creating the right features. Because the game turned out to be really fun, we all got As in the class (which is rather difficult to do, I'm told).

Tell us one interesting thing that you learned while developing the game.

When building a game in such a short timeframe, figuring out the primary mechanics worked well. It allowed us to break down the core of the game and build around those mechanics.

Unfortunately, you don't have a lot of time to prototype out a ton of ideas, so keeping your mechanics simple allows you to put them on paper and have them well understood by everyone on the team.

Since making this game, have your opinions or assumptions about game development changed in any way? If so, how and what were they before?

I can't speak for the entire team, but Impulse was the first complete and polished game that I had helped create. Getting to week five (or the half-way point) and only having a very basic prototype of our core mechanics was somewhat scary looking back on it. Our goal was to have what we needed to build our game by the fifth week, so we definitely achieved what we set out to do. However, our professor was a little unsure of what we would finish by week ten after seeing five weeks of work.

The game really came to life during the second half of the project even though we did a lot of work just to get to the half-way point. I used to think that game development was more of a gradual process where you notice the game grow into its own over time, but the project really turned into a video game almost in the blink of an eye. Finishing a game is extremely hard, and I understood that fact well after Impulse.

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